One of the most memorable scenes in President Obama's memoir Dreams From My Father takes place during his childhood in Indonesia. While visiting the U.S. Embassy there--his late mother's workplace at the time--Obama encounters a stack of Indonesian periodicals. One in particular catches his eye, for it contains photos of a man who had chemical treatments to lighten his skin.
"He had paid for it with his own money," Obama recalls the article stating. "He expressed some regret about trying to pass himself off as a white man, was sorry about how badly things turned out. But the results were irreversible. There were thousands of people like him, black men and women back in America who'd undergone the same treatment in response to advertisements that promised happiness as a white person."
As a boy, Obama couldn't find the words to voice his horror over skin lightening procedures, but I wonder what he would say today about them, considering that four decades after Obama first learned about such treatments they not only continue to be advertised throughout Asia but also carry the same promises of improving life for the dark-skinned.
CNN recently reported the controversy that's arisen from the soaring popularity of skin whitening creams in India, which have risen in use more than 100 percent in rural regions of the subcontinent, according to a marketing study. Indian Parliament member Brinda Karat objects to the ads for skin whitening treatments and wants them to be banned for suggesting that dark-skinned people will have better lives if they literally lighten up.
"Basically if you need a job you have to have white skin. If you want a good partner, a companion you need white skin, and you always seem to get it once you've used the fairness cream. Basically I think it's completely racist and highly objectionable," Karat told CNN.
Karat questions how the self-esteem of those exposed to the ads will be affected, especially since they play on existing social stigmas about dark skin. Readers, what do you think? Should these ads be banned? There would surely be an uproar if skin whitening ads were prominently displayed in American advertisements. Yet, some of the companies which hawk such products in India are well-known in the United States, including Garnier and Nivea. Americans concerned about issues such as colorism can take a stand against the messages being sent to Asian audiences about beauty and skin color by contacting such companies and expressing their concern. Colorism has no place in the 21st century.