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The Fairness Obsession: What India Needs To Know About Colourism

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If you’re an Indian, you would have probably seen advertisements on the TV or billboards featuring certain products which claim to have effective, skin-lightening formulas. As a child too, you would’ve also probably sketched on those white, A3 size papers, using  colours by a certain company that had the peach colour as the ‘skin colour’.

But, have you wondered why? Why do ‘tall, dark and handsome’ makes no sense to us, but ‘fair and handsome and lovely’ do? Why do we mostly look for a man or woman who is fairer than the rest? Why are most movie heroines and heroes white? Why are a majority of the creams I find on the racks of EasyDay and Big Bazaar fairness creams? Why do all my selfies look ‘dull and dark’, but are edited to look ‘fair and uploadable’? Why was there ever a need to introduce a ‘skin colour’ by a famous brand of sketching colours?

Yes, we do have a reason for all these questions – and a little bit of history too.

This article does not intend to bash the giant business firms in India that profit with these stupid fairness products. It intends, however, to bash the filthy mindset of Indians who, unknowingly and knowingly, promote discrimination on the basis of colour in our vulnerable society.

Ladies and gentlemen, today you’re going to know another term for colour-based discrimination, which you may have always believed to be some sort of racism. The term is colourism.

Colourism Is Wrong And It Exists

So, the first thing that you should know about colourism is that it is wrong.

You can’t discriminate against someone just because they’re ‘coloured’. And if you don’t think that this exists, let me assure you, it does!

Not only does it exist, it is very much prevalent. If you wanna have a peak at it, just open the matrimonial column of the newspaper that you read. You’ll find millions of ads by Indians and NRIs who are desperately looking for a bride or a groom who’s fair.

The demons in children’s animated movies are often shown to be black or dark, while the heroes are revealed to be fair. Certain actors and models who are dark-skinned are either denied jobs or have their images and films photoshopped. We have seen numerous examples in the Bollywood film industry, where several actors and actresses have either undergone skin-lightening treatment or have started using a lot of make-up on their skins.

The British And Their Preference For Fairer Employees

The preference for lighter skin tones results in the discrimination against dark-skinned people. And this is what has prevailed since the days the British started ruling over our nation. I’m not sure what the culture was before their rule, but the Brits usually recruited the people who were fair and discriminated against those who were coloured. Since then, we’ve kind of conditioned our brains to think of ‘fair’ as ‘superior’.

In fact, initially, the Britishers used to think that Kali, the Hindu goddess, represented demons.

What’s The Present Situation?

But, the history is perhaps no more important to us. It’s in the past now. What’s important is the current situation – and our society needs to address its  flaws.

I interviewed a few of my friends and neighbours, only to find out that more than 70% of them use or have used fairness products in their lives. I have evidences of this in my WhatsApp texts. They also stated that ‘dark’ in ‘tall, dark and handsome’ referred to the hair colour that their preferred men should have. It didn’t refer to the skin tone.

Women and men have been and are still being denied certain jobs often, if they have a darker skin complexion. These jobs include (but are not just limited to) flight stewardship, modelling and acting.

One day, I returned from my college during the daytime, when the sun was still helping the aunties dry their clothes. One of my least-favourite aunties advised me against going out or returning from college at that time, as it was too hot. I liked her idea until she told me what her reason for saying so was – “Kaali ho jaayegi toh acha ladka nahi milega (If your skin turns dark, you won’t be able to find a good husband).”

Yeah, apparently, Indian men and women often don’t find a good bride or groom if they are dark. Their other abilities don’t matter as much as their skin colour.

What Can We Do?

This is the prevailing mindset – and it needs to change. And, we need to stop associating ‘fair’ with ‘lovely’ or ‘handsome’. We need to promote equality, though it may sound a bit cliche.

Here, the role of parents and grandparents (yeah, our elders) is vital – most of who may have always believed in the importance of being fair. The role of the media, that shows you the ads on the TV and panneaux, is important too. Also, the companies that sell and earn billions, and the buyers who buy those fairness products, need to know it, too. That this is all wrong!

We need to admit our guilt when we are wrong. We need to be honest with ourselves and question ourselves. We need to take action collectively.

The promotion of these big brands only makes it difficult for ourselves.

This is our issue – and it is prevalent worldwide. However, that doesn’t justify it or make it any less important than the other sensitive issues.

I feel quite helpless as I write this article, mainly because both societies and people need time to change.

I’d like to know how you people would like to deal with the issue of colourism.


Featured image used for representative purposes only.

You must be to comment.
  1. Shivani Singh

    Your article is amazing. I loved it. I actually understood the idea of discrimination based on color, but had no idea it was called Colourism.
    So, I am working on a feature for my writing course, and my topic is Body Image. I really liked some parts of your writing and would like to quote them with full credit in my feature.
    If you are okay with that, kindly revert to me on my email –
    If you don’t reply within a day or two, I will understand that I do not have you consent and will not quote your article.


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