The Spectrum of Color-Coding and Categorising in South Asian Communities


‘Dark is beautiful’. ‘Unfair and lovely’. ‘Daring to be dark’. These campaigns, idea’s and movements do seem to be increasingly vocalised and spoken about, where you’ll find a whole platform of social media pages, hashtags and organisations but to what extent can these ideas even change mainstream south-Asian consciousness? I’m not attempting to say a single post can single-handedly change the dogma surrounding colour discrimination, of course not, but I do want to show how these ideas are still manifested within the Asian community.


It happens in a less obvious way, in subtle terms. In the hidden conversations, when aunties are looking for suitable candidate to marry their son/daughter ‘at least he’s fair’, ‘that one has a fair complexion’ because the suitor may not have a lot going for them but at least they fit into the white standard of beauty. Undoubtedly, its girls who face a lot more of this prejudice but boys still go through it too. Its ridiculous, its as though the older generation want to breed the perfect child by attempting to match-make two fair skinned Asians. The lighter you are, the closer you are to the colour ‘white’, the closer you’ll fit into the definitive standard of beauty. Crazy to see how far these Eurocentric ideas transcend and prevail within the Asian community but we can’t simply blame the prejudice on eurocentrism, because some of these ideas existed long before the Europeans colonized the Indian subcontinent.


Yet its still ironic how most Asians are against the idea of interracial or intercultural marriages – they want you to be as ‘white as possible, yet not marry a white person or someone of an opposite culture. Why? To keep the biological legacy as pure as possible.

I’m not attempting to create a deal out of nothing but I can’t shake off the fact that growing up, being fair was something that I was expected to be proud (not directly, not from my immediate family, but from coming into contact with neighbours, family friends, and maybe even my family itself but I just never acknowledged it). Being dark was something to be ashamed of, something to be resented. And the worst part was, this internal prejudice was normalised. You’ll hear grandmothers saying ‘this is my dark grand-daughter’ and ‘this is my fair, pretty grand-daughter’, and the former was expected to be immune to the violation. She shouldn’t get upset because ‘it was just a joke’ and in today’s society, if she gets saddened by comments of her dark-skin, she shouldn’t because ‘its not that deep’. For example, when dark-skinned Asians put lighter foundation on their skin, they immediately get backlash for trying to be a colour that they’re not. But can you blame them? All that childhood colour repression is probably so deeply internalised.



Its no wonder that there seems to be some sort of hidden resent between fair-skinned and dark-skinned Asians.                 Its not on a daily basis, direct, hateful nature kind of resent but from time-to-time, you may notice subtle forms of resent. ‘You don’t need to be fair to be pretty’, ‘she’s only white, she’s not pretty’, which is absolutely toxic, because in the attempt to fight for ‘dark is beautiful’, you can’t put down other colours. But of course, this was an ignorant position to take because neither skin colour needs to be apologetic for the colour they are. I even come across people saying  ‘I’m so dark’ as though its an insult, and I’m expected to say something along the lines of ‘you’re not that dark’ or ‘there’s people darker than you’ but why? Fact is, they are dark and it’s not something to be ashamed of. It is not an insult. Easier said than done, when all the societal expectations and stupid petty talk is so deeply entrenched.

Having a fair complexion made me grow up with comments like ‘you’re so fair/white’ quite often, and I used to react by smiling or laughing nervously, as though it was an compliment. But now to think about it, why was it said so often? Its not like fair-skinned Asians were exception, there’s plenty. And don’t get me wrong, I still sometimes get these comments and I just react awkwardly or neutrally because its just a skin colour – it shouldn’t be an insult or an compliment. But its hard to give an indifferent attitude because why did they make that random assessment of my skin color? What was going through their minds? To be indifferent, would be undermining the struggle which darker-skinned Asians go through but to take it as an compliment would assume that I’m on a superior level.

Its far from over. Working in retail and coming across Arab customers often is somewhat uncomfortable. They’ll get surprised that my ethnic background is Bangladeshi, and instead compliment me for looking middle-eastern. As though I should aspire to the ‘arab beauty’ and my Bangladeshi identity is something that I should shy away from. Why, can’t fair-skins exist in the Bangladeshi community? Do you need to be fair to be beautiful? Can’t beautiful dark-skinned Bangladeshi’s exist? Some of my cousins, in fact get complimented for looking ‘light-skinned’ because I guess in some peoples heads, when they think of Bangladeshis, beauty cannot be fathomed. There’s just so much ignorance attached. To get credit for your dark-skinned Asian tone, should you aspire to be a ‘pretty lighty’? But then, that’s just disqualifying all the struggles which mixed race or light-skinned people of African descent go through. And then is a fair-skinned southern Asian girl valued because she fits closer into the white standard of beauty? Who even decides these associations.

I guess that we should be thankful to the fact that millennial's appear to be more receptive to diversity but to what extent when there is still criticism about using the correct foundation colour, speculation about choosing a fair-skinned suitor and representation of a ‘dark-skinned Asian’ involves using a light-brown Asian?

Beauty is never skin-deep.  

Ps. I do not intend to homogenise the experiences of all southern-Asian communities nor enforce a stereotype upon them as being narrow-minded or petty. It is the exception, not the norm.



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