Essay on Skin Colour Discrimination

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction to Colorism and Its Roots in Colonialism
  2. The Impact of British Rule on Indian Society and Colorism
  3. Media's Role in Perpetuating Colorism in India
  4. Personal Perspectives and the Superficiality of Skin-Lightening Practices
  5. Works Cited

Introduction to Colorism and Its Roots in Colonialism

India has a history of colorism. Women who have dark skin tones have been contrived as inferior to their fair-skinned counterparts. This could be an issue of constant deprecation from the media or it could be a factor of Indian culture where colorism is deeply rooted. When I visited India, I saw many advertisements that promote skin-whitening creams that are considered demeaning to dark-skinned women. Colorism became a profound issue when people stopped batting an eyelash. India, like many Asian countries, is in denial of its borderline racism i.e. making people believe that fair skin is more prosperous than dark skin. Many believe that long years of colonialism were the root cause of colorism and the bedeviled obsession with western beauty. Some others believe that media (television advertisements, films, and billboard advertisements) perpetuate and push “ideal” femininity- light skin, thin nose, straight hair, and slim body. Some people believe that the obsession with skin bleaching/whitening products is purely personal and superficial. The bottom line is, India’s problem of colorism is touching the line of racism by a small margin. These positions are required to come together and find a solution to introduce inclusivity of all kinds of women in India. In this paper, I will review three main positions on the issue of colorism in India. First, the effects of British rule in India have led to an inferiority complex amongst Indian women because of their skin color. Second, the impact of media due to the wide extensive portrayal of dark-skinned women in a negative light and boycotting such advertisements is a step towards skin color equality. The popular media’s constant enforcement of skin-lightening products further enlarges and deepens colorism within South Asian societal customs. For my third position, sources believe the use of skin cream products by Indian women is superficial and has no underlying social hierarchal reasons as opposed to black women whose reasons are based on the social hierarchy.

The Impact of British Rule on Indian Society and Colorism

In the past, India has been a victim of many invasions by political powers including British rule. British rule in India has changed the shape of modern Indian culture and society. From these 200 years of imperialism, racial discrimination arose along with colorism. In short, the western beauty ideal is a heavily influential factor of colorism in India. Colorism is an issue that has been tied to colonialism and the oppression that came along with it. Robinson asserts that the oppression in turn gave rise to the ideology of whiteness as a form of imitation by colonized people (qt. in Wardhani, Large and Dugis 86). Baiq Wardhani, Era Langis, and Vinsenia Dugis published an article, “Colorism, Mimicry, and Construction in Modern India” which develops a connection between postcolonialism and the usage of skin whitening creams. Wardhani and the rest of the authors bring in the sociopolitical point of view pertaining to the behavior of “mimicry.” Homi Bhabha believes the behavior of “mimicry” is generated as a form of mockery and is also viewed as a submissive attitude to imitate power. It can also mean post colonized women believed that white skin equals higher social status (qt. in Wardhani, Largis Dugis). Wardhani, Large, and Dugis agree that colonization has created internalization of “west and white is beautiful” which has consequently led to the westernization of beauty. By extension, British rule in India has made white skin a patriarchal standard which has further crept into the mindsets of modern Indians (Wardhani, Large, and Dugis). But some arguments say that even though colonialism is one of the root causes of colorism in India, it is not entirely to blame. One audience might argue that colonialism is a façade for racism in the Indian community while another set of the audience might believe that colonialism has damaged the mindset of colonized people leading them to discern whiteness as a symbol of power and status.

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Media's Role in Perpetuating Colorism in India

