Combatting colourism

Combatting colourism: A Brief Teaching Resource

This is a brief solution- based educational resource designed to be used within organisations, Mosques, faith bodies and community centres to help re-educate the community on Islamic values concerning race, beauty standards, Islamic manners and respect. The aim of this is to provide you with tools to effectively counter a colourist mindset in your local Muslim/secular community via regular lessons, workshops and lectures etc.

Contents

  1. Contact info
  2. What is colourism?
  3. What are the causes of colourism in the 21st Century?
  4. Is a colourist mindset curable?
  5. What does Islam say about colourism?
  6. Do Muslims have a problem with colourism?
  7. Solutions: Ideas for workshops
  8. Solutions: Points to highlight within lectures for adults
  9. Solutions: Teaching children
  10. Conclusion

 

1.Contact

contact@blackmuslimforum.org

Black Muslim Forum is an organisation dedicated to creating Black unity and combatting anti-black racism and colourism – within and outside of the Muslim community.

 

 2. What is colourism?

Colourism refers to discrimination and stereotyping based on a persons skin colour. Someone with a colourist mindset disadvantages darker skinned people while privileging those with lighter skin – white skin being the bench mark[1]. Colourism differs from racism in the fact that it can and frequently does occur within the same race or ethnicity. For example, whilst racism is propagated on to its victims in the UK such as the Black and South Asian community, colourism is entrenched and practised within both communities by members of those communities.

 

3. Causes of colourism in the 21st Century

Religious caste systems

In India where the caste system still has a hold on society, the Dalit community historically known as untouchables are of a darker skin tone and are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system.[2] This casteism has perpetuated colourist ideals in Indian society which upholds fairer skin and denigrates darker skin tones.

Class systems

In many Asian societies, dark skin has historically been associated with poorer people who were labourers and worked in fields. Historically the upper class stayed indoors and in the shade. As a result, in many Asian societies dark skin is looked down upon as people do not want to be perceived as poor.

Legacies of slavery

The legacy of Arab and Transatlantic slavery means that across the African diaspora, hierarchies in reference to skin colour orginating from practises of slave masters have been internalised by Black and Brown people. This self hatred inherited by ‘divide and conquer’ tactics is still very much present today where lighter skinned people are put on a pedestal by the community and darker skin people are ostracised. This light skin privilege extends beyond immediate community and in most societies is a structural issue where lighter skinned people are more likely to be offered a job, housing and shorter prison sentences.

Media and Western beauty standards

The hegemonic image of beauty that bombards us through thousands of outlets in our 21st century world is that of a white skinned European woman. To this effect, millions of non-European women and men are bleaching their skin to achieve this pinnacle of perceived beauty. Nandra Nittle writes,

“Light skin is so coveted that whitening creams continue to be best-sellers in the U.S., Asia, and other nations. Mexican-American women in Arizona, California, and Texas have reportedly suffered mercury poisoning after using whitening creams to bleach their skin. In India, popular skin-bleaching lines target both women and men with dark skin. That skin-bleaching cosmetics persist after decades signals the enduring legacy of colorism.”[3]

In Africa and the Caribbean the same story persists. It is estimated that in Lagos alone, 70% of women use skin lightening products and a rising epidemic is African women bleaching the skin of their babies to make their skin whiter. In the Caribbean, bleaching creams are so widespread that Eva Lewis-Fuller, Jamaica’s Ministry of Health director of health promotion and protection, has stated “she is redoubling education programs to combat bleaching in the predominantly Black island of 2.8 million.”[4]

 

4. Is a colourist mindset curable?

From an Islamic perspective, the purification of the heart is the main attainment of Muslims. Racial arrogance is something that Muslims diagnose as a disease of the heart which can be rectified via an authentic diagnosis and treatment in the form of repentance, sincere du’a, self help books such as ‘The Purification of the Soul’ and ‘The Purification of the Heart’, remembrance of God and education. From a secular perspective, regular and consistent exposure to beneficial knowledge such as the harms of hegemonic eurocentric beauty standards and the benefits of respect and racial tolerance can help cure a colourist mindset.

 

5. What does Islam say about colourism?

In answer, an excerpt from ‘A Brief Guide for Muslim Faith leaders to tackle anti-black racism and colourism within the ummah’ follows:

“Abrahamic faith especially Christianity has often been guilty of promoting a false white supremacist warping of Prophets and their teachings. Similarly, we find in Islam that many myths have been adopted by medieval Muslim scholars to propound false doctrines such as Ham the son of Nuh having his colour changed and having Black descendants in response to the curse of his father[5]. Additionally, many scholars of the past have adapted and interpreted hadith to condone racist ideology and extend Arab supremacist thinking. An example is a scholar exempting Black women from wearing niqab because that race of women are not attractive and are therefore not a fitna.

