Dark is Divine
Dark—a word that brings a tingle to the spine, especially in those countries where the blight of colorism exists. What is colorism, you may ask? Colorism is a global form of discrimination, an attitude that prefers lighter skin tones to darker ones, and considers those with naturally darker skin less desirable.
In Asia, and particularly in Pakistan, India, Taiwan (Province of China), and the Philippines, those with dark complexions—especially girls—have lived much more difficult lives due to colorism. Women with dark complexions feel alienated from their societies, providing a healthy market for beauty products that promise to lighten skin tone overnight. These “fairness creams” are advertised widely in the media. From a young age, girls are taught that if they are fair-skinned, they can be confident and beautiful; if they are dark, they will be deprived of the social privileges that come with an attractive exterior.
Dark Is Divine aims to rid society of the mindset that beauty comes only in white. It is a campaign that aims to transform Asia, especially countries like Pakistan, India, Taiwan, and the Philippines, into a region where dark skin color is embraced as readily as light, to the point that the color of a woman’s skin ultimately has no importance. The campaign envisions a society in which equal treatment is given to those with darker skin, and all are judged according to their character and not their outward appearance.
Dark Is Divine believes that fairness cream advertisements unhealthily proclaim that if women are fair, they are successful. These advertisements teach young girls that their self-confidence depends on the fairness of their skin, creating social inequalities and inferiority complexes that lead to depression and exclusion from society. To counter this dominant paradigm, our campaign celebrates the full spectrum of beauty.
We do this by conducting sessions on diversity at schools in order to help the younger generations internalize the idea that discrimination on the basis of skin color or personal appearance is immoral. Dark Is Divine has already conducted many awareness sessions through print and electronic media to spread awareness of the existence of colorism and to acknowledge that we, as a society, have to confront colorism honestly to eradicate it completely. In addition to combating colorism that may start from a young age, Dark Is Divine plans to arrange confidence and personality development sessions for those who have already lost their self-esteem and are suffering psychologically as victims of colorism.
Colorism does not only affect the dark women of Asia but exists in other communities around the world; therefore, Dark Is Divine aims to spearhead an international conversation so that dark-skinned people in other communities, especially girls, can also become part of this beautiful change. We are collaborating with other anti-colorism campaigns around the world to create a strong and visible impact.
PERSONAL IMPETUS FOR CREATING THE CAMPAIGN
Different experiences from my school days pushed me to think along the lines of launching an anti-colorism campaign. At the convent school where I studied there were a number of dark-skinned girls. I recall light-skinned girls always making fun of us darker girls. From grammar school through university, I remember being judged by people around me. I faced more than my share of criticism and heartbreaking comments like, “Let’s paint her white.” I remember once being nominated for an “award” in the category of “Makeover Required.” Such things were organized by light-skinned schoolmates to make dark-skinned students feel badly about themselves.
Thankfully, in my family, this “color” issue was never a subject of discussion. Had it been otherwise, I would have grown up believing what others always wanted me to believe regarding the color of my skin. When advised by people to apply different fairness products, with the backing of my family’s positive reinforcement, I always found myself supporting the dark color.
Different anti-colorism campaigns in the United States taught me that such a movement was possible. Asia, however, is very different from the United States where colorism is rooted in racism and the collective memory of Black slavery. In Asia, the waters of colorism run deep. Discrimination against color is not only limited to visual preference, but is also associated with a presumed set of negative attributes for dark-skinned people. Yet, there is also denial that colorism is an ever-present prejudice in Asian societies. I recall the day I decided to launch Dark Is Divine. I faced a lot of opposition, even from my own friends. They made fun of me and claimed that colorism does not exist in our societies. But my personal experience told me differently. I witnessed colorism around me and have been a victim of this affliction. Despite the opposition, I resolved to continue my project.
I started by reaching out to the general population by writing articles and hosting awareness sessions on the radio and via other media. So far, people’s responses to my campaign confirm the incorporation of this prejudice into their thinking from a very young age, and by the most important people in their lives—mainly, parents and teachers. People with dark skin, especially girls, are now initiating contact with me to share their stories of discrimination. They affirm that colorism does exist and are grateful for Dark Is Divine and hope for its work to become their voice.
THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN COLORISM
Media plays a powerful role in societal discrimination against women with dark complexions, affecting social dynamics even in educational institutions. Think of some of our first encounters with colorism in the form of stories: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and The Ugly Duckling. Today, instead of teaching diversity, we still read the same tales to our children, teaching the same lessons that white is good, better, and beautiful.
In the adult world, for ages, light skin has been viewed as the ambassador of beauty by the media, which conveys such messages in the form of biased advertisements of fairness creams, and the exclusive employment of actresses, news broadcasters, and models that have only fair skin. Where I come from—Pakistan—the ubiquitous topic of discussion on morning shows is “How to become white,” which clearly illustrates the media’s contribution to social inequality. Women with dark skin are not featured on the covers of beauty magazines, either. Furthermore, they encounter discrimination when applying for jobs that place them in the public eye, such as receptionist positions, flight attendants, and television anchors. If a dark-skinned woman does get such a job, she will likely be asked to cover her face with a light foundation.
As I mentioned earlier, in my own life experience I have seen how dark-skinned girls are less outgoing than the lighter-skinned girls for fear of being bullied. A lifetime of colorism makes them shy, and the media’s role in valorizing and promoting whiteness leads these girls to truly believe that their lighter-skinned counterparts deserve better lives. For many, this mindset creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for the darker girls and limits their ambitions and aspirations.
COMFORT IN OUR SKIN
Why do we consider dark skin such an oddity? Why are we biased toward our own people? Why doesn’t a mother allow her eight-year-old daughter to play in the sun for fear that her complexion will be “ruined”? I will tell you why: because social tradition places high value on the “white bride,” creating a dynamic in which mothers want their sons to marry light and their daughters to be light.
The crux of the issue is that we, as a society, are somehow unable to let others be comfortable in their own skin. Why do we force them to fight nature by applying fairness creams to become valuable in the eyes of others? When we speak of religious equality and human rights, we automatically include respect for who we are. Respect for each other as individual selves inherently includes respect for the color of our skin. In the multi-religious societies of Asia and throughout the world, no religion encourages its followers to discriminate against others on the basis of looks.
Dark Is Divine is a movement designed to ignite a global conversation by, for, and about women with dark complexions to effect positive change in the way dark women are reflected in Asia and, in a broader sense, in Asian cultures. Dark Is Divine encourages Asian women to characterize and promote a standard of beauty that is a genuine reflection of their spirit, and not the tone of their skin.
I am certain that Dark Is Divine will help redefine the connotation of the word “dark” and will bring a sea change to the psyche of Asian societies with regard to colorism. I envision a future where such discrimination will no longer exist.