Colourism is deeply ingrained into the minds of millions and cannot be forgotten overnight
Colourism is defined by the Oxford dictionary as: “Prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.” The word is believed to be coined by the Pulitzer winner, Alice Walker, but it has been around as long as racism has.
Colourism is simply the effect of colonialism. For instance, in Southeast Asia, the Aryans who were fairer than the native people conquered India, and led people to believe that fair skin is superior to dark skin. Years later, the British colonization of the Indian subcontinent did not help that belief at all. Sadly, this is something that never left Southeast Asia, as people still prefer light-skinned people over dark-skinned people.
There are billion-dollar companies creating cosmetics and products that would lighten the skin, forcing young dark girls to believe that their dark skin is something to not be proud of. Fair and Lovely is one of the heavily advertised whitening creams and face washes in Bangladesh, along with many countries across Southeast Asia.
Many dark-skinned women undergo skin whitening treatments to look fairer, so they can fit society’s standards of beauty. Even baby oils are sold with the intention of lightening skin, because “dark is not beautiful.”
Billboards of South Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, have ads for skin lightening products. Most models on billboards, front pages of magazines, newspapers, and advertisements in Bangladesh are light-skinned. Most girls here are told by their aunts or their mother’s friends to “stay out of the sun.”
The situation is even worse in rural areas where mothers are relieved if their child is fair. Most beauty parlours in Bangladesh have skin lightening facials and most makeup artists barely own brown or darker shades of foundation. The hypocrisy of not owning brown shades in a country with mostly dark-skinned people is just absurd.
Dark-skinned girls often get called names in school and college, and it doesn’t end there. In many newspapers, in the “searching for a partner” pages, sometimes one of the requirements would be that the person is “fair.” Even during marriage, while getting their makeup done, makeup artists persuade brides to pick out lighter shades rather than a foundation that would match their actual skin tones.
In south Asian countries, foundation ranges are very limited, and most girls here have to mix a few shades to get their accurate shade. It is nearly impossible for a very dark-skinned girl to even get a foundation that matches their skin. This is why Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty was such a game-changer, as it has 50 inclusive shades.
Mainstream media is one of the biggest enablers of colourism. In Bollywood, there are songs with millions of views on Youtube that contain lyrics such as “I have got fair-complexioned wrists...White wrists…” (Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan), ” Black glasses look good on you...They look good on your white face...” (Kala Chashma).
These songs and lyrics seem pretty harmless, but the problem is that there are no songs about dark-skinned girls -- this is where Bollywood’s preference for fair-skinned girls is pretty clear. Even in movies bringing up issues regarding colourism, actresses are made darker with makeup, instead of just casting a naturally dark-skinned woman.
Dark-skinned celebrities in Hollywood face the same fate. Colourism is not just in South Asia, but even in Africa, America, and the Middle East. A lot of movies and TV shows have been accused of using light-skinned Black actors for Black roles, rather than dark-skinned actors.
This issue has even been addressed by Emmy-winning actress, Zendaya. In an interview, she mentioned: “I am Hollywood’s acceptable version of a Black girl.” Giving roles to actors just because they are light-skinned is disheartening to young dark-skinned girls.
Recently, one of the largest-selling skin whitening creams in Southeast Asia changed their name from “Fair and Lovely” to “Glow and Lovely.” A matchmaking website in India called shaadi.com removed their option to choose the skin tone of the bride or groom. But, is all of this actually helping?
Families will keep on searching for a fair-skinned bride, and at the end of the day, “Glow and Lovely” is still a fairness cream that lightens your skin. Its annual revenue, 24 billion rupees ($317 million), didn’t change much either.
Colourism is deeply ingrained in the minds of millions and cannot be forgotten overnight. This issue is something many dark-skinned children and girls will have to go through but the change always has to start at home.
Letting relatives call people dark and then give them home remedies to look fairer should be stopped. Kids picking on dark-skinned classmates should be reported. Schools can get involved to help students understand colourism and its effects. Photoshopping yourselves three times lighter for social media should not be normalized. The change is all in conversation, and truly practising what we preach.
Arpita Zaman is a freelance contributor.