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We Might Be Diluting The Anti-Racism Movement By Confusing Racism With Colourism

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How much does it matter for India to participate in a movement like #BlackLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter? Does it matter at all? Well, we have had enough episodes of violence to be both ‘doubtful’ and ‘hopeless’ about it.

As David Mallory said in his article titled ‘All Lives Matter’ Is Code For “I’m So Privileged That I Don’t Think Black Lives Matter,I am free to say that all lives matter when my life has always mattered as a white person. I can say that colour doesn’t matter when my life chances and choices have not been constrained due to the colour of my skin. By refusing to recognise institutional racism and its performance by privileged actors on a daily basis, racism is perpetuated.”

Most of us have rampantly started protesting against the existing colourism in the country. With the decision of Johnson & Johnson to stop selling skin-lightening products in Asia and the Middle East, we are aiming to break India’s $500 million skin-whitening industry. Most of us might have never required a whitening cream to get rid of the inferiority complex, trying everything possible to portray our existence in this structured hegemony of socio-cultural constraints — constraints that might have started with ‘fair’ and ‘beautiful’ being put together as synonyms of each other.

This piece starts with the concern of Indians being witness to several events, leading to a dilemma of the possible outcome of the movement. India is always a crucible of racial profiling and discrimination based on caste, gender, region, religion, class or even mere looks. Suppression or oppression has always been a defacto quality in any type of discrimination, whereas when it comes to ‘colourism’, the underlying agenda involves a marketing propaganda that begets the sufferer to suffer as an inferior in the perpetual long run to promote consumerism.

How Is Racism Different From Colourism?

Racism is a propagated history of systemic deprivation. Racism, in both literal and practical meanings, is entirely different from what colourism means. Racism is a much bigger issue than colourism. In our country, we are just bringing down the actual meaning of the protest against racism. It is not merely discrimination based on skin-tone. When it comes to colourism, we always have the freedom to not get manipulated by media and advertising, whereas racism is an institutionalised concept conformed by laws we can hardly escape from.

From Indians using “Chinky”, “Momo” or “Chinese” as ethnic slurs for Indians from the Northeast region, to the US President Donald Trump repeatedly addressing coronavirus as a “Chinese Virus”, it has triggered the threat of racial attacks on the Northeast Indians in this time of the global pandemic.

This particular section of the country always faces this humanitarian crisis of discrimination based on their race, culture, language, region, and primarily, their Tibeto-Burman facial features. As the whole country focuses on coping with the outbreak, the Northeast region just gets another misconception added on to their long, everlasting list.

One incident that stands out is that of a post-graduate student of Hyderabad Central University who was travelling back to her hometown during the pandemic. She quoted:

“I travelled from Hyderabad to Agartala via Kolkata today. While at a check-in counter at the Hyderabad airport, a guy said “Oh so you’re to Kolkata, then China!” Thinking that maybe I heard something wrong, I asked what he meant to say, and he repeated the same thing about me travelling to China… He then looked at my face and said “Just kidding” while laughing shamelessly. I wasn’t amused and nobody in that situation would have been… I told him that saying something like this is racist, but he still managed to say that it was a joke! Calling Northeast India as China is not a joke. Calling people from the Northeast India with Chinky, Momo or Chinese is not a joke, it is racism. Nobody from anywhere else in the country would ever have to listen to something like that… Why this discrimination against people from the Northeast?”

Racism and xenophobia always revolves around an entire notion of ‘outsiders’ that society sets up to limit its own boundaries.  The above incident is an example of one of such events of continuous proliferation of racism in society, but it should not be considered as an isolated event by anyone.


Our tendency to treat every incident from a communal angle has always been failing us to evaluate and analyse things from a rational perspective. This is not an isolated or unaccompanied incident, but a part of what combines and lets the monopoly of racism stand as a social structure. Diversity has led us to differentiation!

Since the cognitive revolution took place, there has been an increased attempt on the socio-political life — a race to get to the power position of a structure. Hence, the hypothesis and act in detail of suppression and oppression has been a prime companion of human beings, and this is evolving generation after generation, and has eventually become an in-built phenomenon or characteristic — to give up all preconceptions and indoctrinated beliefs is always hard.

We are indoctrinated to consider ourselves as a key entity who decides whom we consider better or worse than us. We are moulded to be hypercritical. This decision of what and whom to oppress, suppress or discriminate is no doubt a conscious act that is influenced by both external factors and excerpts from our in-built beliefs.

Now, when an anti-racism movement started spreading rampantly worldwide, these are the points we should consider before joining the protest, or completely changing the whole message that the movement is conveying. We are failing somewhere by overlapping “colourism” with “racism”.

Colourism can sometimes be an underlying cause of racism, but that doesn’t make the two terms mutual synonyms. Obviously, the entire structure is interlinked, the way the effect of the #BlackLivesMatter movement lets this systematic commencement of the rise of agitation against ‘colourism.’ As Lupita Nyong’o quoted, “Colourism is the daughter of racism.”

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  1. Rahul Das

    Wonderful !

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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