In an ever changing society of youth whose ideas and questions change the world, it is common to find oneself in a situation where you start questioning your own ideas, world and social beliefs. I was recently introduced to an equity focus group in my school where we discussed the topic of Shadism. Though this is not a “dictionary official” word, it gives meaning to a rising social issue within the colored community. Shadism is the hidden form of racism within colored communities, discriminating by the shade and pigmentation of your skin. In other words, within in the African and Asian communities, it is being seen as more desirable to be “light-skinned” or have a fairer complexion.
When discussing Shadism, the topic of Pigmentocracy also arises. Pigmentocracy refers to the value system that was instilled into the minds of the people of colonized countries when the Europeans were invading. This value system relates social status, regality and respect to white or pale skin which was seen in the European colonizers. The message that was then conveyed was that in order to be respected and have a high social status, you needed to have the lightest skin tone. Dark brown and black skin tones were frowned upon and not viewed admirably. (Harris) Throughout history, this value system based on skin tone has affected people in many different countries, tracing back to the time of the slave trade in the United States when having “The Mighty Drop”, as scholars referred to it, of black blood in your family blood line labels your generation and generations to come as tainted and damaged. In more recent history, we can look to the Dominican Republic for a prime example of blatant Pigmentocracy. Since President Rafael Trujillo’s rein in 1930, the Dominican Republic has been using skin color to define it’s citizen’s against the citizens of neighboring Haiti. In the DR, the state will classify skin color: white (blanco), light indigenous (indio claro), dark indigenous (indio oscuro), almost black (moreno) or black (negro) on legal documents such as a drivers licenses. This system allows people to identify whether you are Dominican (the middle categories) or Haitian (the last category). This Pigmentocracy was the underlying tool in the Haitian massacre in 1937 when Trujillo ordered the massacre of Haitians in the DR border regions. The victims were identified by their skin color and by their creole names. (Eureka)
It was very hard for me to believe that in the multicultural country that I live in, this issue of Pigmentogracy was growing within our own homes and schools. I started asking the question, why do the darker skinned kids drop out of school while the light skinned kids are going onto university? As of this year, the drop out rate of black kids in the Toronto District School Board is marked at 40%. Why are the highest income earners in Canada of European decent? Elderly, Caucasian, men create the “1%” of wealthy Canada. (Hernandez) More personally, why am I still affected, after all these years, by the European standard of beauty and living?
As religion is a part of the way I live my life, I looked to Hinduism to help me re-evaluate this overwhelming sense to be “light-skinned”. I found peace in the example of Lord Krishna, known as the “dark one” whose dark blue skin is often a very prominent feature on him. As the embodiment of melody and destroyer of pain Lord Krishna has countless tales of his adventures and life, rarely being affected by the shade of his skin. It is not looked upon as an impurity, but more as a gift, a unique characteristic of a divine being.
Quite obviously, as a teenager growing up in a city where more than half of the population was born outside of Canada, Shadism isn’t always the issue for me. Very clearly, we are all born with specific traits and attributes that make us who we are and physically pass on the legacy of our families through our embodiment. With rising stigmas and social bars, however, it’s not very hard to be doubtful of the way you should be striving to be like. For now, I can be content knowing that I have the ability to filter out the invisible racial barriers and proceed with becoming a strong, successful women of Indo-Caribbean decent.
Harris, Trudier. “Pigmentocracy.” National Humanities Center. Teachers Serve,
n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2013. <http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/
Hernandez-Ramdwar, Camille. “Our Homegrown Pigmentocracy.” New Canadian Media.
N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2013. <http://newcanadianmedia.ca/item/
Eureka Street. JeSuite Communications, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
City of Toronto. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2013. <http://www.toronto.ca/