SISTA ACT (2018-2020), in collaboration with BBC Children in Need and Women's Inclusion Team (WIT), explores Colourism and the Politics of Beauty. It's aim is to empower young girls and women from BAME communities by providing them with a positive platform to explore some of the most critical issues impacting them and their communities such as fashion, skin bleaching; body image and hair.
Everybody, it would seem, has a problem with dark skin. This is even more so within the African and Asian communities, skin-lightening and hair texturing are race and gender practices which see a political and an emotional economy embedded in one another. It is a multi-billion pound industry that reinforces racialized inequality for profit. It reflects the exploitation of people of colour by often white corporations and the message that paler complexions and texturized hair increase chances of better employment, spouses/partners, and quality of life. The racism of which Colourism is a subset, and which is expressed in this way, ensures a lucrative market.
Beginning with a BBC Children in Need small grant, we are attempting to ‘explore’ skin-lightening practices amongst people of African and Asian groups closer to home. It is a peer-led project which is trying to establish a base-line, using discussion groups, and workshops, personal development and residential activities to understand the psychological, economic, emotional and physical effects of skin bleaching, hair texturizing and the politics of Colourism.
It is an awareness initiative that seeks to draw attention to the unjust effects of skin colour bias and also celebrates the beauty and diversity of all skin tones and hair textures. It will challenge the belief that the value and beauty of people is determined by the fairness of their skin or the texture of their hair. This belief, shaped by societal attitudes and reinforced by media messages, is corroding the self-worth of countless people, young and old.
The history of Colourism is now mainly the left-over baggage from colonialism and the main feature was its use as part of the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy employed by the colonial governments to keep the population in check. A division that is still very evident and felt in black and Asian countries and communities all over the world, whose perception of beauty has been distorted and have been made to believe that whiteness or anything close to it reigns supreme, therefore surely anything on the other side of whiteness is wrong and ugly.
It is clear that skin-lightening and fake hair are an everyday set of complex practices and the drivers are multi-dimensional, which evolves and manifests differently across and within socio-cultural environments and communities. The negative associations surrounding darker skin are being internalised from a very young age. This has a major impact on self-esteem and self-worth.
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