racist fair and lovely ad

The Horrors of Internalised Racism

After having a hectic day talking about subliminal messaging and guerilla marketing, I wanted to introspect as to what it was, that I was being pushed towards. The first thought came around internalized racism. Now as much as I’d like to say that I am woke, it simply does not work that way. Even with having had training in implicit bias, racial identity, personal identity, and communication – the thing I obsess over constantly is – my skin. No not as in if I have clear skin or if I have patchy acne, I obsess over the color of it. 

Now when I say skin, most people automatically associate it to the face, because, that’s what we’ve been programmed to think. A face wash does not sell the idea of innate beauty, it sells you the fairness – not hygiene. The ad campaigns for fair and lovely (a fairness cream very commonly sold in South Asia) have been under scrutiny for a long time for portraying darker skin as worse. In fact, they even go as far as to say that men won’t marry a girl if their skin isn’t ‘light enough’. Growing up I remember they started giving away a gift for free if you bought their fairness cream, you know… just like when you buy cereal. Only, this gift was a fairness meter where it mapped your skin tone on a 1 – 10 scale where 1 was a dark skin tone and 10 was a caucasian white skin tone and the higher you scored on the scale, the more beautiful you were. It is important to remember that when I say skin, I also mean the skin of your body, you know… the one in which you have to live all your life? When we grow up comparing dark colors to bad and lighter colors to good, how do you expect people to be sane when it comes to personality?

This brings me to the title of this blog – The Horrors of Internalised Racism. I don’t take heavy words like hate, horror and horrendous lightly. When I talk about horrors, I really mean it. There is so much that depends on the way you look and carry yourself, for some, not meeting the European standards of beauty could really become the largest baggage they carry for life.

I am a little disconnected from television but I’m pretty sure Fair and Lovely isn’t running these ads anymore. Yay, we won right? Wrong!

Let’s take a look at a couple of ads from clothing stores in Mumbai – the economic capital of India.

zara ad
h&m and myntra ad
forever 21 india website

I’ll be honest, 2 out of three of these pictures ARE showing Indians, so what’s the issue? The issue, my dear reader, is that most Indians don’t look like this. These people are some of the fairer examples of Indians. 

Take south India for example, some of the most beautiful women from there look like this:

south Indian woman

Let’s take northeast India as an example: 

North East Indian Women

Okay, okay, now let’s take women from east India, like Orissa or Kolkata:

Bengali Woman

Now when you compare the women in the Fast Fashion brand ads to women that are a more realistic view of our demographic, you’ll notice that fast fashion is selling the world not fashion but the European Beauty Model.

Of course, we shouldn’t be consuming fast fashion anyway, but that is a story for another time.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with Internalised racism? A lot. To begin with, let’s go back to understanding what subliminal messaging does. It takes an image or text or audio (the three ways you can consume information) and feeds it to you about 6 to 10 times. By that time, you start remembering what you have encountered without having to actively put effort into memorizing it.

We’ve all been shopping, all of us like to watch the tele, we consume media where diversity is often portrayed to align with caucasian standards and all in all, are taught to create room for the already privileged who are often white because of the history of pain they inflicted upon the world. 

I had a friend who said, “Wherever there have been wars from foreigners in the world, it’s always been the white people f***** things up”. Now the history of racism is not something I am going to discuss in this blog, but, it is important to remember that these mess-ups that some humans did have had a ripple effect into our time even after a century of it.

Okay, let’s take a moment to talk about why these standards are primarily for people who are cis-females and not many others? My sister was always told, don’t play in the sun, your skin will darken while I was told I didn’t play out enough. This has been a common story amongst many families and not enough has been done to stop them from preaching this kind of a message. I would even go as far as to say – nothing has been done to stop them. 

I was having this conversation with my mother and she said, “well, they are selling the aspiration to look like the models. All they’re doing is showing what one COULD look like if they bought the clothes.” When she said this, she ignored the largest underlying problem. This statement is based on the assumption that the aspiration of a woman is to be skinny, fair and dressed in western clothing. As a cis-male who is Indian, I would like to jump in and say I love wearing Indian clothes because not only are they colorful and stylish, they are also extremely very comfortable. 

So when we stop telling people what to dress and look like, maybe we’ll reach closer to being human than being an evolution of monkeys.

Even after having said so much, I haven’t really talked about why I call it a horror. Before I get into it, you’ll need some context.

So when we stop telling people what to dress and look like, maybe we’ll reach closer to being human than being an evolution of monkeys.

India is a country of 1.7 billion people. People from all religions, faiths and beliefs supposedly live in harmony here. That’s what our constitution says anyway. I would like to believe that each of these 1.7 billion people is an individual and needs to be understood separately, I also think some generalization can be made to an extent. 

The country has large rural areas that are rapidly depleting to make way for more urban cities and living but a large chunk of the population still resides in the rural locality. In these localities, because of the history of oppression and gender bias, women are still treated as second class citizens. They are asked to do household chores instead of pursuing an education. A common theme in these households and an unsurprisingly large number of urban households as well is that women should stay at home to take care of the man in the house. This leads us to the second element of this horrendous journey, marriages are still something that the parents decide. If you don’t know what arranged marriages are – look it up. It’s the 21st century.

This kind of behavior is so normalized that little girls and even grown adult females buy into it without questioning it. 

Now that you have the context, let’s talk about the arranged marriage process. 

Step 1: Tell the little girl for 18 years of her life that she isn’t supposed to talk to boys.

Step 2: At the same time, scar her for life by telling her, if she gets a dark skin, no one is going to want to marry her.

Step 3: Make her think of herself as a burden by talking about how the size of the dowry increases every time she turns darker.

Step 4: Stop her education because that would make her understand the world better and we can’t have a woman smarter than a man, now, can we?

Step 5: Marry her off to a stranger she won’t meet until her engagement and basically treat her like she was never your child.

Step 6: If the now grown adult woman who is now married says she would like to make her own decisions, scare her by saying the man would leave her and that no one will shelter her. Not even you as parents.

Congratulations! You have completed the steps required to ruining someone’s life.

There are so many messages that revolve around your skin tone that is provided by people that surround you, it really impacts people’s lives and there is nothing we do about it. 

Pro tip: If the next time you see a lady talk about getting married, having babies and becoming a good housewife, ask her why she thinks that and then every time she says “In my time”, remind her that this is YOUR time.

If you enjoyed reading this blog, maybe you’ll like my other blog that’s on the corporate moves in diversity by Goldman Sachs

1 thought on “The Horrors of Internalised Racism”

  1. Pingback: The Goldman Diversity Drive | Minyamum - Diversity has many Lenses

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: