𝘈𝘯 𝘜𝘯𝘧𝘢𝘪𝘳 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘓𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘭𝘺 𝘞𝘰𝘳𝘭𝘥
“Wow she knows how to cook and has a
master’s degree? Her skin color though…”
“l know right! She’s so lucky to have been accepted
into such a rich family with that skin tone.”
Such dialogue is considered typical conversation
among Bangladeshi individuals. Whether it be about
the latest episode from a South Asian drama or the
most recent wedding there is always a discussion
about the bride and her physical traits, more
specifically, the shade of her skin. Although my nationality is Bangladeshi, I was born in New York, one of the most diverse cities in the world. Seeing different shades and colors of people was innate to me. I never viewed this mixture of colors to be a problem or anything to be ashamed of; why would one feel the need to hide their skin color, the one they were born with? Such feelings are what South Asian women are subjected to feel given the history of their countries however, it is time for it to be acknowledged and have it’s existence questioned.
It is no question that racism is ethically wrong. The belief that one nationality or religion is superior to others is outrageous and demeaning. For the most part, we try our best to stray as far from and even try to stop racist culture; but what does one do when racism is embedded into their own country? This unfortunate social system exists within South Asian countries including Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. When one thinks about desi (South Asian) characteristics, they often think about the heat, the music and dances and unforgettably, the food. One huge aspect of our culture that tends to get looked over is the integration of colorism into the social system.
Colorism can be defined as prejudice against individuals with a darker skin tone, typically within the same race. Countries fall into the trap of colorism and make it the basis for social structure. It is a phenomena every South Asian woman must experience. Sadly, it is almost as if to consider yourself desi, you have to have had an encounter that makes you hate the way you are. An article in Buzzfeed, discusses multiple instances of this occurring. One such moment includes individual A asking, “Have you tried Fair and Lovely?” To which Buzzfeed, representing a South Asian girl, replies with, “Have you tried rat poison?” This is quite representative of most young girls’ attitudes towards such racial comments and can you blame us? We grew up listening to such comments all the time. Another constant reminder of the favoritism of fairness is Fair and Lovely. This skin whitening cream is always seen at least once in between commercial breaks on any desi television channel. Although there are variations for how the advertisement could play out, there is one common thread among these clips: The darker woman would ask the fair woman what her secret was and she would reply by saying ‘Fair and Lovely’ cream which brightened her skin in a matter of days!
I believe in order to truly understand the nature of this unfortunate phenomenon, it is imperative to look into the cause of colorism in South Asia. The mindset of lighter skin being superior is nothing new. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were all once colonized by the British which is where this mindset stems from: the whiter, the more power. However, such Eurocentric beauty standards should be long erased and definitely not encouraged for beauty expectations. It is extremely detrimental to one’s self esteem to base their worth and value over the tone of their skin that they had no say in choosing. Taunya Banks writes in ‘Colorism among South Asians’, “… contemporary ideologies of colour in the post-colonial world correspond to the rhetoric of white supremacy in suggestive ways. . . . [Thus] dismissing the fetishization of fair skin as random or benign neglects the power and continuing vitality of the rhetoric of white supremacy throughout the world” This provides justification for much of the origins of the fair skin culture. There are still traces of the fetiziation of lighter melanin because of how much of an impact Europe had on South Asia, even after colonization was over. It is evident that one of the side effects of colonialism on South Asia includes the emphasis on white skin being superior due to the residue of Eurocentric beauty standards.
Bollywood (South Asian entertainment) takes a huge part in encouraging colorism as it is the main media young brown individuals follow and as a result look up to as guidelines for beauty. Having grown up with such movies adds to the issue of blatant racism integrated into culture. Kav Lakshmi discusses Baahubali, one of the most notorious desi movies in modern times, in her article on Brown Girl Magazine. She writes, “ … the two are by a waterfall, and Avanthika gets washed by the waterfall which is so powerful that it not only washes off any dirt and grime on her, but it lightens her skin color… her character is only portrayed as truly beautiful and attractive after she becomes lighter-skinned.” It is evident that even in modern context, desi screenwriters still feel the need to exhibit a fair skinned individual in order to express the idea of beauty. This prejudiced indoctrination is once again so toxic for it encourages the notion that in order to be accepted into society, dark skin should be bleached.
Colorism is a system so deeply rooted as a foundation of South Asian culture that it seems almost like an unspoken law rather than a societal norm. However, in modern context, more individuals are becoming more aware of the indoctrination that past generations input towards new and upcoming generations. There have been many questions and organizations formed to combat this issue such as Brown Girl Gang. This group strives to empower South Asian women and further shine light on the exact traits that they get discrimination for: one huge trait being skin color. Although this group contributes to the beginnings of the tearing down of colorism, it is not enough. It will take the participation of many individuals, past and present generations alike, to alter these societal norms to generate a future of fair treatment to upcoming South Asians. I believe with more effort and participation, we can create an Unfair and Lovely world.
- Banks, Taunya. “Colorism Among South Asians: Title VII and Skin Tone Discrimination.” University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper, 2015.
- Lakshmi, Kav. “Colorism in Bollywood and Hollywood.” Brown Girl Magazine, 20 Nov. 2019, www.browngirlmagazine.com/2019/11/colorism-bollywood-hollywood/.
- Sheikh, Imaan. “21 Things Dark-Skinned Desi Women Are Tired Of Hearing.” BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, 17 June 2015, www.buzzfeed.com/imaansheikh/dont-recommend-fair-and-lovely-thanks.