Colorism: It's Not Limited to One Community

Growing up in a community that holds fair skin on a pedestal can be hard for anyone. Constantly being scolded by aunties about how tan skin is the same as being dirty may stick for a lifetime.

Colorism, a term first believed to have been coined in 1982 by author Alice Walker, was defined as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” 

While many people have pointed out this unfair treatment in African-American communities, it’s a lesser known issue in East and South Asian communities.

It would be easy to say that only older generations of East and South Asian folks still judge people by the shade of the skin when in fact, their ideologies have transferred to more recent generations as well. 

Colorism in Asia is not recent. In many Asian societies, skin color was often viewed as a sign of social class. When these countries were colonized by Westerners in the 18th century, the light-skinned Europeans asserted a higher status, while the darker-skinned Asians became associated with enslavement. It also stems from ancient dynasties where the emperors and empresses stayed fair because they could afford to stay inside instead of doing manual labor under the heat of the sun. Like this, people in a higher status of power were often paler than those who worked the fields. This mindset should have disappeared hundreds of years ago, but it’s still common today.

It might be harder to convince older generations to dismiss their traditional opinions, but the media and skincare industries are two of the main culprits that still reinforce this idea.

 Korea, India, the Philippines, Japan and China all have enormous skin-whitening industries. Marketed as makeup and skincare, innocent packaging hides blatant skin-bleaching. The demand for skin-bleaching items is constantly increasing. According to a report by the Global Industry Analysts, it is calculated that the industry will have a $31.2 billion market value in 2024, a big hike from $17.9 billion in 2017.

When the 2018 movie Crazy Rich Asians came to theaters, Asian-Americans were hyped by the all-Asian cast. There were finally figures in American media they could relate to. However, when the backlash came, it came from darker-skinned Asians. 

 When scrolling through skincare ads and looking at magazines with Asian models, it’s always the lighter-skinned Asians that are plastered everywhere. Where is the representation for all skin colors?

Most of the millennial generation have mastered the idea of “diversity is great!” Yet, this does not mean colorism has been wiped out. There is still a stigma of having darker skin in East and South Asian families. Colorism will not change overnight, but to see change in the future, remember that beauty is not skin deep.

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