Horrified by the skin-lightening creams you see advertised in the cityscapes of Africa?

Wait till you see the adverts people walk past daily in India or Sri Lanka. This huge billboard (above) sits somewhere on the 10-kilometre distance from Kelaniya (my family’s ancestral home) to Colombo (the city). The script below the ever-whitening out images of the model says: “For white/light skin, apply daily”.

South Asians have Africans beat on this front.

People in the Indian subcontinent have been obsessed with light skins for…well, it’s a matter of debate as to the social and historical reasons behind why. Some say it is because of our agrarian heritage: those who had to work outdoors (most people) were darker from the sun. The few who could afford to stay indoors – especially the women of the wealthy – were lighter-skinned. So lighter skin displayed wealth and power, especially if your women (another asset through which to display wealth and power) were lighter skinned. It’s common on marriage-adverts to write that your daughter is “fair” as one of her added bonuses.

Others say that this obsession arrived along with the invasion by Aryans from the north – lighter skinned people originating from what is modern day Iran/Iraq (yes, Hitler Yougend, take note – Aryans are not Germanic peoples). They became the new rulers for several hundred years, encroaching on the Dravidian-populated India as far south as Mysore. In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala royalty often sent for marriageable women from India (there’s lots to say about that, but that’s for a different academic paper). So again, power, privilege were displayed by lighter skin. When our successive waves of European colonisers arrived, it didn’t help matters on the skin front.

Al Jazeera English tackled the skin deep issue last year:

Happily, Indians are finally making fun of the obsession with being ‘white’. Check out this spoof of the unbelievably popular skin-lightener, Fair and Lovely:

Come on #WhatsUpAfrica, where’s your version?

R/T S.Pathak

Further Reading

No more caricatures

Engaging seriously with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s life could help us understand how South Africa got where it is and where it’s going.