Dropping The Fair in Fair And Lovely — Here’s Why It Achieves Nothing

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The Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum all over the world. While protests still take place across the USA, many corporations have stepped forward and promised to make changes — from hiring more black actors, to diversifying their reach, to appreciating the creations of black creatives all over the world. What affect this has for the movement still remains a little suspicious but obviously, unnecessary and performative.

Unilever is no different. The company behind many of the world’s largest brands, Unilever released a statement four days ago saying they were now swearing to be better. That they would finally — after years and years of perpetuating colourism and having light skinned Bollywood actors and actresses endorse them — drop the “fair” in “Fair and Lovely”.

Now of course (and rightfully so), this action was met with little optimism. One would wonder how Unilever’s small action would change anything at the grand scheme of things. The tube of cream had been the face of whitening product since the twentieth century. Colourism would still recycle itself in many ways. Dark skinned individuals in Asia would still be subjected to shame and ridicule. Every celebrity who endorsed fairness products would still be swimming in their money while showing their support for BLM. What effect would it even have?

And the answer is — nothing. Unilever did not mention it would stop production. Neither did they mention that they would change their harmful chemical composition that had Netherlands banning their products back in 2019. How would they apologize for the racist and colorist narrative they’d fueled over the years anyway?

A mere apology and dropping the “fair” in “Fair and Lovely” will do little to reduce the damage that’s already been done. That is already obvious. Think about all the lives that were lost to the lies that being fair meant you were better, somehow more worthy of love, more prone to accomplishments.

Colourism is not a new Western invention, although it has been perpetuated by Eurocentric beauty standards. It is not entirely a colonial hangover either. It is a by-product of white supremacy, anti blackness and casteism. We see it everywhere we go — in our movies, in our books, in our advertisements, everywhere we turn our heads.

I grew up hating the colour of my skin. Being the oldest and darkest out of three daughters, I would have people congratulate me for losing a tan. I watched aunties with the same colour of my skin grow fairer and fairer and their smiles more grim. I saw young girls refusing to play sports because they would get darker. I saw men seeking out fairer brides and refusing them if they weren’t pale enough. I saw entire beings reduced to the mere colour of their skin. And it sickened me.

It still does.

A lot of where colourism stems from is anti-blackness. To deny it, would be to deny the undeniable truth. We take pride in the fact we are lighter than our black brothers and sisters — as if it’s an accomplishment, as if it’s a badge we should wear with honour. As if our racism shouldn’t be treated with disgust. As if we shouldn’t be ashamed of what we teach to our children and peers. As if we’re any better.

Colourism will not end in our lifetime. It seems impossible. For so long have we taught ourselves that being darker meant there was something more at play — that we were punished or we were unfortunate enough to be born dark skinned. For so long have we taken pride in something as useless as our complexion. For so long have we looked down at our black siblings.

Huge corporations doing something as meaningless as dropping a single syllabled word from their brand name will not bring change. But talking about it will. And change is necessary. It is crucial. Not for you or for me but for the small child who looks at the mirror and grows up wishing they were fairer.

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