Advertisements have constantly badgered young women and men with skin-lightening products by showing unrealistic visuals. Colorism is considered a sensitive topic amongst feminist groups in India such as Women of Worth because Bollywood films have made dark-skinned people the brunt of jokes. Radhika Parameswaran and Kavitha Cardoza wrote an article called “Melanin on the Margins: Advertising and the Cultural Politics of Fair/Light/White Beauty in India” which demonstrates the negative impacts of media and modern culture on dark complexed women. For example, women with fair complexion can easily find a groom without a hitch in an arranged marriage as opposed to dark-skinned women who are prone to undeliberate ridiculing. In fact, a prominent website called carries skin tone filters- from light to wheat-ish to dark. Similarly, the authors describe the Indian film industry and how it has globalized the white skin phenomena and catered to such actors and dancers which has left a cloud of frustration over the majority of aspiring people (Parameswaran and Cardoza 230). For instance, actors like Shah Rukh Khan were adamant about having “white-skinned college girls” as backup dancers in one of his movies. Actor Kajol who was considered “smoky” and “unconventional” was mentioned in this article to show contrast and how colorism has been reduced to offhand comments. In addition to the film industry, television advertisements play a major role in perpetuating beauty standards that are hard to acquire for normal Indian women. Although the skin whitening industry was not solely responsible for the creation of dark skin stigma, they have actively engaged and promoted selling these products in a rather disturbing manner. An example mentioned by Parameswaran and Cardoza portrays a dark-toned woman being sad and unhappy until she uses a cream called “Fair n Lovely” and as a result becomes a happy woman with a love interest. All due to the usage of the product. As mentioned earlier, the authors believe even though colonialism could be a factor in skin color discrimination in India, modern media and culture are the main perpetrators of colorism. Women are not the only ones who are victims in this as recently, men's skin whitening creams such as “Fair n Handsome” have been introduced in the market. There have been billboards enforcing these creams which show men in a “before and after” setting. Both Parameswaran and Cardoza agree that although angered voices cannot be heard in a herd of commercial beauty promotions, they help in disrupting and dismantling the system of colorism little by little. The audience such as television advertisement producers might argue that advertisements would have little to no impact on the mindsets of young people as there are far more pressing matters they could worry about. A few others such as feminist groups, young people, and parents would favor Parameswaran and Cardoza in their claims that commercials favor fair skin and portray dark-skinned people in a bad light creating negative thinking amongst adolescents and women. Parameswaran, Cardoza, Wardhani, Dugis, and Largis diverge on this subject because Parameswaran and Cardoza focus on the commercial impact of colorism whereas Wardhani, Dugis, and Largis summarize the impacts of British rule on modern India. However, Wardhani, Large, and Dugis along with Parameswaran and Cardoza converge at the point of colonialism and sociocultural values.

Personal Perspectives and the Superficiality of Skin-Lightening Practices

The issue of skin color can also be reduced to a personal level. Kathryn Harper and Becky L. Choma published an article called “Internalized White Ideal, Skin Tone Surveillance, and Hair Surveillance Predict Skin and Hair Dissatisfaction and Skin Bleaching among African American and Indian Women”. This article encapsulates the mindsets of Indian women and Black women regarding skin color dissociation. Most Indian women use skin-lightening creams for self-satisfaction which is linked with self-objectification. It is not common for women of color to be subjected to pressures of racialized beauty standards. Harper and Choma claim that Indian women mostly use skin-lightening creams as an aesthetic and what is considered superficial behavior. Whereas, Black women are most likely to use skin-lightening creams due to psychological and societal ramifications. Indian women seem to be turning a blind eye to their racial discrimination when describing their usage of skin-lightening products as merely superficial. However, both parties experience self-objectification like one another but differently from white women. Harper and Choma strongly believe that the continuation of internalization of skin and body dissatisfaction among women of color would ultimately pave the way to negative outcomes. This cycle of internalization of white beauty ideals followed by self-objectification followed by negative outcomes must break somewhere. Wardhani, Large, Dugis, Parameswaran, Cardoza, Choma, and Harper are all in the same boat regarding the issue of colorism in India. However, Wardhani, Large, Dugis, Parameswaran, Cardoza, Choma, and Harper approached the issue from different sides. All authors agree that years of imperialism are the root cause of skin color discrimination in India. The authors presenting the three positions also agree that media is the driving force in converting the mindsets of millions in India because the same media was one of the biggest perpetrators in pushing westernized beauty standards. Media exposure has given people a free pass to nonchalantly talk about dark-skinned people in a negative light. The authors do not seem to disagree at any point because this topic is sensitive and in fact, there is nothing to disagree upon as it is a sensitive issue affecting many people. Wardhani, Largis, and Dugis along with Parameswaran and Cardoza could work together because their paths converge at the point of colonialism and sociocultural values. However, Harper and Choma diverged from Wardhani, Largis, Dugis, Parameswaran, and Cardoza since they based their article on psychological factors rather than history and sociocultural factors. The issue is classified as complicated because it is not an easy task to change the mindset of people and indulge them in promoting inclusivity.

Works Cited

  1. Harper, Kathryn, and Choma, Becky L. “Internalized White Ideal, Skin Tone Surveillance, and Hair Surveillance Predict Skin and Hair Dissatisfaction and Skin Bleaching Among African American and Indian Women.” Sex roles. 80.11-12 735–744.
  2. Parameswaran, Radhika, and Kavitha Cardoza. “Melanin on the Margins: Advertising and the Cultural Politics of Fair/Light/White Beauty in India.” Journalism & Communication Monographs, vol. 11, no. 3, Sept. 2009, pp. 213–274.
  3. Wardhani, Baiq, Era Largis, and Vinsensio Dugis. 'Colorism, Mimicry, and Beauty Construction in Modern India.' Jurnal Hubungan Internasional, vol. 6, no. 2, 2017, pp. 188-198.
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