Together, womyn of colour struggle with shadeism.

This well-done, Canadian documentary (20 minutes) on shadeism and light-skin privilege features the stories of young womyn of colour from Toronto:

Nayani Thiyagarajah narrates:

Four women, four stories, all connected to my own. We represent the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and South Asia. We represent Grenada, Venezuela, Trinidad, Angola, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. We represent Canada. Really, we represent an international narrative of sorts, a collective Herstory of womyn of colour. These are my friends, womyn I talk to, spend time with, and share with. And we all share the issue of shadeism from within each of our own cultures. Because of this, I knew it was important for us to come together, to talk about where shadeism comes from, how it affects us, and how we can possibly move forward together.

Link: Shadeism documentary (via Racialicious)

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7 Responses to “Together, womyn of colour struggle with shadeism.”

  1. AfroCan Says:

    A very intriguing documentary! A small taste of a hoary and complex issue.

    I wish the documentary were a bit longer with time to interrogate corresponding issues:

    1. Whiteness as the persistent beauty ideal as Womyn of color consciously and unconsciously pander to its standards and norms;

    2. Patriarchy stills defines which women are “desirable” and therefore most likely to land a spouse/good provider in the marriage market;

    3. Capitalism. Unfortunately, it seems that “beauty” and not talent/skills remains the chief criterion for womyn of colour in the labour market/achieving career success; and the Cosmetics industry that keeps manufacturing skin lightening products and these media images that make darker-skinned women feel inadequate.

    Also, the documentary did not address Latin American territories like Mexico and Brazil, where shadeism is also an issue, given their colonialist histories of Indigenous Native and bi-racial African peoples.

    I think the female subject who said that light-skin has only relative power was right on, because she knows while she is desirable and powerful in her own community, that power might not necessarily transcend into the dominate mainstream.

    QUESTION for Restructure: In the Chinese and perhaps other East Asian communities, is shadeism / skin tone the central issue for women, or is having Caucasoid features—i.e. rounder eyes and straighter noses the “beauty” litmus test?

  2. Restructure! Says:

    AfroCan,

    Also, the documentary did not address Latin American territories like Mexico and Brazil, where shadeism is also an issue, given their colonialist histories of Indigenous Native and bi-racial African peoples.

    Venezuela was represented, because one of the black womyn is also of Venezuelan heritage.

    QUESTION for Restructure: In the Chinese and perhaps other East Asian communities, is shadeism / skin tone the central issue for women, or is having Caucasoid features—i.e. rounder eyes and straighter noses the “beauty” litmus test?

    I can’t speak on behalf of Chinese people in general or East Asian people in general, but I personally was not pressured to be light. I grew up in Toronto, though, so my understanding is that skin-lightening products seem “racist” to my peers, since shadeism within an ethnic group also implies racism against people of other races who characteristically have dark skin. I grew up with people of various races and skin tones, so I don’t know what it’s like for people who grew up only with Chinese people, for example.

    My mom told me a story of how her mom (my grandma) complained about her going to another country and getting dark like the locals, but my mom was proud of her dark tan (East Asian people can tan pretty dark by the way; this wasn’t a white-people tan). However, a few years ago, my mom complained when I wanted to buy some foundation that matched my skin tone. She said that it was “too dark” and asked me if I wanted to look like a “black person” or something like that. I was shocked, because this was the first time that I heard her express dislike of dark skin, and because she said this racist thing in public. (By the way, drug store foundation selections don’t even accommodate dark-skinned people. They are all shades of beige.)

    However, I see a lot of skin lightening products marketed to East Asians. I’m sure there are East Asians who buy them, since they are in East Asian stores and such. However, I don’t know anyone in my extended family who uses them. I’m not jacked into some East Asian hive mind, so maybe that’s why I don’t know.

    I was going to post this skin whitening commercial I saw a while back which featured Asian Americans who were native English speakers and that really offended me, but I can’t find it. Anyway, my point was going to be that things that would appear OK to Asians in Asia look really racist to Asian Americans and Asian Canadians.

  3. AfroCan Says:

    Restructure,

    Excuse my bad…Venezuela was mentioned. When writing my response I was perhaps fixated in recalling the same issues I’ve read about Mexico and Brazil where bi-racial women try to erase their “Indio” or “Africano” features in whitening up to hopefully gain social privilege and mobility.

    Please forgive the phrasing of my question; I hope I didn’t appear to be pressuring you to “represent” your group. I was aware that in certain East Asian communities, not only is whitening up a cosmetic practice among women but also surgery to de-emphasize the eyes or rhinoplasty in building up the nose bridge to achieve that “Eurasian look”.

    At any rate, your comments about shopping for foundation with your mother and “shadeism within an ethnic group also implies racism against people of other races who characteristically have dark skin” reveals the insidious hierarchical nature that persists in defining /evaluating beauty—with Whiteness at the top and centre and people of colour pitted against each other for visibility and social opportunity.

    I find this topic fascinating because it allows us to examine the ways in which advertising media constructs pro-White bias while consigning non-white persons to the category of “less-than” and “ugly” if they fail to meet Caucasoid beauty standards.

    The documentary also reveals how male-dominated capitalist producers and advertisers of make-up—Cover Girl, et al and cosmetic surgery continue to exploit and manipulate female desires and anxieties of unattainable standards of beauty, and fears of dark ethnicity and unconscious yearnings for Whiteness.

    The desire to be light and beautiful seems to function as a regulator of sexual behaviour based on definitions of normative Euro-White femininity that serve the patriarchal and political control of all women.

