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Why I Think Colourism Needs To Be Talked About Just As Much As Racism

Posted: July 29, 2020

We are all outraged at the surge in racial bias in the United States. So it is time we Indians self reflect and make some serious changes to OUR preferred mode of skin-tone prejudice: Colorism

With the murder of George Floyd sparking protests in over 60 countries across the globe, and Hindustan Unilever rebranding its cream as ‘Glow & Lovely’ instead of the earlier ‘Fair & Lovely’; now is perhaps a really good time to talk about how colorism in India is often many times mistook for ‘racism’.

2 important things to note with regards to race and color are:

1) People of the same race may have different skin tones

2) People of different races may have the same skin tone

Racism Vs Colorism: The Details

Colorism may have begun for many of us at homes as children when being compared to a more fair-skinned sibling. This example is crucial to understanding what colorism actually is. 2 children from the same family, belonging to the same race and being treated differently is not racism, but rather is colorism.

In simple terms, while racism is treating people of different races differently irrespective of their skin color; colorism refers to when two people of the same race but different skin tones are treated differently.

As an example, an Australian souvenir-shop owner treating an Indian customer, who is the same skin tone as another Australian customer, differently than the Australian customer is racism.

On the other hand, a salesperson in a mall smiling and offering chocolates only to the more fair-skinned of the two small kids (of the same race) of a shop’s customer is colorism.

An example that comes to my mind when thinking of how deep-rooted colorism is, is a dialogue from the movie ‘2 States’. While convincing his mom for marrying Alia Bhatt’s Tamil character in the movie, Arjun Kapoor’s Punjabi character says, “Mom, voh (Alia Bhatt’s Tamil character) mere se bhi jyada gori hai!” (translation: “Mom, she is even fairer than me!” (i.e. despite the fact that she is Tamil and hence prejudiced to be dark-skinned while he is Punjabi and hence generally prejudiced to be fair-skinned)).

Both Are Equally Pervasive

So, any inequity, bias, or prejudice that is a result of skin tone among persons of the same race is colorism. Colorism is not specific to India but rather is international in nature. The commonality across different cultures, however, is that the lighter skin is systemically privileged while the darker skin is disadvantaged.

A sad outcome of colorism is the dislike that a person affected by colorism may develop for their own skin tone and features.

All in all, colorism and racism are both terrible and morally disgusting in nature.

I feel that it will help a great deal if each of us introspects and recognizes the need for unlearning colorism if one is consciously or unconsciously propagating it through any words or actions.

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