Tuesday, 18 July 2017
Lets talk about colourism
It is quite disappointing that in a supposedly “colour-blind” era, there is still a globalised preference for fairer skin.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?
Not me. It was never going to be me.
Because we live in a society that is rife with colourism, there is always stigma associated with darker skin complexions.
Growing up, I had some difficulty in accepting that I was just not one of the so called ‘yellowbones’. I was made to believe, both overtly and subtly, that fair skin equals beauty and sometimes even intelligence. I remember a beauty contest held in class when l was 11 years old by a male teacher and somehow found myself among the chosen five. Out of the five I was the darkest. The plan was out of the five, the less pretty girls were to be voted out of the contest one by one until only the beauty queen was left. Weird enough I was the first one out. I asked later on what was the criterion used; I was told it was because I was too dark.
Looking back, I realise that the attitude towards dark skin colour limited some people during their childhood and still does and nothing has changed much.
I vividly remember one of my fairer complexioned friends telling me the reason behind her sister’s even fairer complexion was the fact that she had once fallen into a bucket of bleach. I remember how I actually seriously believed it and envied them at the time. But not anymore!
Of course not everyone’s experiences are the same. But for others, including myself, this issue often came up when talking to friends back then and even now. And like these women, I have heard many of the repulsive things people say to and about dark-skinned women.
I once heard somebody saying,
“It’s okay to be dark, but not very dark.” Really?
“She is pretty for a dark girl,” we often hear.
Two things came to mind when she said this – the pervasiveness of this belief and its implicit biases are still very much alive. And second, that young kids who are still figuring out the ways of the world are already being told that their brown skin is unattractive is NOT okay.
Yes – the media, of course, have played their role.
The emphasis on lighter skin definitely has an appallingly strong presence in the sphere of advertising and popular culture, but I feel the pressure to conform to these beliefs are rooted in our homes, school, workplaces and communities.
Skin lightening is a despicable billion dollar industry. According to Latina.com, lighter-skinned Latinos enjoy substantial privileges such as lower unemployment rates and lower poverty rates than black Latinos. And research conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that skin lightening products are commonly used in African countries, with 35% of South African women using them on a regular basis.
Over-the-counter skin bleaching products containing mercury and hydroquinone are still being sold on the black market. Unilever’s infamous Fair and Lovely was introduced in 1975 and is currently marketed to 30 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
I don’t want women to believe that there are products out there to act as a surrogate for their beauty. I want an 11-year-old to believe that “not too dark” is also beautiful despite what her classmates may want her to believe.
I want her to speak eloquently of her brown skin, and to understand that fairness as a virtue is nothing but a notion that has been preconditioned into a society and that we should not take it seriously.
Expressing rage about the permeation of corporate exploitation are good ways of activism, but they are certainly not enough.
It is the innate internalised thinking in so many cultures that will continue to encourage a market for these products. Breaking down this innate consciousness is where sustained activism must begin.
(There are people who use skin lightening for eczema and other skin problems on prescription, these I don’t have a problem with, but be careful what you wish for)