Pakistani media and its racial biases

Pakistani media and its racial biases

Pakistani media and its racial biases
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Looking back on the trajectory of Pakistani media and fashion industry, there’s been quite a few instances where a model or an actor was churned out on to a project with make-up several shades darker than the artist’s original skin color. And something tells me that it won’t be the last time something like this happens. A local magazine allowed it when a brand used the late model Zara Abid in blackface. A fashion photographer did it when he put his models in black skin and an afro. While brown-face may not be as culturally shocking, it’s still evident of a long-standing racial bias in the industry. What is it that makes us so susceptible to black face or brown face?

The problem lies in the fact that it’s simply not clicking for many Pakistani’s as to why changing one’s skin colour to a darker shade is even bad to begin with. A lot of my conversations with Pakistani millennials or boomers end on a frustrating note for they can’t grasp the ineptitude that our inclination towards black face is nor am I able to explain it without going into a deep Euro-US contextual loop that again sets us far apart on the comprehension scale.

While we as a nation have had our purgatory of racial issues, it’s fairly different from American history and therefore requires a slightly different approach in order to make it comprehensible. Even though our ties with racial prejudice begin way back in 1947 with its roots laid even before that, a nation deeply entrenched in permeating ethnocentrism and colourism, the essence of it remains the same – that racism on the basis of skin colour is very much real in Pakistan. It is real when brands don’t opt for dark skinned models, like at all, it’s real when arranged marriages are sought on the basis of a fair woman, and it is every bit existent in our systemic oppression against the Sheedi community. Racism and colourism are inherently correlated and rejecting racism in our midst is a gross miscalculation.

There are a lot of stagnant arguments out there that people use to justify black face on our South Asian soil. “Everybody is too sensitive nowadays” or “people can’t take a joke anymore” is a popular one amongst them. The issue here is that socio-political awareness by the masses is regarded as sensitivity to protect racist troupes that these particular argument holders just don’t want to go out of their way to understand or evolve with. While Late Moin Akhtar’s racist depiction of Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi characters in full blackface was accepted in another time does not mean it was okay even then.

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A second commonly found argument is in the rhetoric is that there are no famous dark skinned models/actors available. This on its own is the equivalent of a trip wire one lays out themselves. Fine, let’s entertain the notion for a second and ask as to why there’s such a circumstance in the first place where you don’t have access to famous dark-skinned individuals? Is it, perhaps, due to the fact that you don’t prefer to use dark skinned people in conventional settings unless opportunity calls to don dark makeup and use racial narratives for your artistic or financial advantage?

No, it’s not true that dark skinned actors or models aren’t available in the industry but it is a reality that they remain a consistent minority amidst an unsaid rule of fair-skin preference.

It’s a fact that our innately racist purview disadvantages minority groups from rising the ranks of our media industry simply on the basis of skin colour or ethnicity. Both facts exist in a cyclical systemised oppression created by our own whitewashed media industry. It is inherently offensive and racist to use a fair skinned model and paint her several shades darker rather than working with an actual dark-skinned model. It is not boundary pushing in any way, but instead prominent of a deeply regressive narrative that sets preference for fair skin folk to showcase dark-skinned beauty and their respective stories, and it aligns to the idea that dark skin is simply a prop or an artistic device to use whenever one wants to. Why black skinned people are sidelined in a project that aims to celebrate their own skin is beyond me and light years ahead in some cruel irony.

Another argument that comes up is a whataboutism classic – what about white face? Let me stop you right there, for there is no such thing. Equating our white worship to an actual racist act holds no ground. A historically privileged group of people can’t be oppressed against, and white people have and still are dominant group. Imitating white skin is not racism, it’s just sad. This euro-imported hate that was brought here and instilled a deep disdain for our own brown skin is the very reason our media today favours fair skin.

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The crux is simple. We hate our brown skin and still have a deep rooted desire for fairness. Just need to peek at the sales of fairness creams to realise how widespread and rampant the problem still is. It’s not our fault to have had this notion so deeply embedded in us for we inherited it. But it is our fault if we keep going like this and not change. In this day and age of socio-political awareness, pleading ignorance is not justifiable. The Pakistani fashion industry, and the media industry as a whole, needs to do better.

 

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