Of course, colorism affects people of multiple various communities, and since I am not a part of those communities, I am unable to speak on their behalf about their troubles in dealing with this issue. However, as an Asian who’s on the considerably darker end of all skin complexions, I’m willing to discuss the Asian community as a whole, along with the ways we can address this issue.
There are layers to colorism. Sure, there’s no denying the fetishization of pale, Eurocentric skin – and how anyone who has anything else can easily experience colorism, no doubt. However, there’s also the colorism that tanned people deal with, and there’s the colorism that naturally darker-skinned people deal with. Because the drastic difference between these two types of colorism isn’t mentioned or discussed as frequently, a lot of people are blind to the issue. The thing is, even though the skin tone of tanned Asians may be praised in the Western countries, colorism will happen to them back in countries such as India, Philippines, Korea, Japan, Pakistan, where being tanned is considered ‘lowly’. Then, there’s the dark browned Asians who not only have to deal with colorism to an excessive force in their home country, but they also have to deal with colorism to the same excessive force in first world countries such as the United States.
Asians, we will never experience the systematic oppression the way other communities such as Black people or Afro Latinx do. I recognise that. However, as a darker-skinned Indian girl, I have experienced lots of micro-aggressions. People saying I would be prettier if I was lighter-skinned, people making whitening cream jokes, hearing guys saying they would never date or like a dark-skinned girl- and when asked why it was simply “just a personal preference”. Tanned Asians for the most part don’t experience the same micro-aggressions as darker-skinned Asians in America. The interesting thing that I’ve realised from living in America myself, is despite the accepting spectrum for skin complexion being broader in comparison to lots of other countries, it doesn’t fail to exclude the darker shades nonetheless. For example, even when tanned celebrities are praised since there’s a culture here of preferring tanned skin over pale ‘unhealthy’ skin, cultural difference plays a part: the benefits of someone having ‘tanned’ skin never exactly come through for a darker-skinned Asian.
Imagine, for all your life, hearing colorist remarks from all your friends such as “Oh I can’t see you in the dark!”, “I went out to the beach and got just as tanned as you!” or my personal favorite, “Use (insert any skin whitening cream brand), and maybe the boys will like you!” These so-called ‘jokes’ seem funny to no one. No one. Not when they’re so hurtful, and easily taken to heart, especially to a young teenager or child. How can they be funny, when they’re attacking and demeaning a person’s skin colour? It’s even more upsetting seeing the topic remain widely undiscussed, even when racism is being discussed. They both go very hand in hand, and both are painfully embedded in disgusting histories. White supremacy has such strong roots that have dug in deep, and lasted in so many different communities and races across the world - the idea that white people are superior because of how they’ve forcefully ruled much of the world is still prevalent to this day through featurism, texturism, racism and colorism. So why implement it in daily life? Why even ‘joke’ about it? This ideology that white people are unquestionably ‘better’ is truly hurtful to anyone of colour.
Colorism can further be seen within our celebrities and friends to the media feeding into the sick mentality. In India (and quite frankly a lot of South Asian countries), dark-skinned people are rarely ever represented in the media. Every Bollywood movie or show that has tried to feature a darker-skinned female lead has always received intense backlash and hate from within the community. Furthermore, countless of actresses and actors from various Asian countries have committed (and are committing) to brand deals with skin lightening product companies, promising to their fans the ‘positive and successful’ effects. These include widely known celebrities such as Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Deepika Padukone, Tiffany (from SNSD), and so many others. Not only are these products actually harmful to the people who have been convinced to start using them, they’re also harmful to this culture of thinking that the only way someone can be successful is through having lighter skin.
Sadly, however, this ideology is true in so many cases. A study by the University of Georgia showed that employers usually prefer lighter-skinned men with fewer credentials, to work for them over a darker-skinned man with higher credentials. It is so frustrating to see colorism so ingrained in such influential countries, namely England and America. Not only are darker skinned people being mentally affected by colorism through micro-aggressions, they’re also being given fewer opportunities to succeed in comparison to their light-skinned peers. Imagine how tiring it is for darker-skinned people to see that they didn’t get a job that they were fully qualified for once again, simply because their employer had a preference over their skin tone.
Moving forward with the issue of colorism, what we need to do is acknowledge that it is a very real and immediate issue that so many people deal with. We have to treat it with the same gravity as we do with racism, and know whether it’s our place or not to resent colorism is something we deal with. Some people will never deal with colorism directly affecting them and that’s okay, we just have to make sure that this becomes the case for everyone. Listen to darker-skinned Asians and their struggles. Don’t make the ‘jokes’ about their skin complexion - it leaves permanent scars that stay with them for life. We need more inclusion, more diversity in media and not just for pity or the sake of it, but because we are humans just like everyone else. Darker-skinned Asians have as much talent, passion, and intelligence as any other lighter-skinned Asian, as any other human being.
Of course, we have made progress over the years. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (a Tamil-Canadian who has darker skin) played the starring role of Devi Vishwakumar in the Netflix show, “Never Have I Ever”. It was even cooler to see this show reach the number one spot on Netflix in multiple different countries, further indicating how far we’ve come in our respective societies. With the Black Lives Matter movement going stronger than ever, we’ve also been bringing up topic of colorism more frequently, and larger corporations are hiring more darker skinned people in order to make their own values on diversity evident. It’s small progress - I admit - and we do need more. This is a message to all darker-skinned people all over the world, no matter your race or nationality: we cannot keep letting people harass us simply for having more melanin - something we were born with. Something we didn’t even have a choice over.
And to my lighter-skinned friends, I understand that colorism can affect you too, but not to the painful extent that it affects your darker-skinned friends. Please, listen to them, hear their voices, and have the same rage against this issue as you have against racism. All of us should, without a doubt, be embedding the idea of anti-colorism the same way that we’re embedding anti-racism. Educate yourself on the issue, and understand why it should be addressed as the huge issue that it really is. It will be a long fight, I’m sure, given that colorism also happens within people’s own races, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s just as wrong. It’s still painful, and it’s still traumatising.
Written by Srimathi Vadivel, teen founder of @fightingcolorism on instagram, raising awareness on this important issue.