colorism in IndiaImagine, for a moment, that you’re a five-year-old girl growing up in India. All around you, the standards for beauty are pretty, light-skinned Indians: they’re in all of the movies, splashed across billboards and magazines, on promoted ads and videos. Every drug store sells multiple brands of skin-lightening creams, and your favorite actors all endorse skin-lightening products. Your family members tell you not to spend too much time in the sun, just so you won’t get too tan. That’s what colorism in India was like for Rajitha Pulivarthy, now 20 years old and living in the United States.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced [colorism] myself, because I’m more on the lighter-skinned side, but I definitely adopted a colorist attitude when I was younger,” she said, recalling her experiences with colorism. “I wanted myself to look lighter or not get tanned in the summer.” Even with supportive parents who rarely mentioned colorism and told her to stay away from skin-lightening products, colorism still shaped Pulivarthy’s worldview growing up and even after moving to America. Sadly, Pulivarthy’s story is just one of millions. For many women growing up in India, this is the norm.

What is Colorism?

Colorism occurs when some people are discriminated against more than others of the same race, simply due to the shade of their skin. It is very prevalent in India, and it’s a gendered phenomenon, affecting Indian women more than men. Sometimes, colorism is obvious, but often it manifests in more subtle ways, like in everyday behavior. Something like commenting on how someone is “beautiful and fair-skinned” is commonplace in India. While those comments don’t necessarily insult those who have darker skin, they do show society’s preference for those with lighter skin.

Colorism in India

Colorism is so ingrained in everyday life and society, in fact, that skin-lightening products make up a multi-billion dollar industry in India. Bollywood, India’s movie industry, casts predominately light-skinned actors, which perpetuates beauty as light-skinned. Many Bollywood actors also endorse skin-lightening creams.

While the media plays a large role in these notions of lighter skin aligning with beauty, colorism in India can trace its roots all the way back to British colonization. The British ruled many South Asian countries, including India, for over 200 years. Their colonization embedded the idea that fair skin people were the ruling class, and darker-skinned people were the subjects. British rulers treated lighter-skinned Indians more favorably than their dark-skinned counterparts. They gave light-skinned Indians access to government jobs, while constantly demeaning dark-skinned Indians. This discrimination also bled into India’s caste system, where people perceived higher castes as fairer and superior and lower castes as darker and inferior. As such, these lasting colonial legacies mean that skin color still affects the socioeconomic status of Indians today.

How Colorism Affects Poverty

Poverty and colorism in India go hand-in-hand. Because the caste system still affects socioeconomic status, people with darker skin tend to be lower in socioeconomic status as well. Colorism makes social mobility harder for Indians in general. There is systemic discrimination against dark-skinned people in education systems and the labor market. Educators and employers still prefer light-skinned Indians over dark-skinned Indians, which plays greatly into the opportunities for social mobility that darker-skinned Indians do and do not have.

A basic link between poverty and colorism in India is that impoverished people are not able to take care of their appearance and diet. Though they don’t have access to skin-lightening products, they are seen as “dirty” and “dark.” Over time, these connotations begin to blur, and socioeconomic status and skin tone become connected to social and financial status.

One of the most unique effects of colorism in India is how arranged marriages, common in India, discriminate against dark-skinned people. Marriage ads allow people to filter out women on every condition under the sun, including skin color. A study done at the University of New Delhi, India found that dark-skinned men and women were consistently rated lower on marriage ads. This demonstrates yet another way that colorism in India inhibits social mobility, which makes it harder for impoverished people to change their circumstances.

Combatting Colorism in India

Anti-blackness and anti-darkness together ultimately create discriminatory systems that disenfranchise dark-skinned people in India and across South Asia. However, protests over summer of 2020 in the U.S. have prompted calls for equity and justice around the world, especially in India. In particular, there has been a new wave of conversations surrounding colorism in India and how to fight it.

Many Indians are asking themselves and their family members how they can continue to support “Black Lives Matter” while also perpetuating harmful colorism within their own communities. Some people are starting the fight against colorism by talking to their friends, families and community members about colorism. Others are using social media to create movements, like #UnfairAndLovely, which takes the name of a popular lightening cream and uses it to brand positivity posts for dark-skinned Indians. Still others are calling for accountability from notable Indian celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, who has promoted skin-lightening products in the past.

No matter the level of activism, combatting colorism in India needs the work of all of society to make India equitable for all Indians, regardless of skin color. Fighting colorism in India also helps fight poverty, and vice versa. Ultimately, colorism in India shows us that the fight for poverty is not just a fight for living wages, but a fight for global human rights.

