Colorism across cultures

Nijhoom Roy

Staff Writer

Growing up in an Indian community, I would always be appreciated for my supposed “fair” skin tone. I would also be advised by my grandparents and relatives to take good care of my skin and not to go out and play under the sun for a long time.

According to my relatives, it was more important for me to stay indoors and preserve my skin tone rather than doing what I loved as a child.

As years passed by, my skin tone began to grow a few shades darker. Along with that, other consequences followed.  I was constantly questioned about the gradual change of my skin color, unsure if I should have felt offended or guilty.

The glorification of light-colored skin is like a tradition or culture within the Indian community. The skin tone not only serves as a meter for beauty but also as a measure of intelligence, status and privilege.

The mentality of every Indian is developed to advocate colorism, leading to the notion of undervaluing people with dark skin. The superiority of light skin is accepted to such an extent that several skin-bleaching products are heavily marketed via advertisements.  They maintain the standard that light skin is the only key to being more beautiful, valued and successful.

However, the devaluing of darker skin is present in other cultures like other Asian communities and across African-American and Latino communities around the world.

According to Charlotte Pryor, a sophomore communication major from Troy, in the black community lighter-skinned women are more celebrated and desired than women with darker skin.

Pryor said that it is an insult to tell a black woman that, “you are pretty for a black or dark girl,” but this phrase seems to be used unapologetically, creating more division in the African-American community.

“It is very unfortunate that the principles of the ‘brown paper bag test’—in which an individual has to be lighter than a brown paper bag to join certain clubs, fraternities or sororities—are still practiced today,” Pryor said.

“Hopefully, one day, we can defeat this issue,” Pryor said.  “But, at first, it’s important to listen to dark-skinned men and women to discuss how colorism affects them without any hesitations.”

In Latin America, the concept of colorism is deep-rooted in the societies. Skin color has become a deciding factor of an individual’s position in the social hierarchy. “The lighter, the better.”

According to an article from a magazine named “Latina,” in the Latino community  the ones who look like light-skinned Hispanics are given preferential treatment. The article states: “We live in a culture that values whiteness, so the closer we meet this ideal, the more privileges many of us attain. That doesn’t mean that the race, immigration and class struggles of light-skinned Latinos aren’t real—far from it—but it does mean that light-skinned Latinos are awarded a set of unearned privileges that many darker members of the Latino community don’t enjoy.”

Also, colorism extends to defining the term “beautiful” in these regions of the world. Light-skinned women are more admired and are more likely to find marriage sooner than their darker-skinned peers.

Having grown up in the Indian belief system of light-skinned beauty standards, I find myself struggling between accepting the myth that lighter skin is more pleasing and that beauty and intelligence has nothing to do with skin color.

No matter how much I try to break free of these stereotypes, I often catch myself glaring at the mirror and analyzing my skin color, and at the same time, I feel guilty of considering dark skin inferior.

Constantly pointing out the distinction between light skin and dark skin only fuels animosity between individuals. Instead of coming together as one, individuals seem to be destroying their own race’s sense of unity.

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