Fighting racism isn’t about dividing black and white. The way feminism isn’t about women vs. men. It’s not about blaming and shaming or pointing fingers. It’s about looking deep inside ourselves. What part are we playing, actively or passively, in this unfair system? Let’s unlearn what the poisonous system of racism taught us. Change it, get out of it. Get rid of it. Together.
This blog is written by Mahamuda Rahman, Communications Officer at Cordaid.
Let me start with my own experience. Some of my relatives weren’t happy when I was born: a girl and a dark-skinned one.
Fair & Lovely
We, people in Bangladesh and also in other South-East Asian countries, have different skin tones. It ranges from dark brown (we often call it ‘dirty’ skin colour) to light brown to a colour tone that cannot be called brown anymore (local synonyms ‘white,’ ‘bright,’ ‘clean,’ ‘fair’). In our eyes, the lighter the better. Throughout my childhood, I went to bed praying and hoping that I would wake up white in the morning. I faced a lot of social pressure to use Fair & Lovely a Unilever product, super popular in the sub-continent because, somehow it whitens your skin.
Colonialism and racism go skin-deep. We suffer from an intense sense of inferiority and insecurity.
After I stepped into the ‘adult’ world, it got even worse. I observed how easy it was for dark-skinned women to be invisible and ignored. Parents with eligible grooms came to visit me at the office sometimes and then the verdict was sent to my parents: “Sorry, her skin is too dark.”
We do not do this to ourselves out of malice. We simply live in an environment that has been methodically feeding us with these ideas for a long long time.
Colonisation and colourism
I lived and breathed colourism in our post-colonial society in Bangladesh. It has been some time that the British left the subcontinent, cutting it into pieces according to their own fantasy. But the legacy of the 200 years of colonisation is still alive and kicking in our daily life.
Just like Fair & Lovely, colonialism and racism go skin-deep. We suffer from an intense sense of inferiority and insecurity. I used to watch a lot of American and British movies when I was a teen. I always marveled at how intelligent, kind, and amazing these white people were. It took a lot of time to realise that we weren’t any different at all.
You and I, we are the same. Racism is a myth constructed to manipulate and exploit.
It wasn’t easy. Everything around us, books, movies, advertisements, songs, systems: all promoted that same message of white supremacy.
A simple human truth
I had to look in different places to seek and find the truth. In history, academic research, and cultural theories. During my searches I found more and more people, heroic people of the past and present, who shed light on this simple human truth: you and I, we are the same. Racism is a myth constructed to manipulate and exploit.
While working in the humanitarian and development sector, I came to realise that simple truths do not make for simple solutions. The whole sector comes forth of and, in many ways, carries on the colonial legacy of white supremacy. Therefore, we need deeper introspection and stronger determination.
Look inside yourself
So, dear reader, I beg you to look inside. What Fair & Lovely traces of colonial ideas and racism have you internalised? How does it affect you? How is this unfair system benefitting or hurting you, now and in the past? Do you want to keep being part of this? Or do you want to wipe it off your face and get it out of your system? And change things that cry so hard to be changed?
The sector and the people working in it aim to do good. One way or the other addressing our own racism, looking into the abyss inside of us, is going to hurt us, people in this sector. But it makes me happy and proud beyond words that Cordaid is willing to take on this journey and has already headed in the right direction.
About the Author: Mahamuda Rahman is originally from Bangladesh. As a part of the Indian subcontinent, Bangladesh endured British colonisation for 200 years. After a violent and bloody war of liberation, the country finally gained independence in 1971.