Colourism and Racism from the Perspective of a South-Asian

Featured Artwork: Ojo Agi


Lupita Nyong’o once famously said, “Colourism is the daughter of racism.” Why is it relevant, you ask? Being a South-Asian brown girl living in a third-world country, colourism is something I have faced for most of my life.

“You have a dirty skin-‘moyla’” is what they call it in Bangla. “You won’t find a good husband with this skin colour” — these are comments that I have gotten from aunties whose mindsets are still influenced by colonial thinking — there is no doubt that racism traces back to slave trade and colonialism. Why is this certitude necessary and how does this relate to colourism? Well, colourism stems from colonialism. The post-colonial Indian subcontinent has progressed a lot economically, but what about the post-colonial mentality of the people?

We can understand the underlying mindset of people deeming white skin as superior if we look at skin-whitening ads. These ads are immensely problematic because they often use the narrative that one can’t succeed in their own respective field if they have a dusky skin tone, or anything less than fair skin.

Racism is discriminating against someone for their ancestry or racial identity, whereas colourism is about discriminating against someone on the basis of their physiognomy. If we study history, we can find a similar pattern. Colonizers or subjugators both used colourism and racism to create a form of hierarchy. Funnily enough, this form of hierarchy still exists subconsciously, even though colonialism doesn’t exist in the flesh.

The Black Lives Matter movement is one of the biggest movements in recent times, with protestors from all around the world taking to the streets to raise their voice amidst a global pandemic. Even though racism and colourism are distinct, we must still acknowledge they are problematic and work to systematically remove them. Here’s how can we can contribute to the movement, and be better human beings: have an open conversation with your family and friends, raise your voice if your friends are using racial slurs, educate yourself on the day-to-day problems that Black people face and see if you can help or not, hold your boss accountable if your Black colleague is being discriminated — whatever it takes, and educate yourself.

For us South-Asians, we might be unknowingly participating in a conversation that is problematic. A casual racist or colourist remarks perhaps? It’s problematic nonetheless. It’s time we had all an uncomfortable conversation that helps us to live comfortably in society. It’s time we educate ourselves on these topics starting at the grassroots level to make sure we don’t perpetuate this cycle and free ourselves from the colonial mentality of fair skin supremacy.

As a South-Asian girl, I can attest to the fact that there are a lot of colourist remarks that go by unnoticed in normal conversations without anyone objecting. It’s time we had that conversation if we truly want equality for all. We must be better than this. Black Lives Matter is not a movement for only Black people, it’s a movement for everyone to participate in to fight against oppression, racism, inequality, and injustice.

#BlackLivesMatter #SouthAsiansForBlackLives 

Usraat Fahmidah

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