Written by Eiesha de la Cuesta
Cover art by Lauren Fox
racism n. prejudice or discrimination; the belief that different races can be distinguished as inferior or superior to one another
colourism n. prejudice or discrimination against a person with a darker skin tone among people of the same ethnic or racial group
xenophobia n. dislike against a person from another country
Growing up around three separate cultures in the Maldives, Philippines and Australia, I have spent most of my childhood in the Maldives where casual colourism is as much part of our culture as our bodhu beru (traditional drums) and dhonis (traditional sail boats). From a young age, I grew up noticing the not-so-subtle value placed on those with fairer skin, whether that be fairer Maldivians or white foreigners. Racism, colourism and xenophobia are rampant in our small community, especially towards islanders and expatriate workers. Many feel free to comment and discriminate against those naturally darker or those that spend too much time under the sun. The daily discrimination against a number of communities such as the Bangladeshi, Indian, Sri Lankan and Nepalese people has become a societal norm where even the youngest children are conditioned to treat them differently due to their race and colour. It’s safe to say, a dark skin tone is definitely not on par with the Maldivian beauty standards. We discriminate against these workers through a hierarchy that determines them inferior to us. There is this perception that Maldivians are better than them, and therefore, our treatment of these migrant workers include daily harassment and abuse, constant teasing and mockery. Even more so, they experience the barrier created to reduce their institutional access, employment, safe and liveable housing just because of their nationality. All this is considered taboo in our country when it needs to be addressed. Such behaviours and attitudes are prevalent to this day and there seems to be no end in sight to this.
“One thing I would like to strongly express is that every colour is beautiful in its own right, that every shade of colour is something to be proud of and value…”
In the Philippines, another country that I familiarise as my home is full of the blatant practice of colourism. Across the country, there is a desire for fairer skin to live up to the standards created by western media and entertainment. There is an obsessive belief that being white is beautiful, and anything less isn’t. This belief has grown a disturbing habit and custom of casual colourism, allowing people to freely show prejudice and discrimination against the darker skin tone. When I watch national television, I only see actors, actresses and hosts that are fair. When I walk into a regular supermarket to buy an ordinary product like lotion, there is a wide variety available to choose from, but they all have whitening properties. Thereby creating a huge market for skin bleaching products containing toxic ingredients. I can see this practice of colourism going through generations of Maldivians and Filipinos. However, it is engrained across people in every culture who are people of colour.
“My personal favourite is the many comments on how my English or accent is so impressive for someone who has only been here for such a short time. In reality, I possess the knowledge and fluency of two languages while some of those that belittled me, can only speak the one language…”
On the other hand, I have lived most of my teenage years in Australia. It’s a country where I have faced people calling me derogatory names and telling me to go back to where I came from when I have considered Australia my home for the past eight years. I have been bullied and named a “curry muncher” by people who don’t appreciate the flavour in a bowl of coconut curry or the smell of my traditional cuisine. People have assumed that I can’t speak basic English before I even open my mouth to speak. I have received so many looks and comments regarding my skin tone, appearance, education, and background based on the perception that I’m an uneducated Indian that barely speaks a word of English. While I may not be Indian, it’s disturbing how the race has been used in a derogatory manner and in association with a lack of education or knowledge of the English language. My personal favourite is the many comments on how my English or accent is so impressive for someone who has only been here for such a short time. In reality, I possess the knowledge and fluency of two languages while some of those that belittled me, can only speak the one language.
“I have received so many looks and comments regarding my skin tone, appearance, education, and background…”
While I have experienced and witnessed these subtle moments of racism and colourism, I hope to see a world united despite the colour of their skin. One thing I would like to strongly express is that every colour is beautiful in its own right, that every shade of colour is something to be proud of and value. There are different shades of beauty.
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