Colourism is a significant issue within a lot of ethnic minority communities. It is one way in which fragments of the colonial world exist in the contemporary and have formed new shapes.
History says colonialism has ended, and that we live in the post-colonial world (Let’s just ignore the Iraq invasions earlier this century, the ongoing Syrian conflict and continuous foreign intervention within the Middle East, as well as the genocide of Rohingya Muslims…not to mention police brutality in America as well as the Austin package explosions, let’s ignore that for now…like we always do). Colonialism in terms of its labelling as empire has ended.
Colonialism and imperialism as power structures still exist socially, economically and politically. Imperialist attitudes are prevalent within society, projected from the dominant ruling classes unto minorities, as well as from institutions. Within London, numerous people are racially profiled by the police force due to physical appearance, prior to 2001, profiling was based on blackness, however with the aftermath of 9/11, this profiling has extended to individuals who look stereotypically Muslim as well.
In addition, cases surrounding ethnic minorities specifically in deprived areas within London are typically abandoned and neglected. So many incidents are unspoken of in the media or are pushed to p10 on Newspapers because the young person who lost their life was an ethnic and or working-class minority. This treatment of minorities within localities is a physical manifestation for the way in which minorities are treated on a wider scale by law and government at times.
Though imperialist attitudes exist and can be seen through the way in which members of the government and law, as well as the public, treat others based on skin colour, ethnicity and country of origin, imperialist attitudes have been projected unto these minority communities and effectively minorities have internalised these notions and ideologies and have projected them onto their own people.
I grew up in a Bengali household. My father was quite dark-skinned, and my mother is quite light-skinned. I am the darkest out of all my siblings. Growing up, I was referred to as ‘the little black girl’.
I remember one time, a family member laughing in front of other family members said, ‘Aisha is so black that she needs to go to the kitchen and wash herself with fairy liquid and salt’. I believe I was 5 years old. I was incredibly embarrassed, but I didn’t know why. Growing up, people referred to my sister as the ‘lul furi’ (pink/ red pigmented girl) and me as the ‘khala furi’ (black girl). When we went to Bangladesh, our family over there gave my sister and I a cow each as a present ( don’t ask ).
My sister was given a white cow and me a black cow. I knew that I was darker than my sister and that I was cussed for being so but growing up those words never hurt me because I didn’t know the implications behind them. Only until I learnt the societal realities surrounding race, discrimination, prejudice and colourism specifically, did I finally understand why my family members said such things to me growing up. I had realised that this notion of whiteness being beautiful was a colonial mentality which had been projected and internalised by South Asians, which had also migrated to London alongside the people. It was interesting to me to know that these same people who were for colourism and would look down upon dark-skinned Bengalis would spew hatred and anger towards the British empire for the mark that they left on their families back home, their people, the land itself and the Bengali nation.
In the media in South Asia and globally where colourism is an issue, only lighter skinned people are typically shown on TV. The media universally has a hand in constructing minorities identities for them as well as people’s ideals of beauty, telling them what is beautiful, and what isn’t. This effectively can and does have detrimental effects. We need to get out of this disgusting colonial mentality that dark skin is not beautiful, and we need to speak up in the face of injustice. If we allow fragments of the colonial past to emerge and exist in the present, we allow space for differences and divisions to be created amongst us, the people.
Representation is important.