Colourism in the South Asian Community: The Many Shades of Prejudice

Young British Asians have enough issues to deal with and having to still tackle centuries of microaggressions should not be part of that list in 2020. If we are not been pressured to get high grades in school and university to then become a doctor, lawyer or engineer, whilst battling the cultural obstacles that come with the title of diaspora, we have another so-called 'obligation'…

We need to be fair-skinned, constantly being told that 'you're pretty for someone dark-skinned' and being told to avoid the sun like the plague because your marriageability depends on your skin tone.

But where does this belief that being fair-skinned equates to beautiful come from?

It stems from the ancient caste system and the Eurocentric beauty standards that channelled its way into the South Asian culture through colonialism. South Asians who were fair-skinned were seen as superior over those that were darker in the community by the British, and this behaviour was duplicated by South Asians for over 2000 years.

In fact, the only time different colours are celebrated is during the Holi Festival, an Indian festival where people smear each other with coloured powder. But the story behind the Holi festival is still very relevant.

Lord Krishna, a Hindu God, often described as having blue skin or blue-black skin was self-conscious that the women he loved, Radha, who was fair-skinned would not love him due to his blue complexion. Therefore, Krishna smeared the coloured powder on Radha’s face so that they would both be ‘coloured’, and to this day Holi is celebrated annually as the ‘Festival of Love’.

With a brief insight into the roots of colourism and the timeless love story that shows love does not care about colour, here are the views from a few young British Asians that will bring a fresh perspective to a traditional view of what is beautiful and what is not.

Chandni Sembhi is an incredible journalist who shines a light on global issues. She currently creates outstanding social media content for many Channel 5 shows as well as having interviewed musicians and written several reviews on albums in popular magazines such as Kerrang Magazine.

“While the colour of your skin has absolutely no bearing on how beautiful a person is. I think the notion that fair skin is beautiful has been hammered into the minds of South Asians essentially since birth. It’s everywhere from skin lightening creams endorsed by Bollywood actors and actresses to the caste system. To Young British Asians who feel they are not attractive because of the colour of their skin, I’d say to try and ignore the claims that fair=beauty because that really is not the case”.

Athia Karim is a talented paralegal, poet and blogger who has a unique style of writing and has discussed her legal experience on Boost Blogs and personal journey on My Virtual Therapy Blog.

“Colourism is a very current issue. As a British Pakistani female I have mainly experienced this from other South Asian women. I think this perception has come from a deep-rooted history of oppression that South Asian women have faced (the oppression they suffer from men, superior classes and the caste system). Furthermore, I have noticed from my family's experience and my own experience that this perception has also come from the idea that darker skin is bad because it is linked to a lack of cleanliness and hygiene. Don’t be mad at your parents or family as they do not know better than what they have been told”.

Amardeep Sandhu is a very talented law graduate who is currently working in contract management within the oil and gas industry.

“Fair skin in India is often associated with desirability. This desirability then turns to marriageability. As a British Asian female, I have grown up with little to no ethnic representation on television, in books or through toys. When I was playing dress-up with friends as a child and felt I could only be Princess Jasmine as she was the only princess I vaguely resembled through skin tone, I was constantly reminded that I did not look anything like the characters I saw on the screen, read about in storybooks or played with through dolls. My advice to people of colour who feel conflicted with the issue of colourism would be this, you were not born the ‘wrong’ colour”.

Stephanie Joshi is a Gymshark athlete with an ‘all or nothing’ mentality who has ran marathons, modelled for Hollister and promoted brands such as Nike. But unlike most athletes, Stephanie does not advocate a specific diet just a general healthy lifestyle and has even done some entertaining eating challenges on Youtube.

“The more tanned, the more beautiful in my opinion”.

Check out Stephanie attempting the diet of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

Mesmeraki aka Sanjeet Singh Bhachu is a true artist based in Birmingham, who has not forgotten his roots and Sikh identity when incorporating vibrant Indian inspired designs into his artwork which is becoming increasingly popular in the UK and overseas.

“I think that the colonised mentality lives on through our association of beauty with being fair skinned and whilst being on this quest of finding the light skinned we forget our roots. It’s glorified by Bollywood and music videos so what begins as an ideology passed down from generation to generation becomes a social norm. As an artist, the advice I would give to young British Asians is to own your skin colour”.

Priya Kudhail is an avid literature enthusiast and fashion blogger who is currently a Marketing Assistant looking to work in the publishing industry.

“Older people hold the caste system in high regard (poorer/uneducated people tended to be darker skinned due to more laborious work). Social ideals of beauty come in and out of fashion but what doesn’t go out of fashion is embracing yourself. Your skin holds centuries of heritage and traditions”.

Omar Mehtab is a guy with brilliant comic timing who is currently a Broadcast Assistant at BBC Click which has an audience of over 330 million viewers. He has produced great social media content for BBC Click and reported on topics such as technology and the power of social media influencers in modern society.

Check out Omar's video on ‘The Influencers and The Knock-Offs':

“Being fair skinned is a preferred characteristic that is deeply entrenched in our culture. Melanin is determined by which area of the world your ancestors grew up in. All skin determines is how well you handle the sun. It should not determine your worth, your future or your mentality”.

Amelie Maddage is a very talented young woman of Sri Lankan origin who has found a way of combining science with spirituality. She is a biomedical science graduate who has a passion for helping people with their mental health issues and works as a peer support worker at an NGO called Rethink Mental Illness. She has also written articles for Shirkat Gah, Pakistan’s first feminist NGO on issues such as mental health and domestic violence.

“I remember growing up in London in a diverse classroom and my skin tone never being an issue but when I moved to Sri Lanka when I was eight to study there until I was twelve years old it was the first time that I was bullied about my skin tone and I used to come home crying because I did not understand why my skin tone was bad. I used skin bleaching creams for a few years and stopped. I’m 26 years old now and it is only in the past two and half years that I’ve been growing into loving my skin tone. I have looked for representation of dark skinned South Asians on social media and found beautiful South Asian dark models like Nidhi Sunil and Archana Akil Kumar”.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article addressing a very important topic that is still an issue in the South Asian Community today. Remember, all colours are beautiful.

Stay safe and stay strong.


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