The Three-Headed Dragon: Colourism, Featurism and Texturism


Graphic by Tania Habib


Colourism, featurism and texturism work together collectively under the guise of racism, but society tends to fail to associate how these three acts of prejudice affect Black and Brown communities in all facets of life.

Colourism is essentially discrimination based on colour; texturism may be equated to discrimination based on hair texture; featurism is the preference of Eurocentric features. Now, how do all of these three products of racism work together in media and society? And secondly, how did they all come to be?

Colourism

Colourism is defined as discrimination based on skin colour. It is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people who are usually members of the same race are treated differently based on the social implications which come with the cultural meanings which are attached to skin colour.

We should think of colourism as the daughter of racism and needs to be combated alongside it. It is a topic that is often brushed over and ignored and many don't even believe in its existence, but it's evident that it is real and that is an issue. The colonization of our minds by Western beauty standards, Hollywood and our internalized colourism are strong enough to defy all claims of it being an illusion.

To understand how colourism came to be, we need to first look at its roots in colonialism. Colonialism is understood to be “a political doctrine promoting and justifying the exploitation by a colonizing power of a territory under its control either for its benefit or for the benefit of the colonies settled in this territory” (Fourchard, 2011). In simple terms, the act of a foreign entity settling and proclaiming an area its own.

When colonialists arrived, they found fertile land, terrains that were rich in natural resources and saw an opportunity in these resources that would benefit their homelands. They saw this as a reason to exploit their newfound ''territories'' and enslave the indigenous population as a workforce, as they saw them as inferior.

As the Europeans continued to colonize land for economic gains, they needed to come up with various explanations as to why they were justified in doing it, including, of course, the inferiority of the ethnic minorities whose land they colonized.

Now, how does this factor into the present?

As an example, we can assess colonial indoctrination as it pertains to colourism in India. India is a vast nation, comprised of wide-ranging cultures, features and identities. Despite being home to a wide variety of varying skin tones, the media often shuns us from seeing that diversity from the outside. This is illustrated by how Indian society has been primed for years with the notion that fairer skin is simply better. This notion is further perpetuated by the influx of lightening creams serums present in the state such as “Fair & Lovely,” and “Pond’s White Beauty”.

After India became a British colony, the image of a “Black coloured” Indian was projected as inferior by British public officials. Darker-skinned Indians were less likely to be hired by the British empire and were given odder jobs and more tedious work, while lighter-skinned Indians were perceived as “allies” of the British and were hired more frequently for government roles. Through this, the ideology of being closer to whiteness, and having a lighter skin tone, was seen as more desirable and acceptable in society.

Let's dive into colourism in Hollywood.

Typecasting for music videos and movies is real and colourism is apparent throughout. Black women, of different shades, are subject to being restricted to one type of role. For example, the light-skinned Black woman is usually cast as the smart, alluring and calm protagonist in movies. Whereas, the darker-skinned Black woman is submerged into a plethora of condescending stereotypes when they are cast. This goes for roles such as the strong Black woman and the loud and angry Black women. For, darker-skinned black women, are not given the opportunity to be the lead. When they are subject to these condescending tropes they are limited to being the side character that usually poses a challenge to the lighter-skinned woman.

Due to the narrative that darker-skinned Black women are unattractive, rude and bossy, we see that in movie genres such as Bipocis, Black women that are being portrayed are mostly played by lighter-skinned women. It is clear that casting someone of a lighter shade gives into the desire to have actors that fit Eurocentric standards and appeases the audience. This causes an underrepresentation of Black women in the media - we rarely see ourselves on the big screen. This only feeds the three-headed dragon of colourism, featurism and texturism by perpetuating our shunning of darker skin in favour of racial ambiguity and eurocentrism.

Internalized colourism

Thanks to imperialism and colonialism, we have held or continue to hold a bias that lighter skin, slimmer noses and higher cheekbones are the pinnacles of desirability. This conception is fuelled by the constant anti-black rhetoric that we hear and absorb from a young and tender age.

The phrases ''Don't stand in the sun for too long, you'll get darker'' or '' dark skin women are so angry and difficult'' are just a few examples of the normalized colourist talk we dark-skinned women have to endure daily. What society fails to realize is this internalized colourism within our communities stems from a place of self-hatred. It stems from the want to be closer to western beauty standards and thereby whiteness.

From a young age, we dwell on why our skin