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Southeast Asians for Black Lives: Knowing the Difference Between Colorism and Racism, and Why It Matters (#BLM)

fair and lovely

As Lupita Nyong’o told BBC Newsnight just last year, “[colorism] is the daughter of racism [in] a world that rewards lighter skin over darker skin.”

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen my fellow Southeast Asians doing their best to rally. The issue is that, unfortunately, many of us struggle to think beyond ourselves. This is because of the discrimination we ourselves have faced in western nations via racism, and for those of us on the darker side of the brown spectrum, the colorism from members of our own race.

Have a few good things stemmed from the most recent Desi push against colorism?


Medium and dark Southeast Asian women have recently experienced wins with‘s recent removal of the skin tone filter, and Fair & Lovely‘s renaming of their brand to remove the term “Fair” from their name. These have been two minor but helpful steps in the right direction regarding our battle for at-home color equality.

Nevertheless, Southeast Asians have used our struggles with colorism to center the narrative of black suffering and the Black Lives Matter movement around ourselves. I think some of us do this/were doing this from a lesser “All Lives Matter” perspective without realizing it; still, others just struggle(d) with the possibility that there are bigger racial injustices than the ones we, as Southeast Asians, experience in the world.

And yes, we do experience some pretty messed up stuff because of our race, plus colorism from our own people if our skin has high(er) melanin content than our “fair-skinned,” Desi counterparts. There’s no denying that. We are also not strangers to the negative consequences of colonization.

But what we live with isn’t the same as what black people all over the world experience every day because of their race and skin color, especially those with darker complexions. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here’s a list of resources I’m always in the process of compiling.

Merriam-Webster defines colorism as, “prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin.”

Meanwhile, it defines racism as, “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race,” “a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles,” “a political or social system founded on racism,” and “racial prejudice or discrimination.”

I personally think these definitions express the clear-cut difference between colorism and racism, and shine light on the issue with Southeast Asians using the Black Lives Matter movement as our moment to address the former. However, if this still doesn’t make sense to you, try this video on for size instead.

Find more educational resources for Southeast Asian #BLM allies HERE, and general resources for everyone HERE.

Header image retrieved from Outlook India.

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