Lakshmi: South Asians must confront colorism

Sanjana Lakshmi, Columnist

London is diverse: Everywhere I look, I see people of different cultures, ethnicities and religions, but diversity does not necessarily translate into acceptance, let alone into a lack of marginalization. I sat down with two South Asian students studying in the U.K. the other day and learned that our experiences as part of a community of color in the U.S. and the U.K. aren’t so different. But and maybe it’s because I’m at a university that prides itself on activism and political organization I got the sense that South Asians at my university in London might care more about addressing the issues within our community than South Asians at Northwestern.

Addressing and confronting issues of racism and marginalization within your community, no matter what community you belong to, is necessary for liberation movements such as #BlackLivesMatter. South Asians, for example, have a long history of anti-blackness, both in the motherland as well as in the diaspora. Colorism — discrimination or prejudice against those of a darker skin tone among those of the same ethnicity — is one of the ways in which this anti-blackness manifests itself. South Asians span the whole spectrum of skin color, from the fairest of the fair to the darkest of the dark, yet dark skin is looked upon in disdain, while light-skin is considered beautiful and trendy. Many South Asians, for example, use skin-lightening creams on themselves in order to lighten their dark skin complexions.

The South Asian community needs to unpack these discriminations and realize that it is a problem. One of the students I talked to brought up old Hindu stories that many people in our community know. In the Ramayana, a famous Indian epic, the hero, Ram, defeats the evil demon Ravana — who is black and dark-skinned. This same idea — dark-skinned characters being the evil ones — is seen in many Bollywood movies even today, while the hero (especially the heroine) is generally fair-skinned and does not represent the majority of the South Asian community. When the idea of darkness being a bad thing is reinforced through the media that South Asians consume every day, from the time they are children to when they are adults, it becomes insidious within the community.

When Indians are attacked for “looking black,” when a South Asian friend of the students I spoke to was insulted on a bus in London because of his dark skin, when I have heard countless stories of the same happening in the United States, it begs the question: Why does our community continue to perpetrate anti-black sentiments when we, too, are victims of racist, anti-black violence?

Colorism is not only a problem within South Asian communities. Even the black community deals with it. I know students at NU who find light-skinned people more “attractive” than dark-skinned people. As minority students, we need to be allies to black liberation movements both on and off our campuses. When anti-blackness runs so deep within all communities, it becomes clear that our liberation as minority racial groups will only come from black liberation. Staying silent when colorism manifests itself in our lives, no matter how, is complicity in anti-blackness.

South Asians cannot continue to pretend that anti-blackness doesn’t exist within our community, nor can they continue to ignore it. Liberation movements cannot succeed until everybody is willing to stand with black communities, and not pretend to be above them.

Sanjana Lakshmi is a Weinberg junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.