Do you still want clear skin?

On a recent Wednesday morning, I was staring at the front door of the Radisson Blu from my seat in the lobby. Between text messages and calls to find out where an event was, I kept staring at the door.

A tall white man enters. The doorman and, inside by the X-ray machine to scan the bags, a hotel employee, quickly ran for the door. Opened it and let the man in. He crossed straight and did not stand in front of the temperature scanner (a Covid-19 protocol) and, it seems, he was not asked to do so.

Curious. I thought. Because when I entered through the same door a few minutes earlier, I was asked to return to the scanner. Having failed to notice it, I walked past it first. And for nearly 45 minutes as I nestled in the lobby seat, I noticed a subtle difference between the way white men are greeted and the way only brown guests stood in front of the temperature scanner for a fast second.

More curious, perhaps. But I am not ignorant of how Bangladesh, a brown country, perceives white skin. And the view from the 5-star hotel lobby took me back to a month of May when I was interning for a Boston media outlet.

The last week of May two years ago was unprecedented, especially if you were in the United States. Police killed George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The killing led to widespread protests, first in the United States against racially motivated police brutality. Then it spread around the world, in developed countries and others to fight systemic discrimination or state-sanctioned violence against dark skin color.

This unprecedented series of protests, dubbed the Black Lives Matter 2020 movement (or BLM for short), was the first mass protest in the era of the Covid-19 pandemic. By May of that year, most cities, even entire countries, were under the strictest lockdown protocols and the world as a whole was grappling with the new normal and learning what it means to work at home. distance.

Remote work generally means more possibilities and space for reflection. And maybe since most of us were confined to our homes, the protests, viral videos and conversations reached around the world like they did that year and got everyone involved.

Almost everyone was participating in protests or talking about skin color and race. And from my apartment in Quincy, Massachusetts, I wondered about the conversations inside Dhaka homes.

It took a few weeks, but the ripple effects of BLM 2020 have reached South Asia, which has also been criticized for its own direct and indirect racist overtones. For his own racist views, which allow brown people to despise black skin. Ironic, isn’t it? The same people who also suffer from post-colonial systemic racial discrimination are also the same people who have inherent racist values ​​and treat people based on their skin color. I have enough anecdotal examples of this from Dhaka, elsewhere in Bangladesh and interactions with Bangladeshis on the East Coast to occupy more than a page in this journal.

While BLM 2020 didn’t achieve what it predicted two years ago, it ultimately did, at the very least, lead to some policy changes. But what about us, how do we even measure the toxicity of our age-old racist views? A subgenre of this discrimination is colorism, which basically means that the discrimination is based on a “darker” shade of skin tone. Has anything really changed in this part of the world, and where does this obsession with lighter skin come from?

A little throwback: BLM and summer 2020

In America, state-by-state protests against police brutality began to spread in the last week of May. And in June, the conversation spread from the streets to the offices. After two years, the racially motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York on May 14 of this year is indicative of America’s racial problem. White supremacy is raging.

And black people are still disproportionately killed by the police. Aljazeera reported, citing Mapping Police Violence, that police killed at least 1,066 people in 2020. More than 28% of those killed were black, although African Americans made up just 13% of the estimated 330 million. residents of the United States.

However, America, so far, has seen some changes such as the passage of Breonna’s Law, Measure J, cuts to police departments, etc.

And if nothing else, the summer of 2020 saw the biggest movement in US history, with the New York Times reporting, “Black Lives Matter protests peaked on June 6 [2020]when half a million people turned out in nearly 550 locations across the United States,” and “polls suggest about 15 to 26 million people in the United States took part in protests.”

George Floyd, a 46-year-old father, has joined a long list of black Americans who have died at the hands of US police in an arrest or encounter fueled by racial bias and tainted by the unlawful use of force by the government agency, resulting in the death of a member of the American minority groups. Floyd was being arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20.

