Recently, I opened my eyes to a whole new concept - colourism. According to studies, 4 out of 10 women in Malaysia use a whitening product. Three quarters of Malaysian men find lighter skinned women to be more attractive. By 2018, the skin whitening industry is expected to be worth $19.8 billion (world wide).
So what exactly is going on?
Colourism is discrimination based on skin colour. That is the dictionary definition. For me, I have personal stories attached to the meaning.
Colourism is when I’m walking in a mall, and I’m stopped by a sales girl, who is trying to sell me a lightning cream so that it will make my skin ‘prettier’.
Colourism is when my friend told me to eat oranges because it would make my skin lighter. There is something wrong when someone casually implies that I need to lighten my skin. (Quick science: The natural bleaching properties in citrus fruits help to reduce hyper pigmentation). Though one may want to correct hyper pigmentation (However, bare in mind hyper pigmentation is harmless and it’s not necessary to correct it), it is completely another story to want to make your skin a few shades lighter as a whole.
Colourism is when I was giving art lessons to little kids and I passed them a brown coloured pencil to colour in a drawing of a person, and they replied back saying ‘teacher, skin is not brown, it’s peach colour’. That broke my heart because their skin was a darker shade than the pencil in my hand.
At such a young age, they were conditioned to believe that their skin colour was wrong. It wasn’t valid.
Now people will tell me, ‘Oh come on, it’s just a person selling a product. It’s just a friend recommending what to eat. It’s just kids being kids’.
I fully understand that and Im aware that they meant well. Their intentions were not harmful. But we have to look at the bigger picture.
Intent does not change impact.
The impact of colourism is harmful. It is psychologically and physically damaging.
POC’s are growing up thinking they are not good, not beautiful and even not smart enough.Studies show that a person with lighter skin is more likely to get hired for a job than a darker skinned person with the same skills. Industries are profiting off of people’s insecurities. It perpetuates white supremacy. It systematically puts darker skinned people at a disadvantage. According to a research by Stanford, darker skinned defendants are more likely to get the death penalty than lighter skinned defendants.
The problem of colourism is prevalent from self-confidence and self-wroth, to wage rates, to marriages and relationships and to the criminal justice system.
To whoever that has the privilege of using the internet and the opportunity to educate ones self through it, I believe it’s a moral obligation for you to be aware and to work against over coming internalized colourism that has been instilled in all of us for far too long.