Hannah Daniel
Photo: Flickr

Celebrities Donating to Fight COVID-19
COVID-19 continues to threaten the world. Although celebrities cannot be on the frontlines, they are doing their part in the battle against the virus. From creating their own nonprofit organizations to donating to global charities, these public figures continue to support the improvement of global poverty and health. Here are five celebrities donating to fight COVID-19.

5 Celebrities Donating to Fight COVID-19

  1. Justin Bieber: Back in February 2020, before COVID-19 began largely affecting the U.S., Canadian-born singer Justin Bieber made a donation to the Bejing Chunmiao Children Aid Foundation. The organization, a public charity, focuses on bringing health, home and joy to underprivileged children in China. In Bieber’s donation announcement post on Instagram, he said, “China, we stand with you as a collective humanity.” Bieber recognized the importance of donating globally as countries fell one by one to COVID-19. A month later, he canceled his 2020 U.S. national tour to protect the well-being of his fans.
  2. Lady Gaga: When COVID-19 struck, singer sensation Lady Gaga took it upon herself to do more than just donate. She wanted to give voice to underprivileged communities, essential workers and volunteers risking their lives to help others. In collaboration with international advocacy organization Global Citizen, Gaga created the “One World: Together at Home” broadcast. This 8-hour fundraising phenomenon included performances and videos from superstars like John Legend and Beyonce. The event raised $127 million. All of the money is for the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and UNICEF.
  3. Priyanka Chopra Jonas: At the end of March 2020, Priyanka Chopra and husband Nick Jonas announced that they donated undisclosed amounts to 10 organizations, including UNICEF and Doctors without Borders, to do their part in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Chopra, an Indian actress, also has her own organization, The Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education. The Foundation works to support underprivileged children across India. A global UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Chopra is part of many efforts to protect child rights and promote education for girls.
  4. Rihanna: Popstar Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty created The Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF)  in 2012. The nonprofit aims to protect and improve education and emergency response programs around the world. The organization donated $5 million to global COVID-19 response organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Rescue Committee. Additionally, CLF also joined forces with Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey and Jay-Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation to donate $6.2 million to 11 organizations responding to COVID-19’s global impact.
  5. Jack Dorsey: Along with partnering with Rihanna and Jay-Z, billionaire Jack Dorsey pledged $1 billion, 28% of his net worth, to his own limited liability company called Start Small. Furthermore, Dorsey intends the fund to support global COVID-19 relief and girls’ health and education. Although he has not specified how much of the $1 billion will go to COVID-19 relief, Dorsey is maintaining transparency. He tracks all donations on a spreadsheet open to the public. If 10% of the fund goes to supporting the COVID-19 crisis, the donation would be the largest from a public philanthropist in the U.S. during this pandemic.

These five celebrities donating to fight COVID-19 show that while some celebrities invest money into existing global charities and others create their own, all fight to improve people’s livelihoods. These celebrities serve as a reminder to use privilege and societal standing to benefit those who are less privileged, especially during a global pandemic when the entire world is struggling.

– Kiyomi Kishaba 
Photo: Flickr

Priyanka Chopra
Brought to fame by winning the Miss World title, Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra has been making waves globally. Not only has she starred in the ABC primetime show Quantico, but also she has acted in the Hollywood movie Baywatch. The humanitarian side of Priyanka Chopra, however, is one that her fans are often not aware of.

Chopra is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has sponsored the education and medical costs of seventy children in India. Furthermore, 10 percent of her income goes toward running her nonprofit, the Priyanka Chopra Foundation of Health and Education.

Chopra was introduced to social work at the young age of nine. According to the New York Times, her parents would take her on trips to the underdeveloped regions of India to provide medical assistance. There, she witnessed the blatant discrimination between girls and boys. “Parents believed that their sons were better than their daughters,” Chopra recalls.

Her experiences as a child are reflected in her choice of working with young children, especially young girls. Recently, Chopra spent two days in Jordan to visit Syrian children. She told UNICEF that “an entire generation of children are being shaped by violence and displacement.” Furthermore, she explains that this catastrophe does not only encompass Syrian citizens but the entire world–it is a humanitarian crisis.

The Za’atari refugee camp harbors the highest number of Syrians in Jordan. Chopra spent time meeting with girls there at the school sponsored by UNICEF. While chatting and playing with the children, she faced the harsh reality of child marriage and the dearth of educational resources. There were “too many girls younger than 18 with kids,” she explained to UNICEF.

Although they are eager to learn and often hope for professional careers, there are not enough resources for these children to get a competitive education. Many doors of opportunity close to these children when they become part of the job market in the future. The Washington Post reports that over half a million Syrian refugees of school age are not enrolled in school.

