Why are South Asians obsessed with being white?

“Have you been hanging out in the sun a lot? Your skin has darkened by a ten-fold!” Comments like this are not uncommon if you are a Pakistani or Indian. Our culture and society is obsessed with being “fair skinned” and I always wondered why. The reason never actually struck me until my African-American friend revealed, “It’s because of your colonizers!”

She was right. Since the beginning of colonization, Europeans have brought bigotry and hate to the Indian subcontinent. The Englishmen during the British Raj treated the Indians like scum. Their racism is evident and portrayed in the British television series, “Indian Summers.” One of the first things I noticed in the opening scene of the pilot was the “No Dogs or Indians” sign posted outside an English club. To the Indians, the Englishman was not just a foreign ruler, but was someone they could also admire. The British were educated, organized, timely, and set up a highly effective system of governance (whose remnants are still present today all over the subcontinent).

This is where the complex sets in. They were handsome men and beautiful women whom the South Asians aspired to be. They could travel abroad and get educated, they could change their habits and become more organized and efficient, but what they could not change was their physical appearance. They could not be white.

Sadly, being white is considered attractive in the South Asian society, and this complex hurts women more than anyone else. In the subcontinent, arranged marriage is still a cultural norm and, unfortunately, females are pressured to look “perfect” for their suitors. Amongst other highly physical qualities and attributes, they must also be light-skinned. It’s a rough world and time for a girl whose is even slightly dark. The mothers and relatives looking for a bride for their precious sons are formidable and very frank about their demands. If the girl is not white enough (or skinny enough, or tall enough), she is bluntly rejected on that basis. This can be depressing for women and can lead to inferiority complex.

Models and actors are photo-shopped to look lighter than they are. If you ever see Bollywood actors in real life versus in the movies, you wouldn’t be able to recognize them.

While many people are standing up and accepting their skin colors and bodies as they are, it will be a long time before this deeply-rooted complex is cleared from the South Asian society. Skin whitening creams generate a large amount of business in these countries. Furthermore, almost every morning or talk show has a segment with herbal or homemade skin whitening tips. You cannot escape it.

What Pakistanis and Indians do not understand is that this complex comes from our subjugation by our colonizers. We considered them a civilized, superior, and good-looking race. This in turn led to us discriminating amongst ourselves. We divided ourselves over characteristics we saw in our colonizers, continue to do so today.

We may have gained independence and rid ourselves of their rule, but 68 years onwards, we have failed to accept ourselves as we are.

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