All Around the World: Colorism in Other Cultures

So we know that colorism is just one of the many ways that racism and its oppressive system has manifested itself within the black community. However, colorism and the act of discrimination based on skin color and hair texture is not unique to African-Americans. In fact, colorism had already existed within other ethnic groups well before chattel slavery in America. However, this ideology is rooted in European culture and manifested within every culture they invaded and exploited, except for a few cultures who already had the obsession with lighter-skin within their culture with no subjection of European imperial rule . With that being said, lets look at China, India, and Brazil and how colorism plays within each group.

China| Gloves, Long-Sleeves, and Ski-Masks

While in the black community, dark-skin and skin tones can be seen as aesthetically “ugly” or not as beautiful as lighter skin tones. However, in China and other East Asian countries, to have darker skin is more than beauty standards, although that too is an issue. In an article from the New York Times, Dan Levin quotes a Chinese woman at the beach he interviewed : “A woman should always have fair skin, “she said proudly. “Otherwise people will think you’re a peasant.”. There is a culture where dark-skinned people in China are automatically seen as poor or low-class. Your skin tone determines socio-economic status. Unlike many countries that were subjected to European rule and their “colorist classism”, the isolated nation of China along with Japan and Korea were unlikely to get their colorism from Eurocentricism. In China, social status and class has been vital to the culture where there is no “middle class” in which there is only the “haves” and the “have- nots”. Simply put, the “have-nots” typically work outdoors doing manual labor which would mean working in the sun all day, giving them dark skin. The have-nots are seen as peasants and ugly. This explains the quoted woman above fear of having darker skin caused by the sun. This fear has been manifested into women wearing ski masks, gloves, and long-sleeves to the beach in the middle of the summer.  In Levin’s article, he states:

“For legions of middle-class Chinese women — and for those who aspire to their ranks — solar protection is practically a fetish, complete with its own gear. This booming industry caters to a culture that prizes a pallid complexion as a traditional sign of feminine beauty unscathed by the indignities of manual labor. There is even an idiom, which women young and old know by heart: “Fair skin conceals a thousand flaws.”

Although Asian colorism may differ from American colorism in some ways, Dante McAuliffe in his article disregards Asian colorism as racism, they both share a common yet ugly ideology, that dark-skinned people low of worth.

India| Sexism and the Media

    Nandita Das, a Bollywood film star has become the new face of India’s “Dark is Beautiful” campaign, much similar to the “Black is Beautiful” movement in the United States. In an article done by SavvySista, Nandita talks about the many ways Indian colorism is implemented throughout media, especially in Bollywood, and a woman’s chances of finding a husband and being attractive to men. She discusses her obstacles dealing with colorism as a darker-skinned Indian woman:

Das has often faced directors and makeup artists trying to lighten her when she plays the role of an educated, upper-class woman. “They always say to me: ‘Don’t worry, we will lighten you, we’re really good at it,’ as a reassurance. It’s perpetuating a stereotype that only fair-skinned women can be educated and successful.”

     Dr. Radhika Parameswaran, a professor in the School of Journalism at Indiana University, also discusses in an interview on jyotigupta.com how colorism in Indian culture is shown within marriages and other pop cultures including Bollywood. She states that colorism plays a key part in institutions such as marriage greatly and other institutions as well where fair-skinned women are preferred. Dark-skinned Indian woman can be rejected for marriage because of the preference of lighter-skin by some Indian men. In a study research she did, she found the emotional and psychological effects were tremendous. Many of the women she talked to had thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide because of the trauma and stress caused by such discrimination; these women were also frequent skin-bleach users as well. Skin-bleaching products are targeting 15-30 year old women by the companies in which younger girls are prone to be influenced to buy such products however women over 30 who are established aren’t as affected the implications of colorism in India. Nandita Das explains that in 2012, a company launched a commercial for an intimate wash that whitens the vagina in which the young Indian woman portrayed in the commercial uses the product to get her boyfriend back. Companies are capitalizing off this institution of discrimination and targeting young women viciously.

Brazil| Social Fabric and Afro-Brazilian Women

Brazil has the second largest population of black people with Nigeria being the largest. So how can a country with such a large Africana population play a role in colorism and other implications of racism? In Brazil, the institution of colorism is an almost perfect reflection of what happened to America because of the deeply rooted history of slavery in both countries which still haunts the nations with institutionalized racism and oppression. In fact, Brazil also had racial legislation that discriminated racially against darker-skinned Brazilians, referred to as “pretos”(blacks) and  “pardos”(browns). Pretos are also known as Afro-Brazilian, this population is categorized by their skin and prominent African features. Pardos are multi-racial or tri-racial Brazilians which were referred to as mulattoes or mestizos during Portuguese and Spanish colonialism and enslavement of African people. As in America, the white population continues to control the politics and social framing of Brazil. Monique Evelle, a 20 year old Afro-Brazilian young women whose the coordinator of Social Desabafo, an organization that fights for other Afro-Brazilian girls and against the racial discrimination and oppression within Brazil. Monique discusses the sexualization of Afro-Brazilian women and girls and her experiences with such harassment and violence since she was in elementary school. Furthermore, the state of black people in Brazil resembles how America treats black people in this country. Racial profiling, racist jokes about the appearance and “smell” of blacks in Brazil, and the sexualization of Afro-Brazilian women. In Brazil, “black people are murdered, actually 2.4 times more, than white people in Brazil”

There are many other cultures in this world that either internalize colorism or/and are greatly oppressed by colorism from the dominant(white) population. I find Brazil’s history of colorism and the effects of slavery in on the culture THE most interesting and something I want to research. I would like to compare and contrast both America and Brazil’s social fabric of racism and culture and see what I come up with for another project.

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