Feeling like an outsider because of your skin color is something that in hindsight seems so frivolous. However, it is a very prevalent issue that many face around the world and often goes unnoticed.
by Thejo Akkoor
The rise of movements like Black Lives Matter have brought attention to the racial biases against many people of color. Historically, individuals with darker skin tones tend to be seen as ‘barbaric’ and are immediate targets for law enforcement officials. In fact, some privileged individuals who have lighter skin turn a blind eye to this daily struggle. In a survey conducted by Pew Research Center on how severe the effects of slavery are on black people today in the US, a starking 84% of black people affirmed this fact, compared to just 58% of white individuals. Clearly, the United States has been at the heart of this heated battle. However, it is crucial to examine the racism and colorism that plague the entire world.
Feeling like an outsider because of your skin color is something that in hindsight seems so frivolous. Nevertheless, it is universal. People of the same skin color tend to stick together. In a group of a white, brown, and black person, psychologically, you would tend to feel the most comfortable with someone who resembles or identifies with the same cultural background as you. This idea actually starts from a very young age- we tend to bond easier with people who share similar things.
The problem with this ideology is having a bad opinion towards individuals of any other color or race. Specifically around the world, colorism is a prevalent issue. Though people tend to group colorism and racism together, they are actually two separate ideas. As a Time Article puts it, “a person’s skin color is an irrefutable visual fact that is impossible to hide, whereas race is a constructed, quasi-scientific classification that is often only visible on a government form”. A person’s skin color is one of the only things that can immediately lead you to make assumptions. Though a person might identify as a different race entirely, they are put in a box by this one aspect. Even among the same races, lighter-skinned individuals are often considered to be more successful and superior to their darker companions. Discrimination by skin-tone is in fact prevalent across the world, proving to be just as bad as racism itself.
India’s ‘Fair equals Beautiful’ Ideology
In India, beauty is heavily judged by the fairness of a person’s skin. Girls are considered lucky to be married if their skin is dark. Aunts, grandmothers, and even mothers encourage children to use these products. Many people have spoken out about these atrocious ideals, but what is the source of this twisted logic? India as a nation has endured the colonization of the Portuguese, Dutch, French, Mughals, and the British in each of their collective periods. As a result, the idea of ‘fair equals powerful’ was deeply rooted into their cultural and traditional values. In a study conducted by the National Interest from 2013-2016, it was found that 70% of 300 women and men surveyed wanted to be in a relationship with someone who had light skin. It is this inherent belief that a person of darker skin is automatically inferior to those with lighter skin tones that pushes many to conform to the ‘bleaching syndrome’, or the deep-set belief that fair skin is more powerful and attractive.
The ever-popular bleaching cream, ‘Fair & Lovely’ has taken its toll on Indian women (and even men). Though it has been indirectly banned in India, this market has made around $400 million annually. These chemicalized products can cause skin cancer, liver damage, and even some types of poisoning. However, mothers still conform to giving their daughters this deadly cream. According to Indian Beautician Rashnaa Mehta, mothers often ask her to lighten the skins of their daughters. She always pushes for beauty and confidence within their natural skin colors, but has found that people are persistent. Even Indian matrimonial site Shaadi.com, has found that fair skin is a key factor for matching individuals. And, it also doesn’t help that Indian actors and actresses have endorsed skin lightening products in the past, continually influencing their fans with this twisted logic.
Though skin-lightening products have plagued the past, activist groups are now speaking out against them. The organization Women of Worth and their campaign Dark Is Beautiful are crusaders in the fight against colorism. Nina Davuluri is an Indian-American and former Miss America, and she also happens to have dark skin. Many people have criticized her win, saying that she would not have won in India. However, these discriminatory comments have proved to be exactly what Davuluri was trying to achieve through winning the title. She wanted people to talk about dark skin vs. light skin, and hopefully spread the word about the severity of this problem.
With the death of George Floyd and the call to action in terms of racism, Unilever, the owner of the former brand Fair & Lovely, was immediately targeted for promoting racist attitudes. According to the New York Times, they responded by saying they would remove any labels including the words, ‘fair’, ‘white’, and ‘light’. Shaadi.com was also targeted with demands to remove the skin tone filter on their website. Activists say that these demands are a step in the right direction.
But it’s not just India that promotes fair skin over darker skin. Many countries in Asia and Africa have seen ‘skin-whitening’ industries booming. A woman in Taiwan compulsively carries an umbrella around with her wherever she goes. She says this is to evade getting skin cancer, but mainly to keep her skin as white as possible. She even said that she feels she will be happier if she has lighter skin. Additionally, Nigeria seems to have a rising number of individuals who lighten their skin, even more when American singer Blac Chyna promoted a skin-lightening product there in 2018.
