I’m currently taking a qualification course on equity and inclusion and, as one of the course’s tasks, was asked to reflect upon a personal experience dealing with inclusion/exclusion. I chose to write an honest piece about shadism. While racism is seen as discrimination between racial groups, shadism is seen as discrimination between shades of colour within a racial group. This discrimination has its roots in colonialism and classist hierarchies between those who worked outdoors in the fields and those with more aristocracy. Most commonly, shadist discrimination is against those who are darker, who are perceived to have an inferior status (related to wealth, attractiveness, and thus power, in general). However, shadism can also be against those who are fairer skinned, who may be seen by their racial or cultural group as ‘less pure’ or a deviation from the original heritage. Here is my personal account of shadism.
I’m fortunate to say that I did not experience much overt racism growing up, but upon reflection, I realize that I have been subject to ongoing and subtle forms of ‘shadism‘. I grew up with the message that a fairer complexion is considered more beautiful. This notion is quite predominant in South Asian culture (amongst others, such as East Asian, Caribbean, African and Hispanic), of which I am from. Every few years, my family and I would travel to India to visit my relatives and upon seeing me, I would get comments on how fair or dark I had become. Billboards, TV commercials and revered Bollywood actresses would exclusively portray fair South Asian women. Drug store shelves would be lined with skin lightening products. As noted in this article, this ‘snow white syndrome’ accounts for sales of whitening creams in India exceeding sales of Coca-Cola and Tea. This was the reality that I knew existed in India and although I didn’t think much about the meaning behind these messages at the time (perhaps in this case, ignorance as a child was bliss), I do believe that they played some part in shaping my identity growing up. When I reached high school, shadism became more obvious in my relationship to myself and others. At times, I felt a degree of exclusion by my fairer South Asian peers. It was not necessarily deliberate, but more subtle and most likely unintentional. I would often hear passing comments from them regarding other people, such as “He/She is good looking…but dark”. Such comments were never directed at me, but I always felt uncomfortable, knowing what they implied about people’s underlying thoughts around beauty and status. Continue reading