A photo of dark skinned women has prompted a conversation about an under-discussed aspect of racism that impacts the whole globe: colorism.
The Facebook page “The Uncanny Truth Teller 2” posted the photo on April 24 with the caption “the faces of India they won’t show you.” The photo has since been shared more 40,000 times.
The actual origin of the women is unclear. Facebook user Gabriel Chan Zhenxuan said that the women live in Singapore.
Facebook/The Uncanny Truth Teller 2 – facebook.com
Regardless of where the women live, the post started a conversation about colorism in East Asian and Southeast Asian countries.
Colorism is the idea that lighter skin tones in an ethnic group are more desirable.
The Indian English-language newspaper The News Minute wrote that the post is a “refreshing change from the usual color prejudice” because it focuses on dark-skinned women, rather than fair-skinned women who typically dominate Indian media images.
“Indians are obsessed with ‘fairness,'” wrote News Minute. “Our movies, fashion industry, advertisements, the nauseating matrimonial ads looking for ‘fair’ women, they all, directly or indirectly tell us one thing: Fair women are beautiful. Fair women will be successful. Fair women will get good partners. The paler the better.”
The prejudice against darker-skinned Singaporean women created news headlines in 2016.
A photo project about women across the globe by Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc caused the backlash in March of last year because the woman representing Singapore wasn’t deemed light enough. The woman, Nadia Rahmat, is actually a model for Marc Jacobs.
Facebook users called Rahmat “ugly,” and said the choice was an “error,” according to Coconuts Singapore. However other Facebook users said the ugly accusations smacked of colorism. “There’s such a subtle hint of racism, by the way, most of you react when you see this brown girl under ‘Singapore,’ said a user according to the publication.
Like the U.S., countries like India, Pakistan, and Singapore have a history of colonial rule that could influence their beauty standards.
Radhika Parameswaran, a professor in the Media School at Indiana University, gave an interview about colorism in Claremont McKenna College’s Asia Experts Forum.
She said that along with the Caste System, a class structure that was determined by birth, and globalization, it’s likely that British colonialism has played a role in India’s colorism. “I would certainly say that colonialism could have played a role. Just as slavery played a role in perpetuating skin color hierarchy in the United States, European colonialism and ideas of white supremacy could have played a role in fueling colorism in India,” she said. Colorism does not mean that Indian people believe that white people are superior in every aspect of life, rather than white supremacy could affect beauty standards, according to Parameswaran.