As a young girl, my relatives asked, to my face, why I was much darker than the rest of my family! What possible answer would a 7 y.o. have to that?
The tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of police has been the rallying cry for the Black community and others to say enough is enough. This is sadly not the first time this kind of violence has occurred, but somehow, this time, this event struck a chord. And not just with African-Americans, but with others around the world as well.
In the aftermath of Floyd’s murder, all 50 states held protests to highlight the injustice of racism. Internationally, six of seven continents all had protests happening in their major cities and capitals. It seemed as though people of all nations could relate to some form of prejudice and racism and they were eager to have their voices heard.
As awful as this tragedy is, and as proud as I am about protestors uniting to fight for a worthy cause, I asked myself what I had to add to the conversation. This is an issue that the Black community faces on a daily basis, but was it relevant to my own life?
The more I thought about it, I realised that living in the US, we all have certain freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, or rights protected by law. It certainly doesn’t mean that discrimination does not exist. Rather, that should it happen, there are legal avenues for addressing any grievances one might have.
But it wasn’t always this way. Those rights were at first guaranteed only for white men. Civil Rights movements, such as Black suffrage, only happened after the Civil War. That, and the efforts of Dr Martin Luther King Jr and his allies in the 1960s paved the way, not only for African-Americans, but for the people of color who were to come after. Like me.
Southeast Asians owe a huge debt of gratitude to the civil rights movement. We are surviving and thriving because of the path they created, the laws that were enacted with their blood, sweat, and tears.
The Black Lives Matter movement also forced other global communities to question their own ethics when it came to racism and colourism. Naturally, it piqued my attention when those in India were debating the issue of fair skin versus dark skin.
Fair skin has always been considered ‘better,’ beautiful and more desirable when it comes to marriage prospects. And it is also what people desire even when choosing a candidate who might be hired after a job interview. As unfair as it sounds, this mindset is so embedded in the culture that most people don’t even think about it, let alone speak up about it.
As a young girl, I was asked to my face by relatives why I’m so much darker than the rest of my family. What possible answer could a seven-year-old have to that? Uh, I was born this way? To meeting an auntie (unrelated to me) who, upon an introduction to me and other family members, said, “Your daughter is the only one who is different.” I was much older then, around twenty years old, but it stung. It still does.
Nina Davuluri, the first Miss America of Indian descent, who was crowned in 2014, was scrutinised after her win. And headlines mused whether it was possible that someone like her could win a beauty pageant in India because of her darker complexion.
After the recent protests, Nina shone a spotlight on fairness creams. These are widely popular in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, as part of the greater issue of colourism in society.
As a result of her efforts, cosmetic giants L’Oréal, Unilever and Johnson & Johnson all agreed to change their marketing language. They agreed to remove words such as ‘fairness’ and ‘whitening’ from their packaging and advertisements, or stop marketing certain products altogether.
Nina has acknowledged these are small steps towards achieving equality. Meanwhile it has opened up the greater discussion for the evils of colourism that plague societies. One where people of color, who although may not be oppressed by a “white majority,” still find reasons to racially profile each other solely based on color.
First published here.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Angry Indian Goddesses
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Jen has always enjoyed visual communications and writing ever since her school spelling bee days.
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