Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o refers to ‘colourism’ as “the daughter of racism”. Colourism is the discrimination against a person solely based on that person’s skin colour, usually displayed within the same racial group. The Black Lives Matter revolution has given rise to the colourism debate around the world. Amongst Indians, colourism is evident in our obsession with our skin tones. Some of the terms we find ourselves using more often than not are “dark”, “fair” and “dusky”, and we do not realise that we too are guilty of colourism.

Growing up South African

South Africa is a rainbow nation. I grew up amongst many different races, religions, and skin colours. Colourism was always around – my White friends would want to suntan and my Black and Indian friends would prefer it if their skin colour was lighter. If South Africa is the rainbow nation comprising of vibrant colours, why are its children, and in particular, its daughters, unhappy with the colour of our own skin?

Growing up Indian

I often found myself as a child admiring Bollywood actresses and saying to myself that “I want to look like her”. But as I got older, I became aware of the underrepresentation of dark-skinned actors in Bollywood. Bollywood has been accused of ‘brownfacing’ actors to portray characters. The term ‘brownface’ refers to using makeup and lighting to make an actor’s face darker. This approached is favoured as opposed to employing actors who have naturally darker skin! This instils discrimination and inequality within the industry. Indirectly, Bollywood has used such propaganda to brainwash the masses into associating ‘fairness’ with ‘beauty’.

Growing up Female

I have been taught a how to “look after” my skin. Like most Indian girls, I was warned to wear sunblock when going to the beach or playing outdoors to prevent me from getting “burnt” or “dark”. The real reason behind wearing sunblock is to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Furthermore, media adverts have directly instilled our hold on colourism by promoting fairness creams and whitening lotions.

 The reality

So, let us go through some facts. A person’s skin colour is mainly determined by their genes. The lightness or darkness component can be attributed to the level of melanin in one’s genes. Melanin is a pigment that causes your skin, hair and eyes to be the colours that they are. Therefore, to discriminate against an individual based on the colour of their skin is illogical. Skin colour is predetermined in genetic makeup before one is even born.

We have been manipulated as a society to associate light skin with beauty. This is not the case. All skin tones are lovely, not just fair ones. The colour of our skin is something with which we are born. So let us appreciate and love our original skin colour. So, where do we start? Dr Sarah L Webb provides some tips on how we can eradicate colourism:

  1. Educate the youth about normalising differences within their communities.
  2. Ask challenging questions to force others to think of a logical reason to support a ‘colourist’ statement. For example, when faced with a ‘colourist’ statement like “The bride was so dark-skinned”, ask a question like, “Why does it matter whether she was dark?”.
  3. Affirm all skin tones by going against what media portrays as beautiful. Remember that all skin tones are lovely.
  4. Teach others about melanin and the role it plays in the human body. This will reduce the obsession with the concept of colourism.

Article by Micara Maharaj