How a Canadian woman pushed a popular South Asian matchmaking site to drop its skin-tone filter

Impressive successful advocacy:

When Meghan Nagpal decided to take her chances at finding love by signing up for a popular matchmaking website, she never expected to be asked to describe her skin tone — let alone the skin tone she would find desirable in a partner.

About a year ago, Nagpal joined Shaadi.com, a website that asks users to choose potential matches based on family background, status and body type. She said there was also a filter asking users for their preference of skin colour.

“I felt really uncomfortable,” said the University of Toronto graduate student, who is originally from Vancouver.

Nagpal soon deleted her account, but returned to the site last month after feeling some pressure from her mother to get married. She was again confronted with the skin-tone filter, which allowed users to select from “fair,” “wheatish” or “dark.”

This time, after all the worldwide anti-racism protests inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, her discomfort turned to outrage.

The skin-tone filter, she said, sparked her realization that something needed to be done about what she called the South Asian community’s bias against skin colour.

“There’s a preference for fair skin in the culture when it comes to marriage and finding a life partner,” she said.

Discrimination within communities of colour

To Nagpal, the need to do something felt urgent because even though many prominent people in the South Asian community have come out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, there are still some, including Bollywood actors, who continue to promote creams that promise to lighten skin tone.

She received a one-sentence response saying the filter was a popular feature with parents looking to arrange marriages for their children.

“Most parents do require this as an option so it is visible on the site,” read the response sent on June 10.

Nagpal then posted the response to a Facebook group with more than 2,000 South Asian women in North America.

They argued that it perpetuates a form of racial discrimination known as shadeism or colourism that’s prevalent in the South Asian community — with light skin being historically viewed as more desirable than dark.

Skin-tone filters removed

Overnight, the petition had amassed more than 1,400 signatures and Nagpal said the skin-tone filter was no longer on the site.

In an email, a spokesperson for Shaadi.com told CBC Toronto that they were not aware of the skin-tone filter and claimed it was a “non-functional aspect” of the site.

“There is no skin colour filter on Shaadi.com, on any of its platforms,” the spokesperson said.

A petition for shaadi.com to remove its skin-tone filter amassed more than 1,400 signatures overnight. Soon after, Nagpal said the skin-tone filter was no longer on the site. (Shaadi.com)

“[It] is a several year old product debris left-over in one of our advanced search pages on the website, which is non-functional and barely used and hence it did not come to our attention,” the email reads.

“We do not discriminate based on skin colour and our member base is as diverse and pluralistic as the world today is.”

Two other prominent South Asian matrimonial sites — Bharat Matrimony and Jeevansathi.com — were also pressured to remove skin-tone filters.

CBC News contacted both websites for comment on this story, but received no response.

‘Colourism is very easy to fester in communities’

Thurka Gunaratnam, a filmmaker and educator based in Toronto who has focused on shadeism in her work, says the filter did not come as a shock to her.

“When a group has been historically oppressed and they have not been given the freedom to understand what their own identity is, something like colourism is very easy to fester in communities,” said Gunaratnam.

Toronto-based writer and filmmaker Mirusha Yogarajah participated in a 2016 social media campaign called #unfairandlovely.

The campaign targeted the South Asian population in particular and was meant to tackle the issue of shadeism and the popularity of skin lightening creams — including one called “Fair and Lovely.”

“It’s so embedded in us from such a young age, it just makes me really sad,” Yogarajah told CBC News.

Prejudice should not be confused with preference, Gunaratnam said.

“In the wake of talking about colorism and racism, one thing that will help with unlearning is to really ask ourselves: Is it a preference or is it prejudice?

“And if it’s a preference, why is it that?”

Source: How a Canadian woman pushed a popular South Asian matchmaking site to drop its skin-tone filter

‘Colorism,’ A Major Challenge to Advertisers and Networks

Interesting insights from the advertising industry:

We know that representation in media matters. In Horowitz’s latest State of Consumer Engagement 2019 study, over half (55%) of multicultural consumers said it would have a positive impact on their intent to purchase from a company if the company featured people of their race/ethnicity in their advertising, and six in ten (57%) said it would have a positive impact if a company’s advertising represented their culture or lifestyle.But getting diversity and representation right is not as simple as just putting a person of color in an ad or TV show and calling it a day. Consumers today are more sensitive to—and more savvy about—when brands are making a sincere effort to connect with them versus when they are just trying to check the “diversity box.” And they are quick to call brands out in social media for pandering or insensitivity.

At Horowitz, we spend a lot of time talking to Black and Latinx consumers about what resonates with them—and what irks them—about how they are represented in the media and in advertising. One of the topics that comes up time and again is colorism: the practice of favoring lighter-skinned people over those who are darker-skinned, even intra-racially.

