Shadeism, also known as coloursim refers to:
“…the discrimination based on skin tone, which exists amongst members of the same community, creating a ranking of a person’s individual worth based on shade. Shadeism is common in communities of colour across the world, and it is also an issue that people of colour experience whilst living as part of diasporic communities outside their native lands.” – Shadeism
Shadeism, a short independent film, is the work of a collective of women living and creating art in Toronto, Canada. I first saw the film two years ago after it was sent to me by a friend following our own discussion of colourism, it’s roots and the harm it does within our own community. While both men and women are affected by the discrimination inflicted by shadeism; women and girls – all the more objectified and subjected to the pressures of impossible beauty standards – are particularly susceptible.
If you live in an area with communities of colour, the skin care section at the drugstore or beauty supply store will likely contain creams dedicated to the lightening, whitening and brightening of darker toned skin. No doubt tied to standards of beauty stemming from colonialism, and no doubt omitting information about the toxic chemicals contained in these creams. The message here is clear: the lighter your skin the more desirable and valued you are.
In Ghana advertisements for skin lightening creams were widespread, using photos of beautiful fair-skinned women to sell the product. I have heard similar stories about India, The Philippines and throughout the Caribbean. Here in Canada, a friend recently told me about a man approaching her at work to offer her skin lightening cream.
The creative voices behind Shadeism are using the film as a departure point to promote dialogue around the topic and do work with schools and community organizations around unpacking this issue.
I started this film because I wanted to help challenge a cycle of “normalization”, which has permitted shadeism (e.g. colorism) to be passed on over multiple generations, and continue hurting indigenous and women of colour. We are consistently subjected to these “value” systems of “beauty” which tell us we are not enough of something, because of our skin tone and colour. This is wrong. No system that oppresses us is for us. And so, we continue on in this journey of (un)learning, of sharing with each other, of trying to slowly heal, of building our own circles of love, of attempting to cause some ripples through conversation, which can hopefully inspire waves of change as we move forward. None but we can do right by ourselves. This is what keeps me going in our movements to dig, to dissect, and to deconstruct this system of oppression that is shadeism. Nayani Thiyagarajah, Director/Writer/Executive Producer
The issues associated with shadeism extend beyond diminishing self-esteem. The influence that deep-seeded colourism has on the fetishization and objectification of women and girls is a serious issue that I plan to explore in future posts.