So I’m a halfie, a mixed kid, or as we say here in Malaysia, rojak. The cool thing about having parents from different ethnic backgrounds is that there are a gazillion ways in which their children can turn out. Take my family, for example. A wholesome mix of East meets West. A Malaysian father of Indian origin and an Irish mother of part Swiss/German lineage – bore into this world a mishmash of little Henry’s. Different and similar at the same time, we were our very own United Colours of Benetton ad.
With my family
While living as a mixed person is undoubtedly a beautiful experience it is also complex and sometimes, even painful. Growing up in Malaysia, one of the most common questions asked of my siblings and I, is “where are you from?” The simple and correct answer “Malaysia”, however, is never enough. We, of course, know where this is coming from – mixed raced people don’t look like what you might assume, do they?
So, eventually, we give the interested parties the long answer. An explanation for why we look the way we do. And after the spiel is over, I am, till this very day, often met with the response, “Wah, you’re so lucky you look so fair like your mother”, implying how being ‘dark’ like my dad would’ve been the worst possible outcome. And if I am ‘lucky’, did that make my younger sister, the brownest Henry, the unlucky one? The less beautiful one? Inferior? These sentiments – let’s be honest – are nothing new for us Malaysians.
Colourism is the process of discrimination which privileges light-skinned people over their dark-skinned counterparts. While it remains a universal slight against humanity, it is especially entrenched in South and South-East Asian countries – with products to match.
8 years ago, I was told very clearly by a branding agency to omit my ‘race’ from the casting form or I wouldn’t get the skincare job I was auditioning for. Even though I didn’t look typically Indian (#brown) the mere fact that I had Indian blood would adversely affect the client’s decision to use me. Needless to say I didn’t get the job. And going by, well, all skincare advertisements to date, it is not skin clarity that is important but skin ‘fair-ity’.
There is no such thing as an ideal skin colour. This Louboutin ad shows that nude comes in many tones.
It’s 2017, but not much has changed. The Watson’s Raya advertisement released right here in Malaysia featuring the infamous ‘blackface’ as a representation of ugliness, was a blatant indication of that. If this advertisement wasn’t forewarning enough of the pervasiveness of colourism in Malaysia (come on people, they thought this was what we wanted!) then I don’t know what else is.
In a world where both women and men have always been upheld to and domineered with all sorts of ridiculous beauty standards, it is definitely obvious that they revolve around white beauty as the ideal from which all else is compared– which is tough, for you know, the other two thirds of the world that aren’t of European descent (that’d be us). In fact, our darker skin offers us a natural sunscreen protection from the sun’s harmful rays – that’s the beauty of adaptation over centuries. While it is important to remember that definitions (because there are many) of beauty exist, have existed and will continue to evolve and form across all cultures, we must as intelligent modern individuals, guide them into being thoughtful, inclusive and positively affirming. We should strive to uphold ideals that empower both women and men to be themselves, to embrace individuality and celebrate difference, that demand equality and bolster self-esteem, that make people believe that they should never ever have to feel ashamed or lesser because of the colour of their skin. There is no such thing as an ideal skin colour.