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The Imperialist Color Theory

BY FIZZA AYUB KHAWAJA (staff writer)

“A person without self expression is a person without self freedom.” - Robin S.

Our skin is a symbol of self expression that we display to the world every single day. It is the mantle that we are not only born with but carry for the rest of our lives. A patchwork of silken olives, deep mahoganys, and pure alabaster decorate humankind as art. These hues form a cacophony of millions of shades, each different than the one before, each unique and beautiful.

The South Asian color palette is a crown of browns: copper, russet and sarcoline to name a few. However, the daunting past of our country’s origin taints this gold crown. Racism, a deep wrinkle of what human hatred can birth, reigns in this field of browns as well. Brought on by the pre-colonial era, the nation still reels from the psychological effects that the imperialist ideology has left behind.

Fair skin is no stranger to this tucked away corner of South Asia. For some, like Pashtuns, it's an emblem of self representations, showing their historical origin. The imperialist color theory of the West, warped this self portrayal into a sense of notoriety and superiority, pushing it into the claws of years long worth of superficial trauma, that, till date, plagues our society.

Our society turned our shades of taupe and russet into a banner of undesirability. A nation recovering from the complex of being the ‘Untouchables’ psychologically accepted the color of our colonists as one that was superior. Soon, there was a distinct difference in the scales, one category made you beautiful, and one made you a mere Pakistani. Brown skin soon became too desi; it became something women turned an eye against and an attribute that men defined as undesirable when looking for wives. Grandmothers started concocting lotions for whitening, and daughters became aware of how their first expression of self was unwanted.

The world reformed and countries progressed, but the Pakistani dilemma of fair skin equaling beauty remained. Soon, this dilemma was exploited by the hands of capitalism, bleaching and whitening creams became the norm, from the elite to the peasants. It became a banner of going in the right direction of beautification, and the brown crown of our little South Asian corner by the Arabian Sea lost its value to the culturally imperialist legacy of white skin.

The youth of today see the cracks in this dilemma. Through slogans like ‘mera jism meri marzi’, the wave of acceptance and self awareness gained momentum. So, though it is rare, nowadays you might catch sight of a caramel-skinned girl admiring her skin in a mirror. Some may catch a glimpse of someone the color of mahogany adorning themselves with their skin laid bare. Slowly and steadily, may these sights become ceaseless.

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