Not Fair and Still Lovely; A South Asian Call to Action

In South Asian communities, colourism pervades all beauty standards and pop culture, with disastrous consequences. The Netflix show Indian Matchmaking for instance was chastised in 2020 for allegedly sending the message that 'tall, fair, and trim' women are attractive, while darker-skinned women are unattractive.

The situation only gets worse as Priyanka Chopra was also chastised for promoting skin-lightening products in India, adding to the industry's already robust global demand, which is expected to reach $31.2 billion by 2024. She was chastised for opposing racism while promoting products that profit from racist Eurocentric beauty standards.

The origins of colourism in South Asian culture can be traced back to India's caste system, a centuries-old hierarchy that stratifies people primarily based on their profession. Those who are darker are frequently thought to be from the "lower" castes. This was caused by manual labourers at the bottom of the caste system working in the sun and turning darker. As a result, people with lighter skin were associated with higher castes. However, in a modern day setting, it is important to note that racism and colourism go hand in hand and are often conflated in an increasingly globalised and multiracial society because they both appear to stem from discrimination based on skin colour.

Mahatma Gandhi was recognised for his peaceful satyagraha philosophy, which promoted nonviolent struggle for freedom. After his assassination a few years later, Gandhi's admirers began to refer to him as the "Father of India," and his martyrdom was entrenched among the Indian people. In honouring Gandhi's valour, however, his flaws and harmful views were forgotten. For many years, Gandhi practised law in South Africa and was a firm believer in the racial hierarchy that would later be known as Apartheid, with whites possessing the most political and economic power, followed by Hindus and black Africans at the bottom of the totem pole. According to NPR, in 1903 Gandhi wrote that white people should be the "dominant race" in South Africa, and that black people are "troublesome, exceedingly unclean, and live like animals."

The visible implications of colourism in South Asia and for South Asians globally have all been influenced by Gandhi's impact, British influence, and the caste system. Prior to the 1965 Immigration Act, Hindus of higher castes and lighter-skinned Indians in the United States had to prove that they were "white" in order to enter the country. The value placed on lighter brown skin as "white-passing" versus darker brown skin has been detrimental to the South Asian worldview.

As the discourse around race and skin colour grows, colourism and its impact have been brought to light. South Asians have faced racism and colourism in our home countries and abroad, and have endured the repercussions. As a result, it is our responsibility as a community not only to battle racism in general in the name of our shared humanity, but also to combat colourism within our own community, promoting equality over prejudice at all levels.

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