Does Asia Have a Skin-Deep Racism Problem?

Does Asia Have a Skin-Deep Racism Problem?
Photo Credit:Taymaz Valley@Flickr CC BY 2.0

What you need to know

Deep down inside, do we Asians feel that white people are superior to us and other races with darker skins?

Last month the world was shocked by neo-Nazi and white supremacists’ violence in Charlottesville in the United States. News, thoughts, offers of support, and articles on the horrible event flooded my timeline for several days.

Many of the articles offered different points of view in examining the problem, but one made me stop and reflect. In the piece, the author points out how Asians chose not to participate in counter-protests nor show their support during this dark and difficult time; and how they generally chose to stand back because they felt the issue did not affect them.

The article is addressed to East Asians (Japanese, Korean, Chinese) in particular by saying that basically they are not white, and they need to end the apathy and show some solidarity with fellow people of color.

After reading it, I remembered an article on BuzzFeed in which, writer Ashly Perez, a Cuban-Filipino-Korean American tells of her experience teaching English at a primary school in South Korea. One day she sat next to a student who was crying after the boys in her class called her “the Mayor of Africa” for having a slightly darker skin. Kids have been taught from a young age that girls with dark skin are less beautiful than those with fair skin.

Growing up in Indonesia, this situation is not unfamiliar to me, too. Although most people have brown skin, some are one or two shades darker or lighter than others. During school, I watched as kids insulted their schoolmates based on their skin tone. Among my peers, I was considered relatively light-skinned, but in my family, I am one of the darkest skinned, at least for a girl.

Girls and women are expected to have fairer or lighter skin than boys. This is because people often associate being fair skinned with cleanliness or beauty. And, of course, women are expected to be “clean” and “pretty”. Beauty and makeup products offer “whitening” lotion, soap, or cream. “Your skin got fairer” is often regarded as a compliment and “your skin got darker” is meant to be an insult, or at least a condescending comment.

The issue here seems to be literally skin deep: based on the tone of one’s skin. I cannot speak for everyone in Indonesia, but I have heard stories about college kids who joined an international buddy club program who were only willing to be paired with Caucasian students.

Or is there more to it than mere skin tone? Maybe it is also about race? Maybe deep down inside, we Asians agree that white people are superior to us, superior to other races with darker skins? It is a terribly ugly thing to admit, but it is better to admit it rather than pretend it does not exist. At least by admitting it, we recognize that it is a problem, that it exists, so we are one step closer to doing something about it. Because whether it is a deeper racial prejudice or merely based on skin tone, discrimination is simply wrong.

This article was originally published on Magdalene.co a Jakarta-based online publication that offers a fresh perspective beyond the typical gender and cultural confines.


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