Such warping of the Islamic tradition is unequivocally and categorically prohibited and against the fitrah of Islamic teachings. It goes without saying that Islam permits no form of racial superiority or hierarchy. ‘Islam, in its foundational teachings, seeks to eradicate the attitudes and prejudices that lead to the emergence of racism and bigotry in human society.’[6] Race is something to be celebrated and just as the varied species of flora, fauna and the diversity in languages, racial difference serves to highlight the Glory, Magnificence and Might of Allah as well as point to His many beautiful signs. “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colours. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.”[7] Similarly, “O Mankind! Surely we have created you from a single pair, a male and female. We then made you into nations and tribes that you come to know one another [not that you despise one another]. The most noble of you with God is the most pious.”[8] Imam Zaid Shakir writes that ‘this verse emphasises that the values that are meaningful with God are rooted in the content of a person’s character, not in any physical features or distinctions.’[9]

6. Do Muslims have a problem with colourism?

Whilst myself and others have heard many repeated accounts of colourist tendencies within the ummah, there is no concrete research on the extent of this. It is safe to say, however as per oral as well as written accounts on Black Muslim Forum’s blog as well as other platforms, colourism is a major issue within the Muslim community which needs urgent attention from faith leaders in our communities.

 

7. Solutions: Ideas for workshops

Understanding that this issue of colourism stems from ignorance means that it can be eradicated with knowledge. Interactive workshops for children and adults can be facilitated within Masjids and community centres to counteract this trajectory and provide new information to re-educate the community on Islamic values concerning race, beauty standards, self-esteem, Islamic manners and respect. Regularly putting aside a weekend every month to organise such workshops will significantly shift the mindset of the community and help to alleviate ignorance.

 

8.) Solutions: Points to highlight within lectures for adults 

  • History and origins of colourism
  • Why it is still prevalent in today’s society
  • The reality of the issue within Muslim societies
  • How Islam views colourism as ignorance
  • Islam and respect, self esteem and manners
  • How to change your mindset and the mindset of others around you
  • Reminder of the gravity of such thinking and the atrocious consequences of this thinking through history
  • Reminder of the benefits of purifying one’s heart

 

9. Solutions: Teaching children

When teaching children about the harms of colourism and the benefits of embracing their skin, self-esteem, self-love and confidence should be the focus. Also in an Islamic context, reference to verses of the Qur’an which speak about the perfection of God’s creation should be mentioned and explained to the children. The lessons/workshops should be interactive for example:

  1. Decorating ‘confidence jars’ and filling the jars with comments describing what the children like about themselves including their external appearance
  2. Masking difference exercise: “In this exercise, each child receives a paper plate with eye holes and a napkin to drape over his head. The children cover their faces with the masks, put the napkin over their hair and walk around the room looking at each other silently. After decorating the masks, they again walk around without speaking. When the exercise is complete, the children discuss the difference between the two experiences, exploring what it felt like when everyone looked the same, if anyone felt special or unique, if it was it boring to look exactly alike. They can compare how it felt when they saw everyone’s unique mask and how it was different from the first round. The goal of this exercise is to open up a discussion about differences in human culture: What makes us the same? What makes us different?”[10]

 

10. Conclusion

This has been a brief solution-based resource for combatting colourism amongst both adults and children.

 

Bibliography

[1] Nittle, Nadra Kareem. “The Roots of Colorism, or Skin Tone Discrimination.” ThoughtCo, Jun. 7, 2019, thoughtco.com/what-is-colorism-2834952.

[2] Love, David ‘Blackness Around the Globe’ Atlanta Black Star May 2, 2016 https://atlantablackstar.com/2016/05/02/blackness-around-the-globe-dark-skinned-dalits-fight-an-oppressive-caste-system-whatever-is-black-is-not-welcomed/

[3] Nittle, Nadra Kareem. “The Roots of Colorism, or Skin Tone Discrimination.” ThoughtCo, Jun. 7, 2019, thoughtco.com/what-is-colorism-2834952.

[4] http://www.caribbeantoday.com/other/facts/health/item/20342-caribbean-people-grapple-with-problem-of-skin-bleaching.html

[5] Habeeb Akande, Illuminating the Darkness, (Ta-Ha Publishers, London), 2012, p.19-20

[6] Islam, The Prophet Muhammad and Blackness Zaid Shakir, p,9

[7] The Holy Quran, [30:22]

[8] Ibid., [49:30]

[9] Islam, The Prophet Muhammad and Blackness, Zaid Shakir, p.5

[10] Simmons, Carrie. “Children’s Games to Teach Anti-Discrimination.” Synonym, https://classroom.synonym.com/childrens-games-teach-antidiscrimination-5912498.html. Accessed 20 June 2019.

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