Chopra, however, should not be underestimated in her mission to make sure that “no child is denied a dream.” Although she cannot eradicate poverty, she surely will do her best to encourage and support many children globally, as she has already done in her native country, India.

Other than her collaboration with UNICEF, as a producer, she has also encouraged underprivileged artists. By producing movies in Indian regional languages, she gives artists an opportunity that would have otherwise been ignored. Her latest movie, Pahuna, highlights the conditions of refugees in the Indian state of Sikkim.

Forming personal relationships with the children and posting her experiences on social media, Chopra is using her platform and reach to expose the world to the reality of many troubled countries. The humanitarian side of Priyanka Chopra is slowly coming into the view of the world.

Chopra once told the New York Times that “these young people have the potential to transform society if we invest in them.” Since then, she has proven on multiple occasions her commitment to the youth of the world.

Tanvi Wattal

Photo: Flickr

Right to education act
Before India’s government enacted the Right to Education Act in 2009, 8 million children between the ages of 6 to 14 did not attend school. Since then, rates of enrollment have drastically improved—now 96 percent of children in that age range attend school. However, while access to education has improved, studies show that the quality of education has regressed.

According to a 2014 study from Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), poor rural populations still lack access to high-quality schools. ASER evaluated the education systems in 577 rural districts across India and found that skills in mathematics and reading have declined, For example, “In 2009, 60.2 percent of children in Std VIII could read simple sentences in English but in 2014, this figure is 46.8 percent.”

In terms of attendance, rural areas are also far behind. Outside of urban centers, 15.9 percent of boys and 17.3 percent of girls between the ages of 6 to 14 are currently out of school.

Education reform cannot be considered without taking the gender gap into account especially in India where only 27 percent of women have above a secondary education compared to 56 percent of men.

To reverse these statistics, Bollywood star and Miss World winner Priyanka Chopra teamed up with UNICEF to advocate for the right to an education that all children deserve. Chopra follows in the footsteps of other Bollywood actors who have become UNICEF ambassadors, such as Amitabh Bachchan and Sharmila Tagore, who raised awareness of polio and AIDS in India, respectively.

Chopra’s cause is, and has been long before joining UNICEF, education. Before becoming a UNICEF ambassador in 2010, Chopra attended the 20th anniversary of the International Convention of the Rights of the Child. In 2006, Chopra founded the Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education, through which she supports 70 students, 50 of whom are girls.

In the wake of the Right to Education Act, Chopra was crucial to the 2010 program “Awaaz Do,” Hindi for “Speak Up.” Awaaz Do was a digital campaign to encourage citizens to “demand the rights for children who are excluded and marginalized.”

UNICEF defines their ambassadors as “celebrities with a demonstrated commitment to improving the lives of children.” Chopra certainly fits that description. Her use of fame and wealth to support equal access to quality education has changed countless lives, and her involvement with UNICEF only expands the reach of her generosity.

Sabrina Yates

Photo: Flickr

“I feel as though I have power.” These are the powerful words of one of nine girls whose stories are documented in the critically acclaimed film “Girl Rising.” Released this year and featured on CNN recently, the documentary follows the struggles of nine girls in nine countries all striving to achieve the same goal: an education. The obstacles they faced were daunting. From forced marriage to war, from bondage to orphanhood, these girls were able to climb out of the depths of despair with a perseverance that has already inspired millions.

The film’s Academy Award nominated director, Richard Robbins, describes his film project’s founding goals as, “Change minds. Change lives. Change policy.” His vision has since led to the 10X10 organization, a campaign that strives to educate girls around the world. Centered around the film, 10X10 has spread its roots through partnerships with companies like Intel that run programs to educate the world’s women, and through networks like CNN that promote women’s education via featured programs and documentaries.

Among the inspiring stories told in the film are those of Sokha and Azmera. Sokha, an orphan from Cambodia, struggled for most of her life to find enough food to eat. And Azmera, one of two children in her Ethiopian family, was nearly married off at the young age of 13. But for each girl a guiding light,  a “series of miracles” in Sokha’s case, and an incredibly supportive brother in Azmera’s case, helped them get to school. Sokha and Azmera’s narratives are shared by those of their counterparts in the film originating from Egypt, India, Nepal, Peru, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Sierra Leone.

These girls have found fans in some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Selena Gomez, Kerry Washington, Salma Hayak, Cate Blanchett, Frieda Pinto, Liam Neeson, Priyanka Chopra, Chloe Moretz, and Alicia Keys have all joined the campaign and are featured in the film.  In Meryl Streep’s own words, “If to see it is to know it, this film delivers hope; reasonable, measurable, tangible hope that the world can be healed and helped to a better future.”

– Lina Saud

Sources: 10 By 10 Act, Girl Rising, CNN
Photo: WWeek