Colorism Around The World

In 2007, I got married to my partner, JC, who is of South Asian descent. After our wedding in the US, my in-laws threw a reception for us in Kerala, a south Indian state known as “God’s Country.

During my preparation for our post-wedding reception, JC informed me that the salon workers would probably put skin-lightening makeup on me and that I should tell them not to. He was right. This practice has been a tradition in India for many years. So much so that there are billboards all over Kerala that emphasize lighter skin as the standard of beauty. When I saw them preparing a foundation a few shades lighter than my skin color, I informed them, with a friendly tone and smile, that it would not be necessary. The sweet salon worker, who had the smoothest brown complexion, was confused but respected my request. Perhaps she assumed that I would want to be lighter because everyone as dark as me that sat in her chair would be okay with that. Or, maybe there wasn’t a shade that matched my complexion, because again, that’s not a tone most would seek to have applied. Whatever the reason, it was a new experience for both the salon worker and me.

Despite this effort, our reception photos were touched up, so both of our Arizona wedding tans were technologically lightened to make us “fair and lovely.” Though disappointed by it, I understood the act as evidence that colorism is not just a Black problem, but a worldwide remnant of conquest and colonialism. Being in a relationship with someone that praises and adores me for looking as nature intended me to look only affirms my view of my blackness; unapologetic and beautiful. In retrospect, having had my encounter with colorism as an adult was a defining moment for me as a woman in an interracial marriage. It influenced how I wanted to communicate with this new world I was entering; with empathy and patience.


Keisha Mathew is a mother of two and has been with her South-Asian husband for over fifteen years. She has a masters from the University of Chicago and dabbles in all forms of visual art. When she is not counseling youth by day, writing about her experience as a woman of African descent is her passion. If you enjoyed her take on Blindian living, you can follow her @wanderlust.writer.creator


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