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Colorism and Why We Need to Change

By Nikita Shetty

Edited by Sarah Nauman

~ Op-Ed ~

Growing up in a South Asian household already has its difficulties, but certain things haven't gotten any attention. Colorism. You may be wondering what that word means. Colorism is the prejudice or discrimination against individuals with darker skin tones, typically from the same ethnic/racial group or community.

Although colorism is a terrible form of discrimination, we need to make it clear that racism and colorism are two different things, but of equal importance. Racism is the prejudice or discrimination against a specific and may involve centuries of years of history and political/social systems. As I mentioned earlier, colorism is the discrimination and/or prejudice against a community due to the color of their skin amongst the same ethnic or racial community.

As a South Indian, I’ve been mocked for having darker skin than all the other kids throughout my entire life, but I never thought much of it. I dismissed it and played along with the jokes. But as I grew older, I realized how hurtful the things they did and said to me were. I realized how much they damaged my self esteem and how all I wanted was to be “lighter,” but it never hit me earlier.

Colorism has had a huge negative effect on many POC groups, including Black, South/East Asian, Latinx, and many, many more people. In lots of these groups, it’s been encouraged to use “skin lightening creams and products” to make yourself look “more beautiful”, and this, unfortunately has been the case for generations. For young kids with darker skin, including myself, this has been extremely discouraging and has made us feel bad about ourselves since we were children because of this negative standard that “light equals pretty.” What makes this worse is that it’s people from our communities who make us feel terrible about the way we look because of our skin tone. As one big ethnic/racial community, we have to stand together and love one another for who we are and we shouldn’t be placing these awful stereotypes that if you don’t look like those models who advertise lightening products, you’re less beautiful.

Now let’s look at representation. Whenever we get any form of representation, we get super excited since the industry isn’t the most diverse even though we see some slight change. However, is this representation accurate? I would say that no, it isn’t accurate and doesn’t describe who we, as POC, are. As an Indian, the only representational the film/TV industry we get is usually the weird, nerdy kid with no friends or a sustainable social life, and the representation we get in the beauty industry is full of lighter skinned people. Many famous actors, actresses, and overall influencers in the Bollywood film industry have been receiving backlash because of how they promote skin whitening products and creams. Many of us didn’t think much about how suspicious and saddening this was until this topic finally got some light shed upon it. Going back to the Hollywood industry, people of color have definitely been getting more portrayed, but colorism is still very active in the minds of several people. Even if they don’t intend to think of the idea of “light is more beautiful and dark is ugly,” it comes natural because that’s been the standard throughout everyone’s entire lives.

Looking at Black culture in America specifically, there is this idea that “light skin” women are more attractive than “dark skin” women. Using these terms to put people down for their skin color is genuinely disgusting and needs to stop. Simply because someone isn’t your “preferred” skin tone, does not mean you should go bash others who have darker skin.

It’s been very triggering to the younger generations and can lead to mental health issues, loss of confidence, and anxiety. If you’re a POC of an have experienced first hand colorism, please do not stay silent. We need to fight for our fellow brothers and sisters in our own communities because it’s completely unfair to judge people because of their skin tone and to give more opportunities to lighter people, even if they are still people of color. We must educate and bring more attention to this issue that several people don’t even know exist.

How could you help support and confront this situation, whether you are a person of color or not?

  1. Have those difficult conversations! Trust me, I know how hard they can be, but it’s time to change these habits of staying silent on serious issues like this. If any of your family or friends offer you a skin lightening product, educate them! Sit down and talk. Explain to them why this is toxic and can harm our self esteem and mental health.

  2. Raise awareness! Whatever it may be! Whether it’s through social media through an Instagram repost, or physically having a conversation, educate yourself first, and then help educate others around you

  3. Call! Colorist! People! Out! Don’t be afraid to tell them that they are in the wrong and are harming people without knowing it. And if they’re doing it knowingly — it’s time you guys have a little discussion. Let them know what they did wrong without being too harsh so that they can LEARN and GROW instead of just yelling at them and not truly educating them, because that’s a waste of your time!

  4. Self Acknowledgement. Acknowledge the things you’ve done or said. It may not have been on purpose, but take some time to think. Saying things like “I don’t know, I just wouldn’t want to date someone with darker skin.” is not preference, it’s colorism.

  5. Support those who are victims of colorism! If your friends or family have gone through harsh bullying or something along those lines, let them know that you are here for them and show them that they are just as valid as people of lighter skin! Make them understand that these standards are stupid and need to come to an end immediately, when in reality it will take time, but we all have to support each other in order for it to happen! Tell them that they should not feel ashamed or sorry about their skin color — they can’t control it!

Especially in the year 2020, I think it’s important for all of us to educate and empower the youth because we cannot keep damaging their minds and giving them negative mindsets to discriminate against certain people because people of darker skin simply should not have to be ashamed of what they look like. Skin tone should not, and never should have in the first place, define someone’s beauty. Fair skin, dark skin, it doesn’t matter. We are all beautiful and no one should discriminate against one another simply because of the color of their skin. It’s vital that we start accepting each other, no matter the skin color, instead of bringing them down for something they can’t control.

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