Blackface In Korean Entertainment
It isn’t just the idea, ‘fair equals beautiful’ that has been a common theme across the world. It’s the idea that it’s okay to make fun of people of other races. The most popular example of this is blackface. Blackface is the practice of someone with lighter skin painting their face a darker color to look like a black person. Oftentimes, this method was used to mock black people for the entertainment of white people, and it spread across the U.S. and Europe. This has been called out as unacceptable many times throughout the years, and a countless amount of public figures have been held accountable for participating in these acts.
In Korea, blackfacing has happened a couple of times. In the past decade, with the advancement in technology and streaming services, Korean dramas and music have spread across the globe. However, with that comes the question of the countless number of blackfacing incidents appearing in these popular forms of entertainment. South Korea as a nation is still quite racist. According to a survey mentioned by The Diplomat, 15% of South Koreans pointed out that they would not like to live next to an individual of another race. This number is high compared to countries like the US where only 3% of citizens had the same opinions.
South Koreans have used blackfaces as a tool of mockery and impersonation. Obviously, they haven’t been educated about the true meaning of these racial symbols. One example from this year is at Uijeongbu High School, a school known for their graduation ceremonies. Instead of wearing the traditional cap and gowns, they have an almost Halloween-like graduation where they can dress up and impersonate some of the latest trends. One group of kids chose to use blackface makeup and dress up in black suits to mimic a popular video from Ghana. This picture soon spread like wildfire on Twitter, with debates over whether or not they were ethical. According to Korea Times, one Twitter user said, “Regardless of what their intention was, blackface makeup is obviously racism”. Many other users have said similar things, citing poor awareness as a main reason for this action being committed.
Another example of this racism is by K-Pop group ‘Mamamoo’ who wore blackfaces to impersonate American singer Bruno Mars in the famous song ‘Uptown Funk’. This happened at a concert in Seoul, South Korea. Their actions resulted in criticism across social media as people were not happy with the racism that took place so blatantly. The group later apologized by saying, “there is no excuse for what we did”. The group talked about how they were completely unaware of the implications of using the blackface and issued a public apology. This lack of education and awareness in Korea about racist symbols has resulted in these actions, however, people are starting to learn more about what is right and what is wrong in terms of racism.
With the death of George Floyd, thousands of protests were sparked across the world, and Korea wasn’t left behind. On June 6th, 2020, many South Koreans took to the streets to peacefully show their support of the Black Lives Matter movement. This protest took place in hopes of getting rid of the racial barriers existing in the nation. With the increase of immigrants in South Korea, they are starting to be more aware of the racism that needs to be fixed. According to ‘The World’, a global news source, organizer of the BLM protests Shim Ji-hoon is worried that if they don’t speak out soon, “what happened to George Floyd could happen here, too”. It was also said that unlike 30 years ago, Koreans are now aware of the systemic racism taking place in America. One of the most famous K-Pop boy bands BTS, has announced their support of the BLM movement, proving that change can and will happen in the Korean media. Slowly, with more global coverage, they will be open to different ethnicities and diminish their racist roots.
Black Lives Matter Across the Globe
The revolution that resulted due to the death of George Floyd in America has made its mark in history. People have been examining the brutal systemic racism that has taken place for centuries against individuals of a darker skin-tone. It has revealed that the United States has been rooted and built on racist ideals which need to be taken down. Around the world, people have been marching in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. Even though it is clear that discrimination is a big part of American History, inferior treatment based on the color of one’s skin is a common theme around the world.
To the Papuans in Indonesia, the image of George Floyd hit close to home. Originally coming from Africa, this group experiences severe racism from their light-skinned counterparts. When Indonesia fell under the colonial rule of the Dutch in 1945, they originally began the racism by referring to them as ‘minkes’, or monkeys. Now, the provinces of Papua are strictly controlled by the Indonesian military. Here, the dark-skinned Papuans experience military abuse, police killings, and many other forms of racism. When these individuals travel to Indonesia, they are subject to racism, increased surveillance, and raids.
Many Papuans have been subject to the same death as George Floyd, they too share the plight of Black Americans in the United States. In 2019, a dormitory of 43 Papuan students was attacked for displaying Papuan flags. As a result of these unfortunate incidents, people have been protesting and using the hashtag #PapuanLivesMatter to educate people around the world, but mainly Indonesisans of the struggles they face daily over a matter so simple as their skin color. Activists have begun talking about Papua and have spread this once hidden issue nationally. By educating the privileged Indonesians of the struggle the unassuming Papuans go through, they can hopefully evolve into a society that doesn’t treat others differently by the color of their skin.
As a result of colonialism, countries around the world have silently shared the same hardships when it comes to the color of their skin. They’ve built up barriers over generations against what was put into their heads as ‘wrong’. Hopefully with the Black Lives Matter movement, we can dismantle these barriers and spread the message to not just every part of the United States, but all across the world.