RANGBHED: Unlearning Colourism; the daughter of Racism
“The only shades we, as a society, should care about are shades of progression and difference, not skin.”
‘Colourism’, a term believed to be first coined in 1982 by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, was defined by her to mean the “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their colour. It not only applies within racial communities but also between them. It is a global phenomenon, and because of its tie to beauty it affects women more than men”. –Kimberly Jade Norwood
‘Too Much Melanin’
When the white light hits the Indian prism, a chromatic spectrum of ‘beauty standards’ reach our vision, contrarily, when a dark shaded skin tone reflects in the defaulted ‘black’ pupil of India and travels through its colonised mind, the ‘colour’ becomes a taboo.
If we could, we’d permanently carry around the Asian Paints Shade Card of Complexions or the ‘late’ Fair & Lovely Shade guide to demarcate the lighter brown skin from the darker brown skin, to leave no stone unturned in our ‘no-guilt’ claiming of who’s ‘fairer’ than who. It wouldn’t be much of a sweat for an individual to answer if asked about the prevalent ‘colour comparison’ in their vicinity. From a wrist-to-wrist comparison of skin shade, Indian context racism intertwined with language, colour, caste, economics, politics, historic and mental, the mockery of labels such as ‘kaaliya, kaala-kallutha, kauwa’, to the most eminent stragedy, choosing a ‘fair-complexioned’ spouse.
Taking colours into the equation while we subtly compliment, “you’re dark but your features are sharp”, “you’re brown and beautiful”, “your skin looks great against the white”, we must be consistently reminded that ‘Colourism’ and ‘Racism’ doesn’t go anywhere after this interim performative allyship and optical activism. Can’t one be ‘just beautiful’, irrespective of whatever their skin colour is? How hard it is for us to accept that beauty is beyond the skin?
The Othering of the Southerners:
The discrimination of South Indians from North Indians under the aegis of the complexion umbrella is not contemporary. The country’s systemic pro-north bias has led to the othering of South Indians, generally and politically.
There have been instances of South Indians, finding themselves in positions where they defend the stereotype with ‘not all South Indians are dark-skinned’. Diluting the problem may lead to its translucency, but its transparency lies in the question, ‘Why get triggered at being dark?’, the onus is on the ones who have a problem with acceptance, and not the ones who do not ‘fit’ in the former’s conventionally painted picture of ‘beauty’. The best retort is to ‘own your melanin’, with dignity.
Often we come across comments like ‘Saambar odoured’,’ funny accented’, ‘Ayyo, poda patti, machaan’ mock-mouthing for the ‘South Indians’ or if I put it without generalisation – ‘Indians in the South’.
These are relatively innocuous manifestations of a problem, deeply-rooted, tracing back to historical happenstances until today.
It’s high time we address it!
‘Too Less Melanin’-
Albinism and Discrimination:
•In India, social stigma is associated with any pigmentary disorder, one such prevailing Gordian-Knot lies with people who’re stricken with ‘Albinism’.
As per Mithila Vanarase’s research on Albinism in India; Social Stigma and Under-treated Entity, Albinism is an inability to synthesize melanin in the skin and the eyes. There are two types of albinism; ocular albinism and Oculocutaneous albinism (OCA), it is the most common inherited disorder of pigmentation, with an estimated frequency of 1:20,000 in most populations. Skin manifestation of Oculocutaneous albinism is sunburns, premalignant skin lesions, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers and most is actinic keratoses predisposing to squamous cell carcinoma. Albinism is not a disease, but an inherited genetic trait, just like dimples and freckles.
Albinism is an extremely rare condition with about 100 thousand to 200 thousand such cases in India and no, it’s not contagious.
The condition is still foreign to many, but the discrimination regarding it is here to stay. Albino’s are frequently viewed as ‘foreign’ or ‘white ghosts’ when encountered. They’re deemed as ‘not beautiful’ and ‘special’. Their stories are told out of pity, they’re subjected to crimes because of their ‘unnatural’ skin colour. Albino stigmatism starts with an Albino’s first breath, they’re always at the receiving end of quandary due to their intersectional identity embodiment and the fallacious beliefs that are linked to it.
India on its Headway:
Acknowledging India’s recent take on Colourism–
On 3rd February 2020, The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was released.
As per WARC,
The new additions include ads for drugs or treatment for fairness of skin, premature ageing, AIDS, improvement of memory, improvement of the height of kids/adults, improvement of the size of sexual organs, duration of sexual performance, among others.
Under section seven of the Act, the first conviction is punishable with imprisonment of up to six months or a fine or both; and a subsequent conviction can result in imprisonment of up to a year or a fine, or both.
The amendment proposes to increase the penalties. For the first conviction, the proposed punishment is imprisonment of up to two years and a fine up to Rs 10 lakh (US$14,000). For a subsequent conviction, the imprisonment may extend to five years with a fine of up to Rs 50 lakh (US$70,000).
As per CNN,
On 25th June, Unilever (UL), L’Oréal (LRLCF) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) plan to rename or discontinue some of their skincare brands in India as controversy grows over the use of skin-lightening products.
Hindustan Unilever, the Indian subsidiary of the global consumer goods giant, announced that it would “stop using the word ‘Fair’ in the brand name” of its “Fair & Lovely” skincare brand.
However, I believe that this maybe a great start but is definitely not a complete finish. The rebranding doesn’t change the fact that the purpose of the cream is to still ‘whiten’ skin tones, and it will continue to sell. Band-aiding the word will only hide it.
All in all, the product could have been banned/discontinued.
The only shades we, as a society, should care about are shades of progression and difference, not skin. The layers that should worry us are layers of discrimination, colourism, shadeism and racism. The shapes and sizes that should concern us are that of our prejudiced minds and ideologies but never that of our body. The agita that has to do with heights, should solely be for the heights of non-sensical beauty standards and not for the heights of individuals.