We are racist, like our parents were
Growing up I was often told by my parents to stay out of the sun. Like most middle class Pakistanis, they were worried that the complexion of my skin will become dark if I spent too much time outside. My aunts flung concerned glances at me and my cousins during summers, especially when we were returning home after playing cricket, and made taunting comments about our tanned skin. Thus, from a very early age I learned that having dark skin was something to be embarrassed of.
My classmates were also familiar with this racial demarcation, so making fun of kids with a darker skin tone was quite common. The discrimination against dark-skinned people in Pakistan is as prevalent among adults as it is at the school level. For most front desk, sales and customer relations jobs, preference is given to fair-skinned candidates because many companies believe that employees with a white-complexion can make a better impression on the clients. While looking for a suitable spouse for their sons, parents almost always give extra points to fair-skinned girls. I still remember being flabbergasted when a few of my male cousins rejected scores of girls solely on the basis of the color of their skin.
Let's face it. We are racist without even realising it. But, it is not our fault. We've been conditioned since childhood to hold the fairer-skin tone in higher regard. Now the million dollar question is how this discrimination came to be so deeply rooted in the culture and social fabric of Pakistan?
It seems to have been a gradual process that began thousands of years ago when white-skinned foreigners invaded the subcontinent. From the Aryans to Greeks to the more recent Europeans, we came under the rule of a variety of foreign powers, most of whom had a fair-complexion. As a result of this, we began to think of white-skinned people as a superior race. The caste system in India further contributed to this discrimination because the Brahmans, who belong to the highest cast, also have fair complexion.
However, discrimination on the basis of the caste system has been abolished throughout the subcontinent, and European powers have long since stepped out of both India and Pakistan. Why then, are we still stuck in this old and absurd form of racism? Why are we unable to grow out of this discriminatory mindset and look beyond the color of a person's skin?
The answer partly lies in the portrayal of beauty in our media. While many Indian actresses have a darker skin tone, not once have I seen a Pakistani actress who was not white. There are many Pakistani ads, songs and films that advocate the merits of having a fair-complexion. Even corporations are instilling and reinforcing this racism in our minds by promoting beauty products and creams aimed at making the skin fairer.
Kya goray rang ka zamana kabhi ho ga na purana?
(Will the age of white-complexion never grow old?)
Whether or not we will ever completely overcome this racism, I do not know. But, perhaps it will slowly seep out of our minds if the media stops reinforcing it. We, on our part, should also stop idolising the white skin and must not pass on this racist notion to the younger generation.