The murder came in the wake of video footage of Ahmaud Arbery’s racially motivated murder which began circulating in early May. Arbery (25) was chased and shot by two white men in Georgia on February 23. Arbery had gone out for a jog.

Floyd’s killing also came after Breonna Taylor (26) was killed in her bed at home by officers serving a no-knock warrant for a narcotics investigation on March 13 in Kentucky. Neither Taylor nor her boyfriend (who survived the night) had a criminal record. No drugs were found in the apartment.

The Black Lives Matter movement was born in the summer of 2013 when a police officer was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012. Martin joined a long list former victims of America. imperfect and murderous racist constitutions.

And although the Black Lives Matter movement started many years earlier, it wasn’t until after the murder of George Floyd that it mobilized nationally, on a large scale, and gained international traction. . Adam Serwer’s publication “The New Construction” in the October 2020 issue of The Atlantic aptly puts it “History teaches us that enlightenment as such is rare”.

And many would have wished that this awakening would result in change.

Asia, the Fair & Lovely doctrine and brown skin

East and South Asia has a long and confusing history of obsession with white skin. Between whitening creams, campaigns, advertisements and that aunt who always asked “why did you get so tanned?” or some variation of it, the majority of people in Thailand, the Philippines, China, Malaysia, India – and what have you – had taken steps, sometimes drastic, to lighten their skin tone.

While the history of tribes and peoples migrating to what we now call Bangladesh, or India, and forming the “melting pot” of culture is long and complicated. At the surface level, we know that light-skinned Aryans believed to have arrived in India around 1500 BC from Iran and southern parts of Russia began to gentrify the subcontinent, which was mostly inhabited by Dravidians (with darker skin).

Adolf Hitler’s fascination with the Aryans, as a pure and superior race, is revealing. The narrative of the Aryans follows that of superiority in socio-economic class. But scholars and historians have even debated the very existence of such a group in this region.

Skin color has long been associated with social class. One of the most important explanations is that “in Asia, dark skin has long been associated with work in the fields and, therefore, with rural poverty. On the other hand, pale skin is associated with a life more comfortable and cosmopolitan indoors, out of the sun, so skin color is a sign of social class,” writes Ana Salvá in The Diplomat.

And this obsession remained deeply rooted, and further fueled by colonialism.

From the first whitening cream in 1919 called “Afghan Snow” in India to the launch of Fair & Lovely cream in 1975, as black people, the idea of ​​white skin has always been put on an illusory pedestal. Advertisements, family, and peers have consistently told us that white skin is an unattainable goal that requires sacrifices — such as self-esteem, money, and confidence, as well as physical health (many, for that matter). day, continue to undergo drastic procedures for white skin).

So when the summer of 2020 arrived and gave the world a chance to wake up, Fair & Lovely (and other brands) also faced backlash and announced that they would be changing their brand names. The fair cream industry in India is estimated to reach Rs 5,000 crore by 2023. But BLM 2020 has changed that, The Print, an Indian online newspaper, reported.

But I doubt that the kids who called another kid the n-word in a class I taught in Jaago over a decade ago or that rickshaw puller who used the n-word for black expats who were walking on Gulshan Avenue 2 a few years ago have changed. I doubt dinner conversations have changed much when the educated upper middle class reject marriage proposals because “the girl is too dark” or when the entertainment industry has stopped trying to whiten the skin tone of our people to maintain the widespread beauty. ‘standards.’

I doubt anything has really changed. But maybe it’s time to launch campaigns to promote and appreciate dark skin.

Perhaps it will take many more generations to rectify this state of mind transmitted from generation to generation by our ancestors. Perhaps the white man will continue to walk the places of my city and be the recipient of the priority and exaggerated hospitality of the inhabitants of the city – forever maintaining the unequal world status quo.

At the very least, learn about the origins of white-skinned obsessions in the subcontinent. If nothing else, we can start the conversation and break the toxic cycle of passing the same racist views on to the next generation.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard

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