Veiled out of discourse – Racism and sexism, a double whammy for the Brown girl


I have been following the nomorepage3 campaign and am happy to see the progress made over these few months. There has been much said on the campaign by those in favour of the ban; such as it objectifies women, and normalises this by its inclusion on a much read and widely available newspaper (The Sun). Page 3 affects British Asian women* and girls in an equally profound way, and I will be exploring these. Additionally newspapers and the media are insistent on reproducing one type of discourse on British Asian women, which therefore ironically veils them out of the debates they are associated with, such as patriarchy, sexism and violence.

The majority of page 3 models are not women of colour, in fact British models of Asians origin are less ‘mainstream’, so ethnic minority girls’ concept of beauty is for the most part is shaped by white women. That is not to say that I want more coloured women featured in The Sun, absolutely not. The Sun is bullish in its portrayal of ethnic minorities and I don’t think women of colour should be further insulted by featuring inside. The message given to British Asians (both women and men) is that women of colour are still a) less attractive to Caucasian women and b) Women of colour are still treated as an ‘other’ and therefore are barred from the issues they are involved in.

Only white women are attractive – During the British colonial period Indian women were either presented as mysterious or as cheap sex without pay. When pitted against the European white women, there were sexually unattractive and less pure. There is still this deep colonial legacy left. Racism and sexism is still prevalent and these experiences are upsetting and deeply damaging for the development of young British Asian girls. It Is made worse by the fact that it is rampant amongst ethnic minority groups. White skin or lighter skin is preferred over darker skin in some British Asian communities. I often heard ‘the lighter skin, the better’, or ‘she’s too dark’ in my secondary school! Whom by? Young British Asian boys when ‘rating’ girls according to their attractiveness. Migrant Asian parents have not been shy to show their preference to lighter skin colour, skin lightening creams that are highly damaging are extremely popular in countries like Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh and this type of colour discrimination has no doubt carried over into Britain. One whitening cream is literally called ‘fair and lovely’ reproduced and packaged none other than Unilever! Just do a Google search for’ skin lighting creams’ and there are endless lists of products that will ‘brighten up your complexion’.

Additionally, It was not uncommon for me to hear and see British Asian girls stay indoors at school during intense summer periods to prevent them from tanning further. And yes Asians do tan. Sexism and racism is a cruel cocktail for British Asian girls, since this pressure for lighter skin only applied to Asian girls, because of course the brown boy can still marry, the brown girl risks her chances of a marriage proposal! Sexism and racism, a double whammy for brown girls of Britain. As shocking as these ideas sound, yes, these ideas are still prevalent in British Asian communities and it is only poor young British Asian girls who suffer the consequences of feeling unattractive and less confident for most of their lives. It doesn’t help when there is a shortage of ethnic minority women to act as role models in meaningful careers such as the Civil Service, Government, sports, politics, big businesses, the media, academia and Arts – AND made mainstream.
The veiling of the British Asian woman – Success stories of the Asian woman are consistently never published in the news. And so British Asian women are silenced and theoretically and physically veiled out of discourse. And when she is on the news, it is another case of oppression by her aggressive father and brothers or another forced-to-marry-underage story. That is not to say that this problem doesn’t exist, it certainly does, but the shear coverage is unequal, and the unequal balance of positive and negative news on Asian women is unfair. Even debates on say whether the Muslim veil/ Burkha should be banned have a Muslim male cleric rather than a Muslim woman involved in the debate. Ironically therefore, while these papers rampantly criticise British Asians’ and their inherently patriarchal culture, they also refuse to give these women a platform to voice their concerns. And so most of the time, they are simply exploiting these tragic cases of violence and oppression against women, to continue to depict racist and bigotry views concerning Britain’s ethnic minorities. Minorities are constantly made to feel alien and ugly in this way.

Even outside of tabloids, in British films the leading lady is almost always white. In Harry Potter they have only have two ethnic minority girls, the Patel twins, as far as I can remember. Also WOW JK Rowling, stereotyping much with Asian names? Could have been a little more creative perhaps? What is needed is a shift in attitude and thought; minorities need to be accepted as mainstream and not that ‘spicy’ story that will sell. At the moment any portrayal of minorities are almost always a charade, oriental perhaps, immersed in homophobia (see Eastenders), wife beaters and violent men (see The Sun, Daily Mail etc), terrorists (see the latter again). ‘Britain is not the same as it was 60 years ago’, actually there were black and Asian people in Britain well before the ‘Empire windrush’, thank you very much. So the earlier people know this, perhaps then we can move forward and faster in improving Britain’s ‘race relations’.

*When using the term British Asians, I refer to second and third generation Indians, Pakistanis and Bengalis.

Comment with your views. You can contact me and follow on twitter @AmnaGRiaz

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