Colorism: A Bully’s Lunch

If you have dark-colored skin and live in Pakistan, chances are, you have been a victim of colorism; and anyone who has been a victim of colorism can vouch that it is not a very pleasant experience.

Colorism is said to have found its origins in slavery. The term was coined by the writer, Alice Walker. It is defined as discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same racial or ethnic groups (Malik, 2015). When you look at the way people around us behave, you must ask, why is there such prejudice against dark-skinned people? Well, one of the most popular and acceptable explanations is that when the world saw the harsh treatment of the African-American slaves during the 17th and 18th century, it slowly became instilled in the minds of others that dark-colored people were inferior, undesirable and not meant to be treated the same way as others were (NIttle, 2020)

Illustration by Brittany Holloway-Brown

This mindset became more and more common as time progressed, especially in the subcontinent.

These days, colorism is one of the most popular avenues for bullies who are looking to traumatize other people. Colorism is present everywhere, from schools to workplaces, from family gatherings to the rishta culture of South Asia.

Bullying through colorism can have adverse effects on the victims. These effects are especially detrimental to children. In most cases when children are bullied, they get scarred for life. Being bullied causes many people to go into social isolation, sleep deprivation, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, poor grades, and the list goes on (Hurley, 2018). Bullies destroy the confidence of a person; they make people feel uncomfortable in their own skin.

For many people, when they leave school, the bullying usually stops, but this is not the case for dark-skinned people. They are bullied in their workplaces too. What is worse is that some of their own family members bully them too without realizing how big an effect their words could have on the person.

The ways in which bullies use colorism to traumatize people are extensive. They feed on it. Dark-skinned people are told to not wear black or dark clothing as it “does not suit” their skin tone. In marriages, people with lighter skin color are preferred, and often times a marriage proposal solely depends on skin complexion. The trend follows in the film industry, there are not many people of a darker complexion. Perhaps the worst experience that anyone faces is the name-calling due to the color of their skin. I call name-calling the worst because I have viewed it upfront. In school, my best friend was someone with a dark skin tone. When we used to hang around during our breaks, groups of bullies used to come up to us and hurl the most ignorant, disgusting, and senseless remarks at him. He used to say that those remarks did not affect him but over time, I saw his behavior change and it was not for the better. He used to be someone who was very outgoing and talented but as time went on these qualities slowly faded away. He stopped coming to school, stopped working on the art he used to make, he even stopped speaking much. The fact that I was able to see this all happen in front of my eyes is what makes me aware of how severely bullying can affect someone’s life.

A byproduct of this bullying is the use of fairness creams. These creams are doing nothing but promoting colorism in our society. After dark-skinned people have been constantly bullied, they use these creams in hopes of transforming to a lighter skin tone, but these creams have their own negative health effects. The sad thing is after all the bullying, people believe that using these creams is the only option they have left.

Colorism and bullying both need to go away. But how?

An awareness campaign would be very effective for this cause. With the recent killing of George Floyd in the USA and the Black Lives Matter movement, a little awareness has been raised on the problem of colorism in Pakistan and this awareness has caused some changes to occur already. Unilever is changing the name of its fairness cream ‘Fair and Lovely’ to ‘Glow and Lovely’ (NBC News, 2020) and while this change is not much as they are still selling the cream itself, it does show that if proper awareness is raised through awareness campaigns, we can expect to see a lot of change over the coming years.

Research has shown that there are many different reasons as to why someone would become a bully. What it has found out is that the tendency to bully someone usually develops subconsciously, meaning the bully to be is not aware of the process at all. The triggers for this subconscious growth include being neglected by one’s own family, having poor grades in school, having bad relationships, and more. What we should learn from this is that even though we should never agree with the actions of bullies, we should treat them with compassion and try to figure out why they did what they did. We should help them heal as this bullying is basically a hidden call for help, of which even the bullies themselves are not aware of (Oakes, 2019).

We now know how much power we possess in making others around us feel comfortable and accepted and as such, it is our responsibility to treat everyone with love and respect. We should love people for who they are, not for the color of their skin.

References


Hurley, K. (2018, September 26). PSYCOM. Retrieved from psycom.net: https://www.psycom.net/effects-of-bullying/


Malik, A. (2015, December 31). The Nation. Retrieved from nation.com.pk: https://nation.com.pk/31-Dec-2015/dark-is-beautiful-highlighting-the-ugly-shades-of-colorism


NBC News. (2020, January 25). Retrieved from nbcnews.com: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/skin-lightening-cream-fair-lovely-change-name-after-backlash-n1232124


NIttle, N. K. (2020, January 30). ThoughtCo. Retrieved from thoughtco.com: https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-colorism-2834952


Oakes, K. (2019, September 16). BBC. Retrieved from bbc.com: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190913-why-some-children-become-merciless-bullies

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