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Episode 319 — Skin bleaching

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#1 July Diaz

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Posted 20 January 2014 - 12:02 AM

Writer and professional radio person Jane Marie returns all this week to answer some racism questions. Today they talk about skin bleaching and how it’s definitely racist. Be sure to call us at (323) 389-RACE to ask if anything is racist.
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#2 Kevin Irmiter

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Posted 20 January 2014 - 05:02 PM

I think it's important to be careful not to fall into the trap of well-meaning liberal Anglo-centrism with these sorts of things. I think a lot of people go too far with blaming white people for problems throughout the world. People think they're doing the right thing by calling out white people for bad things they're doing, but it can also paint a picture where the world revolves around us, and gives an exaggerated sense of our country's importance.

I used to feel the same way about obsession with white skin in Japan--that Japanese obsession with making their white skin comes from feeling that beauty makes them look more like white people. But if you talk to Japanese women, none of them see skin whitening as making them look more like white people. In fact, considering how suntans are fashionable now, it actually makes them look less like the famous white women held up as standards of beauty. And besides that, if you look at history you'll see that Japanese princesses and nobility were painting their faces white because they thought it was beautiful long before any caucasian had set foot on Japanese soil.

So in India's case as well, I would bet it is mostly based on India's own historical classism and caste system. I don't know all the facts but I know that India has its own established culture and its own well-established standards of beauty that are independent of Western society. So in this instance, I think it may be more racist to jump to the conclusion that Indian people (or other people in Asia) seeing light skin as more beautiful is based on Western influence. That's a judgement best left to people who know the culture better.

And again, white people have a long history of making snap judgements about cultures they know little to nothing about. We may feel like it's okay because we're painting ourselves in a negative light but it ends up being just as patronizing and reductionist. So I am not going to agree with the assessment that this is obviously racist, and we should just assume it comes from British colonialism or something.

#3 pfchangs

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Posted 21 January 2014 - 12:10 PM

India's light-skinned thing goes back further than just white people (the Mughal rulers in the north were lighter-skinned than the darker-skinned folks further south) but you can bet your ass that British colonialism took that shit into overdrive. India also has way more British/European colonial influence than most other Asian countries too, it was basically their eastern hemisphere headquarters.