Perhaps in an effort to be pragmatic and attempt to resonate with multicultural audiences while not alienating “general market” (white) audiences, decisions are often made to cast lighter skinned or “less ethnic” Black or Latinx talent, and increasingly, racially ambiguous/mixed-race talent, in media and advertising. This does not go unnoticed by audiences of color, especially by those with darker skin, who find that people who look like them are often noticeably absent in the media. In fact, the State of Consumer Engagement 2019 study found that over one in three (36%) Blacks with darker skin tones feel that the advertising industry ignores them compared to one-quarter (25%) of Blacks with lighter skin tones.

As the industry continues to strive towards diversity, it is critical to examine the implicit (and explicit) biases that might be influencing the choice to favor casting lighter skinned talent of color.

Cultural anthropology and biology tell us that that race is a social construction, not a biological one. In fact, across the entire human race, skin tones exist on a spectrum. Despite that fact, the binary classification of people into racialized groups by skin color has been used to grant rights and privileges to some, while denying them from others. It has been baked into in our legal and institutional frameworks. History is rife with examples of structural discrimination, from the Jim Crow laws that were in place in the South after the reconstruction era all the way to the 1950s, to “Stop and Frisk” and other racial profiling policing policies that happen today. It was also baked into our social and cultural frameworks. Representations of beauty in the arts over time reinforced the idea that whiteness and the features and traits assigned to it were superior to and more desirable than darkness and its associated features and traits. Darker skinned people were often “whitewashed”rendered invisible in the arts and media.

The underlying message is that whiteness is “good” and comes with privileges that darker people are denied, while darkness is “bad” and comes with disenfranchisement that whiter people would never experience—all based purely on racialized classifications. Countless studies have documented the impact of colorism within racism: The darker a person’s skin is the more disenfranchisement one experiences, from employment discrimination, to higher likelihoods of being incarcerated, to being paid lower salaries for equal work—and being less likely to be represented positively in film, TV, and advertising.

There’s nothing wrong with making the choice to cast lighter-skinned, “mixed-race,” or “racially ambiguous” talent if it is in context and fits the storyline in a realistic way. But it is critical to examine the reasons behind that decision. Is it driven by implicit bias that “lighter is better?” Is it driven by a pragmatic decision to “check more than one diversity box,” which essentially, though perhaps wittingly, whitewashes darker-skinned people of color? Additionally, how does this casting fit into your brand’s overall approach to representation of people of color across the entire spectrum of skin tones?

These are important questions to ask nowadays because it speaks to the optics through which brands and media companies are judged by consumers: Two in three Black and Latinx consumers in Horowitz’s recent study say that they make it a lifestyle choice to know the socio-political stances of the companies they do business with, and that showing support for their respective communities would impact their decision to do business with a company.

As we move into the 2020s, brands’ success will hinge on connecting with America’s diverse marketplace. It’s time for the media and advertising industry to examine its own implicit biases and embrace the full spectrum of America’s diversity.

Source: ‘Colorism,’ A Major Challenge to Advertisers and Networks

The Difference Between Racism and Colorism | TIME

Lori Tharp’s Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families makes the case to talk about colourism rather than racism and prejudice. Seems more semantics, as the substance is largely the same:

In the U.S., it has been repeatedly proven that skin tone plays a role in who gets ahead and who does not. Despite the fact that the word colorism doesn’t exist, researchers and scholars are now systematically tracking its existence. A 2006 University of Georgia study found that employers of any race prefer light-skinned black men to dark skinned men regardless of their qualifications. Sociologist Margaret Hunter writes in her book, Race, Gender and the Politics of Skin Tone that Mexican Americans with light skin “earn more money, complete more years of education, live in more integrated neighborhoods and have better mental health than do darker skinned …Mexican Americans.” In 2013, researchers Lance Hannon, Robert DeFina and Sarah Bruch found that black female students with dark skin were three times more likely to be suspended at school than their light-skinned African-American counterparts.

Suffice it to say, one’s health, wealth and opportunity for success in this country will be impacted by the color of one’s skin, sometimes irrespective of one’s racial background. Even darker-hued white people have different experiences than their lighter-hued Caucasian counterparts when it comes to access and resources. Colorism is so deeply ingrained in the fabric of this nation that we are all implicated and infected by its presence. And the sad thing is, for many people the lessons of color bias begin in the home.

In black families, Latino families, Asian-American families and obviously interracial ones, too, skin colors can vary in microscopic gradients or in obvious shades of difference. Luckily many parents are able to create a safe-space in the home where skin color differences only matter when it is time to buy sunscreen for the beach. But too often, the pervasiveness of a color hierarchy in the outside world seeps into the household and becomes part of the implicit and explicit teachings of parenting.

That is not to say that the solution to solving our color problem as a country lies in the home, but that is precisely where the conversation should begin. From day one, parents of every color should begin to celebrate color differences in the human spectrum instead of praising one over the other or even worse, pretending we’re all the same. Then, we could have a more public facing, cross-cultural dialogue about the more global problem of colorism and plot its necessary demise.

Source: The Difference Between Racism and Colorism | TIME