Asian Culture and it’s Obsession with Fair Skin

Pic credit : Stylecaster

Colourism has never been a problem I have faced. As I look in the mirror seeing light gold skin I’m conflicted on whether this is my fight. More than half of my bloodline is brown skinned but my physical appearance doesn’t show it.

I think about my relatives, close and distant. Friends. Colleagues. Other fellow Asians. The blatant societal ignoring of them and their darker brown skin in media circles. The image insecurities. Being labelled as criminals and untrustworthy. While western countries get skin tans wrong in various tones of orange, Asian countries still sell products focusing on ‘brightening’ complexions, which means lightening skin from brown to an imaginary white. All because Mother Nature has blessed people with more melanin than others. Just because society can be an absolute ass in what it normalises.

Non white culture has always problematically preferred fair skin. This has been commonplace even before European colonisation reached our ancestral shores.

I look around closer to home with my mixed race family, where we share skin tones ranging from pale white to dark brown. In the eyes of the public we are anything but. A charity vendor sneers at me in the street when I tell him that the man, much darker than me, by my side is not my boyfriend. He doesn’t give me a chance to explain that we’re relatives. I’m not into kissing cousins but whatever floats your boat, dude. On another occasion an Asian vendor tries to sell me products that will promote my gold complexion to a blushing pink.

But those are minute problems compared to what my darker skinned relatives get. Younger family members of mine will get picked on at family gatherings.

‘Why are your sisters so fair and you’re so dark?’ As if it’s a bad thing.

This is something I will never understand but will not feel the full impact of.

Stop being so sensitive, says an elder, taking in my light skin ‘it’s just a joke’.

‘It’s just our culture’, says another fellow Asian, with a shrug ‘aren’t you proud of our culture?

I think back to a former colleague of mine, her appearance more suited to the catwalk than the corridors of an office. She was stunning. Years later I would find out that she had problems with anorexia and her body confidence because Asian culture didn’t find her flawless dark brown skin attractive.

Our culture is ‘just joking’. Right.

It is up to us as Asians to speak up for our community first. No one else is going to do the job for us, nor has to. When we speak, our platforms should always be shared with our brown skinned Asian brethren. This means standing by them, letting them speak in their own voices and experiences. This means not just silently disagreeing with but saying something to the aunties and uncles who make their own relatives feel like outsiders. This means rejecting skin whitening products and not dishing them out as presents, even when asked. And if we are artists, featuring our dark skinned Asian kin at the forefront as much light skinned Asians in our work instead of merely acknowledging them in the background (unlike a certain movie). This means rejecting the notion that only fair skin is attractive while darker skin is not.

The very idea that Asian culture still upholds the standard of glowing white skin as desirable is a dangerous notion. It dismisses a large portion of our community, creating issues with mental and physical health. It leads further to racism, such as Anti Blackism and creates divisions with other communities of colour. It continues a racist practice of white worshipping when we ourselves are already brown and gold skinned deities that needn’t bow to anyone. It homogenises us as products instead of people, casting us as a singular image when that’s not what we are. The hierarchy of skin tone is a useless concept that does nothing to progress our societies further. So yes, this is my fight too.

Muslim, queer writer of BESEA heritage. I have a lot to say.