It is no secret that dark-skinned South Asians face near-debilitating effects of colorism in their community; generations have grown up feeling inferior due to their complexion, fearing the sun shining on their skin.
The ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, spurred by the murder of George Floyd by Officer Derek Chauvin, are causing many communities are seeking to abolish the rampant racism that they have been harboring for centuries.
One instance of this is the South Asian community. Currently, South Asian young boys and girls grow up considering fairness as a virtue. This colorism is often encouraged by the actions of corporations, who hope to use it for economic gain. Only recently, after facing backlash for promoting colorism, did skin-whitening cream Fair and Lovely rebrand its product as ‘Glow and Lovely.’ Fair and Lovely, er, Glow and Lovely, currently holds nearly 70% of the Indian market share.
Declaring open season on colorism
Shaadi.com is the latest company facing backlash. The matrimonial website was called out by Toronto resident Meghan Nagpal’s tweets, which urged the website to remove its skin-tone filters. The filter feature categories such as “fair,” “wheatish,” and “dark.”
Nagpal’s effort did not end there. She shared the contents of her tweet on a Facebook group urging the members to make similar calls to action. Additionally, Nagpal wrote an email to the matrimony website on June 10 asking for the filters to be removed.
She told CNN that Shaadi.com representatives replied that the filter “is required by most parents.” Parents assume a major position in South Asian matrimonial ceremonies, including matchmaking.
The harrowing reality is that their statement is not wrong per se. The skin color filter probably is required by most parents. The problem is that instead of attempting to dismantle this damaging categorization, Shaadi.com sought to profit from it.
Shaadi.com’s inadequate response infuriated Dallas resident Hetal Lakhani. So, she decided to start an online petition demanding Shaadi.com take appropriate action. As a result of the joint efforts of Nagpal, Lakhani, and Roshni Patel, a blogger who shared the petition with her 14.5K Twitter followers, the skin tone filter was ultimately removed.
However, the issue is far from resolved, as the fact remains that colorism sells.
The buck stops here?
The prejudicial dichotomy of the beauty standards in South Asian countries is under attack. South Asians all around the world are outraged by Bollywood’s empty virtue signaling and lack of commitment to checking its own bias.
For example, the 2019 Bollywood movie Bala displayed blatant brownface. The movie, which aimed to advocate against damaging beauty standards, resorted to cosmetically darken Bhumi Padneker’s face instead of hiring a naturally dark-skinned actor. This is just one specific instance: despite the fact that a significant proportion of Bollywood’s audience is dark-skinned, the industry has repeatedly and unapologetically upheld its colorist bias.
Actor Priyanka Chopra has endorsed fairness creams in the past. However, she recently expressed her regret and stated that she would discontinue supporting said products.
“I’m dusky myself and I’m very proud to be dusky. I would never go around saying that you need to become fair and that’s the only way you’d be beautiful because I don’t endorse that…”Priyanka Chopra
Chopra is hardly the only celebrity that is facing backlash for similar hypocrisy. Shah Rukh Khan, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Deepika Padukone, and others have all endorsed fairness creams at some point.
These changes are just the beginning. More and more South Asian influencers are speaking out against colorism in their communities and cutting ties with fairness products.
“Beauty standards are created in these industries and heavily influence what many consider beautiful and whatnot,” their website reads. “For decades Colorism has proliferated as a result of the promotion of lighter-skinned and whitewashed heroines and heroes.”
Also, former Miss America, Nina Davaluri, the first Indian-American womxn title-holder, tailored her platform along “Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competence.”
“I definitely remember comments from family members relating to my skin color. I grew up with a lot of stereotypes, especially being in a south Asian family where the lighter your skin is, the more beautiful you are considered.”Nina Davuluri
On February 3, 2020, the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare proposed an amendment to the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act. The amendment proposed to ban the advertising of fairness creams among other products. The bill mentions jail time for up to five years and a fine of up to Rs.50 lakh (70,000 USD) for offenders.
Ultimately, it is imperative that we all look into our own communities to check colorist practices. It rests on us to prevent robbing coming generations of their self-worth.