Obsession with Whiteness
Colonialism has left scars on our collective consciousness. I was born in Bangladesh, as were my parents and their parents before them (although it was India and then East Pakistan for a while, dark times). Great Britain, in one form or another, had their slimy grips on my subcontinent since the 1600s. It started with the English (later British) East India Company, whose name and influence is still seen in many of our products, and eventually spread to the country as a whole. Outsiders took over the means of productions and capitalism took root in the form of a hostile take over. The Indian people were no longer people, they were glorified servants. We were beat, starved, raped, and pillaged. Our resources were stolen from us and our lives were uprooted, never to be recovered.
This is when the obsession with “whiteness” really took root.
I am of a darker complexion. My mom, brother, and baby sister, on the other hand, are very light skin. Many people mistaken them for East Asian or Pakistani. I, however, am always a Bengali. They had a name for people like me: Kala Miah, which roughly translates to “Black kid.”
There’s always jokes about blackness in our communities.
“He looks like a rice picker”
“She’ll never find a husband.”
“That must be a family of poor servants.”
And the derogatory comments go on. Being dark is generally acquainted with being poor, unintelligent, and unattractive. In the Bengali community, whiteness = higher status. If you watch TV, you’ll see that the best, most recognizable actresses and actors are as pale as Europeans. There are ads about skin whitening creams such as Fair and Lovely. Many of these creams used to contain bleach, until it was eventually banned because of the permanent skin damage bleach causes. But people would still use them. Why? Because being white meant being valued. It meant people treated you with respect and dignity. To be dark is to be ostracized by a community of your peers.
This obsession with whiteness (title) stems back to colonialism, where every Indian would see a white man as the owner of the farm or factory, or as the person manning the ship with all the crops. Colonial rule ingrained in the minds of Indians, for generations to come, that whiteness was equivalent to power. This stigma carried on into the household. An Indian who looked white was assumed to be someone of status, someone from Great Britain. Someone who doesn’t need to go outside because their lifestyle was so lavish.
This stigma has carried on into the modern era. Bengalis still value whiteness. It is the most attractive quality in a person.
If I had a dollar for every time someone said “How terrible, you’ve gotten so dark” I’d have enough money to shut them up. The honest truth is that we, as a community, have to stop putting so much weight in whiteness. We must acknowledge that being dark is beautiful too. Whiteness is not derivative of status, and it should not be the goal of our people to settle down with someone with light skin. We must take pride in our culture and our roots. We must come to terms with our scars and move past them.
Our obsession with whiteness must end.