Addressing ‘desi racism’ and what it means in Pakistani society
In the wake of the death of an African-American man named George Floyd, America raised its fists in solidarity to condemn the oppression towards African-Americans, people of color, and the prevailing systemic racism in the country that seems to know no end.
South Asians, especially Indians and Pakistanis, are no strangers to discrimination based on one’s skin colour. In fact, the very ideas that give rise to society’s vision of beauty standards stem from seeing white-skinned people more attractive than dark-skinned.
Thus, ‘desi racism’ was birthed out of a generation’s belief that white-skinned men and women are more desirable than those who are not. Particularly in regards to marriage, one’s skin colour is often viewed as equivalent to that of their eligibility. This, and many other society’s perceptions towards gender, in general, has riled desis of today’s generation.
How long will a person’s skin colour determine their likeness, place, acceptance in society?
The #BlackLivesMatter movement essentially works to answer this question. With the world now a witness to the brutal display of racial prejudice and discrimination by none other than a police officer himself, a law enforcer, we are compelled to rethink and reassess the meaning of humanity in its entirety.
Desi racism has long been around in Pakistani society. Advertisements and marketing brands cater to a more fair-skinned woman instantly appearing more attractive through the use of a face-lightening cream that is constantly shown on television channels. They can be seen everywhere on billboards, commercials, posters – enhancing a view that is becoming or has already become outdated to a large degree. Pakistanis, however, fail to see the redundancy.
However, a majority of them took to social media to raise voice against Zara Noor Abbas, a Pakistani actress who came under fire after speaking about the #BlackLivesMatter movement all the while having posed for a skin-whitening commercial.
In another instance, a fashion brand was criticized for apparently using people of dark colour as props in a lawn commercial. What was more enraging for Pakistanis was the brand’s resharing of the shoot at a delicate time such as this.
They tweeted about the brand’s insensitivity and once again, social media became a battleground for a variety of different voices.
The hypocrisy of some celebrities has fueled the fire ignited by the brutal treatment of George Floyd causing many Pakistanis to voice mistreatment of their own on the basis of skin colour. This is why the movement has culminated into #AllLivesMatters – encompassing every ounce of pain inflicted by humans themselves onto other humans.
In the world of 2020, protests are a medium of social change, social media has a voice louder than anything else and activism is a tool dismantling the confines of traditional society.
The world is walking towards a safer, more accepting, and harmonious place. But the hope of taking those steps seems to fade into black when we’re constantly met with news such as this.
For immigrants in America, this feeds into a nightmare of being oppressed in your own country. As Hasan Minhaj, renowned Indian-American comedian and host of the Netflix show, Patriot Act, explains in an episode dedicated to the recent protests.
“Depending on when you immigrated, you came to this country (US) for order and stability. We don’t want it to be as messed up as back home. But imagine if you lived in a country where the colour of your skin got you killed? You would say that is a lawless country.”
He went on to say, “We can’t seem to fathom that the same knee of oppression that kills in Gaza could be the same knee of oppression that killed George Floyd?” Minhaj stated. “Look, I can’t say what it’s like to be black but I know how we (Asians) talk about black people. If someone in your family is dark-skinned, we clown them. We call them ‘kallu’. Bollywood stars do skin whitening commercials so we don’t look black!”
The star highlighted how the video of George Floyd being suffocated to death by a police officer was horrifying not just to an American citizen, but for everyone trying to live and breathe safely in a country they have chosen to call home after leaving another.
We are one and the same. We are fighting the same fight, wherever we are. As painful as desi racism’s neglect of a vision of beauty free from ideals, people of colour still struggle to create a world of solidarity that transcends the boundaries of ethnicity and race.