  4. Sam Says:

    “The desire to be light and beautiful seems to function as a regulator of sexual behaviour based on definitions of normative Euro-White femininity that serve the patriarchal and political control of all women.”

    You forgot to spell it, “womyn”.

    My gosh, you people are hilarious.

  5. AfroCan Says:

    Here’s that troll again…..Buuurp!

  6. Realistic Individual Says:

    Response to Vimeo[dot]com video: SHADEISM.

    I’m annoyed at some of the inaccuracies in this documentary. [@4:25] Judging by their accent, most of the young women in the video are obviously from North America, so they do not represent those countries mentioned. Even if they were from those countries, they still can’t represent whole entire nations full of individuals (only speak for yourself!). There’s a difference between race, nationality and ethnicity.

    [@4:12] It’s completely untrue what she said about South Asian media. Irrfan Khan, Ajay Devgan, Nandita Das, Konkona Sen  Sharma and countless Kollywood and Tollywood actors have dark skin (by Indian definition). There was also a TV drama serial, Star Plus’ ‘Bidaai’, originally about this issue. What people define as light and dark skin varies. For example, I think Shahrukh Khan and Beyonce Knowles have quite dark skin, whereas some would disagree with me.

    [@5:07] I’m not too sure about the term “women of colour”. Isn’t white a colour too?

    [@5:14] Unfortunately, there have been many researches which proved that beauty does make a difference to one’s persona and future. Beauty can determine one’s employment prospects …and of course, people in this world (including employers) generally believe that lighter skin is more beautiful (as this documentary states). 

    Another inaccuracy in the video is that not all skin lighteners have bleach in them [@6:02]. In the UK, this type of product is called “skin lighteners”, which is more accurate due to varying ingredients in each product. In North America, they’re called “bleaching creams”, and in Asia they’re called “fairness cream”. I think if people take proper precautions, then it’s okay to lighten one’s skin …if it’s acceptable to darken skin issue-wise, then why isn’t it acceptable to lighten skin?? Why do some people say the latter is racist and the former is not??

    [@6:20] Not everyone identifies with their appearance or even race. Maybe some feel different inside to how they look outside.

    [@6:28] Oprah Winfrey’s skin is lighter than ever and she relaxes her hair, which is very self-contradicting.

    [@7:14] Her sister is obviously not “whiter” – she isn’t white at all.  Whatever this shade is called – olive, beige, wheatish… it is light brown, NOT white. Not everyone who lighten their skin want white skin. I had the same problem with the BBC documentary ‘Make Me White’ (2009).

    [@10:00] Historically, Europeans also equated beauty with light skin. The Tudors would wear lead makeup on their face and the prophets, saints and angels within Abrahamic religions were and still is depicted as white (which is geographically inaccurate in most cases). 

    [@10:49] Regarding those music videos; I can see plenty of dark-skinned women in the videos. There are also white women who look darker (via tanning).
         
    [@11:30] “Disgusting”??? It was incredibly rude and ridiculous how they reacted to the cover picture of Vivica Fox. Vivica Fox looked good in that picture and not at all abnormal –  she doesn’t look that much lighter enough than usual to justify their reaction. [@11:55] Vivica Fox is an individual who represents herself, not anyone else. Anyway, she’s lighter than most people of African/Caribbean descent (perhaps she has some distant Asian/White heritage?). Just to add, the camera’s flash and the studio lighting may have caused her complexion to look lighter. [@11:36] Calling her hair “perfect” reinforces the viewpoint that straight hair is better than Afro-Caribbean hair – something majority of people consider to be a racial trait.

    [@13:05] This clearly shows that prejudice against skin tone works both ways.

    [@13:59] Excluding light skin people from their group, Lost Lyrics, doesn’t help to change people’s opinions about skin tone. Light skin people also have opinions about this topic and there are prejudices against light skin too.  

    [@14:40] I thought she was a dark skin black woman – this shows that what is defined as dark and light is down to the individual’s perception. I know quite a few dark skin black women who manage to move through this world as normal, without their skin tone playing a part of it.

    Overall, this documentary does not shed any new light on societies’ attitude towards dark skin. I feel that the issue was taken out of proportion – skin tone very rarely prevent a person function normally in life and rarely create disastrous consequences nowadays. Also, this issue affects men too – I would’ve liked to hear a male’s point of view.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think Asians who lightened their skin usually look better than before. I wouldn’t want to look any darker – I don’t look pretty with a natural tan. That’s my opinion. I expect others to respect or at least accept my view as I would for their views – it’s not harming anyone else. I welcome those who try to promote natural beauty. However, if a person lighten or darken their skin or straighten their hair, then that’s their choice – it’s their own body and only they have the full right to do what they want to it …and it shouldn’t affect anyone else.  

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Well said, Realistic Individual. I notice that none of the
    frothing ideologues here had an answer to your rational comments. To answer one of your questions, according to “antiracist activists”, white is not a color or a race, but a sinister, ongoing plot to “oppress people of color”. Professional “ant-racist” racists have labeled it “whiteness”. It’s a wonderful propaganda tool that serves to demonize and indict all presently living white people for events in the fairly distant past to which they are completely unconnected. It is also a tool created in the hope of extorting unjustified “reparations” from white people. “Whiteness” theories, studies, etc. are parts of a movement that certainly is a sinister plot, but one launched against white people. Some white people are so profoundly stupid that they are actually going along with it.


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