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Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Of Racism and Whitening Cream Culture

A complex over darker complexion
An Indian actor got called out for protesting racism while endorsing whitening creams in TVCs (television commercials). Instead of echoing her protest, hundreds of voices on social media blasted the glamour actor for “shameless” and “pseudo-liberal” jibes against racism in the United States when they advertise whitening creams to be bold and beautiful.
The global outcry after the first-degree murder of African-American George Floyd in the street of Minnesota in the US has once again raised eyebrows among policy-makers, social scientists, and civil rights defenders.
Social and political tensions that have long been simmering just beneath the surface of the global economic order have begun to boil over, as evidenced most vividly by the protests in the US over the death of a black person, by four police officers in Minneapolis.
Ignoring coronavirus health safety advice, from London to Auckland, Toronto to Berlin, and Copenhagen to Madrid, demonstrators gathered in thousands to express solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter protests against police brutality in America.
The fault-line has been ignored by politicians of both camps of Democrats and Republicans.
In the lockdown during the virus outbreak, in mid-March, more than 40 million workers have filed unemployment claims in the US, and more and more families are pushed to the brink of poverty.
American civil rights activists often cry wolf, arguing violence breeds violence, and repression breeds retaliation. The cautionary messages of rights defenders usually fell into deaf ears of politicians and society leaders.
Life seems to be simplified in black and white colour code. Profiling a person having black or white hearts, so are bank loans or utility bills defaulters blacklisted. It is expected the priests and Muslim clerics are in white, while the executioners in prison wear black.
Deposed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s speeches were laced with satire and a sense of humour which made him a controversial statesman. He once said: “Racism will never end if people still use black to symbolize bad luck and white for peace.”
There is no reason for the white supremacist to admire the dictator Mugabe but his quotes from speeches will be remembered when he says: “Racism will never end if people still wear white clothes to weddings and black clothes to funerals.”
In a country where a government, politicians, national institutions, and state policy surreptitiously incite racism to settle scores in a plea to crack down on opposition and dissidents, such state policies further marginalize minorities for their belief, faith, ethnicity, race, language, and culture. Social scientists warn that where there is racism, the parameters of repression and inequality in society remain visible.
The social construction of racism is built in our hearts and minds. Unknowingly, millions developed a perception that evil is black and angels are draped in white. Unfortunately, such a colour-coded concept is in children’s storybooks and school textbooks.
Indian actor Abhay Deol criticized his glitz colleagues in the Bollywood industry, saying that “woke Indian celebrities” have been speaking out on #BlackLivesMatter but failing to speak up on similar instances within the country.
The tradition in South Asia is for young women eligible for marriage to apply turmeric on their face and hands, an ancient tradition enabling her skin to glow when seated at the ceremony -- or use whitening creams to be fair and beautiful.
Whereas, in the west, women love to have their skin tanned in the summer, bathing in sunshine.
The day when the demand for skin whitening cream sale plummets, only then can a nation be redefined to be non-racist.
It’s high time to admit the vanity of a false distinction.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 9 June 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at Twitter @saleemsamad

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