Jyoti: What is Colourism and how does it manifest itself in the Indian milieu?
Dr. Parameswaran: Colourism has been defined as skin colour discrimination. And to talk about it more precisely, it’s discrimination that targets dark-skinned people. And it’s a form of discrimination where dark-skinned people are seen as inferior, less beautiful, less competent, less intelligent, and less accomplished than light-skinned people.
Now to use a term such as colourism for skin colour discrimination takes it beyond the term prejudice, where prejudice sometimes tends to keep discrimination at the individual level and reduces it’s significance and importance. By calling it colourism, what we are actually doing is saying that the ways in which dark-skinned people are treated as inferior is systematic, it’s widespread, it’s a part of a social, economic and cultural institutions, and it needs to be tackled society-wide. We can’t do it by educating one person at a time. And perhaps we even have to think about legal solutions once you think about it hard enough--how do we tackle this problem?
I like colourism as a term because many many years ago, there was no terms for this kind of discrimination. So by calling it colourism, we are equating it to other forms of oppression like racism and sexism, which have been studied for a long time. And which like many different sections of society we have said, these are systematic and have to be tackled society-wide.
Some of the ways it manifests in the Indian milieu, where there is preference for lighter (fairer) skinned women, is in institutions such as marriage. We can see it in Bollywood, and other forms of popular culture. You can also see, take a look at society wide that there tends to be to be a preference for lighter-skinned women in all kinds of powerful institutions.
One of the problems in India is we still haven't studied it the way it has been studied in various parts of the world. My portion of this aspect of colourism has been in media culture, and I have looked in media like comic books and advertising. And in the kind of media I have studied, you can see that colourism manifests itself very clearly.