Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

White Tinted Glasses Anyone?

Continuing my keenness to post thought provoking articles that I come across the local media. Hopefully it adds to improving our way of thinking.

Focus Sunday December 2,

The unfairness of it

Guest columnist


These are supposed to be politically correct times but
politicians don’t seem to be always correct, and age-old prejudices refuse to go

POP quiz, hotshot: When was the last time you saw a dark-skinned
person appear in a local TV commercial?
Okay, there’s that cute Astro “I got time, I got time” ad. Hmm, any others? Any that, you know, didn’t particularly involve a character caricature or racial stereotype?

Dark-skinned models like Carol Gracias may be runway
sucesses but they are still unable to break into TV advertising, reports the
Times of India.

Sure, there are all those Petronas commercials, some of which are truly inspired, but they are public service messages, and not really advertisements. No, really ... when was the last time you saw a dark-skinned person appear on TV to try and get you to part with your hard-earned money? Or to try and lure you to partake of her luxurious and rewarding lifestyle? Or even do something as simple as present the news in a language other than Tamil? Many years ago, a Chinese lady friend of mine had her first taste of racial profiling after she broke into the local advertising industry. Tears over her teh tarik, she told a group of us – all old enough to have come from a time when schools weren’t so racially segregated – how she got a telling-off from her boss for trying to use a beautiful dark-skinned model of Indian-Malay heritage for a shampoo commercial.

That was in the late 1980s. Things have become worse since. Apparently these days, going by the racial make-up in local TV commercials, no Malaysian would ever buy products pitched by a darkie. Oh, and we’re also being told by a host of skin-whitening product pushers that self-assurance, beauty and youthful looks can only come from being fair skinned. Particularly offensive are those Tamil ads telling young girls that the road to true love is paved with melanin-removal. It was easier in the old days to just dismiss such prejudice – you told yourself that only the most backward and parochial Malaysian paid attention to skin colour. These days, however, skin whitening is such a big business in Asia that we even have educated people such as a local celebrity representing one of these companies’ line of beauty

So, you know, if you don’t have the advantage of a half-Caucasian
genetic blueprint, you need to apply the skin-whitening cream for success in
life and love! Admittedly, even in the best of times, and amongst the best
of us, there has always been a trace of prejudice. The big difference is,
that in the old days, we at least had the decency to be ashamed of it. We
recognised the inherent wrong behind such bigotry. Many would try and rationalise it – “Oh, I’ve nothing against you marrying that dark Indian boy, my
daughter. I’m only worried because others will look down on you and your

These days however, skin-colour bigotry has won such mainstream
acceptance that nobody is ashamed of it, and few see it as an issue.
It is a problem that’s playing out across Asia, especially in India, notorious for its
“Fair and Lovely” bigotry. Sure, one can attempt to explain it with India’s
particular history, stretching back to the Aryan (light-skinned) invasion of the
Dravidian (dark-skinned) civilisation, its body of myths covering the
good-aligned Devas (light-skinned, and Aryan?) and their numerous struggles
against the dark-skinned Asuras (dark-skinned, and Dravidian?), and finally the
entire sub-continent’s subjugation by the British Empire. But hey, it’s the
21st century, folks. There’s no bloody excuse anymore! Certainly, the more
enlightened quarters of Indian society recognise this and do not deny the
deep-rooted bigotry. The Times of India, the world’s largest English
newspaper, says that the Indian mindset is slowly changing. In an article last
year titled “Fair is lovely, but dusky is sultry”, it noted the rise of dark-skinned runway models such as Nina Manuel, Sheetal Mallar, Carol Gracias, Nethra Raghuraman, Laxmi Menon, Diandra Soares and others. But it also reported that, despite their runaway runway success, these models still couldn’t break into TV advertising.

This kind of bigotry is almost excusable in relatively homogenised countries such as China, Japan and South Korea, and those with a predominantly East Asian population, such as Singapore. Almost, but not quite, given the globalised era we live in. In the Philippines, the “Mestizo look” is worshipped, a by-product of colonial-era prejudice. I still remember reeling after having read a Philippine Daily Inquirer interview with an up-and-coming “macho” film star who was getting some nice roles in action movies. He spoke about having to shoot one sequence on location on the high seas – he got such a tan that his wife complained about how dark he’d become.
This is a macho film star, mind you. A guy.

The skin-whitening craze can be best summed up by its entry on Wikipedia ( “Some people treat larger areas to lighten the natural complexion, out of aesthetic preference or
to avoid social/work discrimination and gain access to better income (this is
true, for example, of prostitutes) or higher social position.”
So the next time this bigotry awakens within you, just remember what ”profession” you deserve to be lumped with.

Wide Angle is taking a break as Huzir Sulaiman is busy winding up his four-month Yale World Fellowship. During this time, A. Asohan, The Star's New Media Editor, will be our guest columnist. Wide Angle will resume on Jan 13, 2008.

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