The Black and White Truth of Colourism

“You’re lucky that you don’t have to get a tan.” Said one of my caucasian Australian friends back when I was living in a residential college.

Ever since I was 12, I used beauty products with bleaching properties because the Malaysian sun and my heritage made me tan easily. I was praised for being fair (for a south east Asian at least). Growing up in South East Asia meant I was always surrounded by commercials and beauty products that encouraged people to be fairer. I was also constantly exposed to media that whitewashed characters or created negative stereotypes of those who weren’t fair-skinned.

So it’s not surprising really that I grew up hating being tanned. It had been ingrained in me ever since I was a little girl that if I was fairer, I would be more beautiful and I would be able to go far in life

And then I came to Australia and lived in a residential college with mainly Caucasian Australians. I lived in a community where I was surrounded by girls who got spray tans and wanted to get tanned to be beautiful. And when one of them expressed their jealousy at the fact that I didn’t have to worry about getting a tan, I bristled with indignation. Because here they were trying to make their skin darker to be beautiful while back home, women especially had to lighten their skin in order to be deemed as beautiful and to have a higher chance of being successful.

I was angry and still am angry but not at the girls who wanted to get a tan (it’s not their fault). Neither am I angry at the girls, myself included, who lighten their skin (it’s not our fault either).

I am angry at the situation; at the fact that those who are light-skinned and privileged can afford to change their skin tone just for beauty and make themselves appear darker without having to worry about being discriminated, while the rest of us have to lighten our skin in order to be successful or to at least be treated with respect (after all, society is kinder to those they deem beautiful).

I am furious at the fact that colorism is still evident in this day and age and that we feel the need to change the colour of our skin to feel beautiful (because really, whether we’re extremely pale or dark or in between, we are all still beautiful). Although movies like “Crazy Rich Asians” has opened doors to an increase in representation in media, there’s no denying that colourism still plays a large role. POC characters who look and dress according to the Caucasian/Western standards of beauty and those who are on the lighter end of the spectrum get hired, leaving their darker-skinned counterparts struggling to get by or even worse: hired to play the help.

And how can I not feel frustrated even though I’m technically on the lighter end of the spectrum? Because colorism goes beyond racism. Where racism involves us discriminating each other based on the other person’s ethnicity, colorism makes us discriminate the people whom we share the same ethnicity with. Yes it is important for us to acknowledge and fight for our rights when we are discriminated because of our ethnicity and the colour of our skin, but we also need to be aware of our own internal (and toxic) mindset that may lead us to unconsciously discriminate others not just based on the colour of their skin but the shade itself.

Disclaimer: All opinion pieces are my opinion and mine alone, and do not represent the views or the organisations I have worked for or am working for.

Unity: The strength of the people

We are all Malaysians. This is the bond that unites us. Let us always remember that unity is our fundamental strength as a people and as a nation.

— Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s 1st Prime Minister

August 31, 2017 —

Today mark’s the 60th year we celebrate our independence.

59 years may not seem long and it isn’t. It is true that we are still a somewhat new and developing country. And like any every other country, we are flawed. We are not perfect and we may not ever be.

We have gone through so much as a nation from colonisation to major disagreements; and both have led to racial polarisation that still happens even in supposedly ‘advanced’ cities like KL.

Really what is race anyway? Perhaps during the war the term ‘race’ was evident from the way some of us were brought into the country and segregated.

But that was then. Now the term ‘race’ is merely a social construct to further divide us. Sure ‘ethnicity’ is still a thing, and our ethnic origins and cultures may vary, but no one is purely Malay, or Chinese, or Indian, or Iban, or Kadazan (or any of the other beautiful ethnicities our country has). In this current day and age, a majority of us were born in Malaysia and/or are citizens. At the end of the day, we are all Malaysians.

We may look different and we may speak different languages but different doesn’t always equal to bad.

Our differences is what makes our country and its people beautiful and unique. And it should take so much more than our religion or the colour of our skin or our customs or our ethnic background to divide us.

It’s so easy to see and place the blame on others but we need to realise that if we want to see change, we need to put ourselves responsible for that change as well. The “Us vs. Them” mindset that we have when something goes wrong needs to go; and those emotions should be channeled into working together to move forward.

Dividing ourselves will only make us weak. It will only slow down our progress and we need to realise that if we want to rise as a nation, we need to act as one unified unit instead of segregating ourselves.

I have faith in us. I have faith in our ability to come out stronger. We have gone through so much and although we may shake and stumble, we are still strong. We are all still similar.

Similar in the way we have the same goal to move forward; the same vision for our country to develop into one that is both developed yet still rich with culture; and most importantly the same love for our country.

And those similarities should be more than enough to unite us.

 

 

If They Are Sinners Then We Are Too

“Just because a religion tells you that something is a sin, it isn’t an excuse to discriminate the sinner in any way or to treat them cruelly.”

Recently, two women in Malaysia were sentenced to a public caning when they were found guilty and charged with performing lesbian sex.

Personally I think it’s disgusting (the punishment, not the act).

What irks me even more are the commenters who claim that the religion and the Quran encourages harsh punishments on those who carry out homosexual acts. And don’t get me started on the homophobic comments (and these come from people from other religious beliefs as well, not just Muslims so shame on all of you).

First of all, it is none of our business what a person does between closed doors, or what their relationship with God is like. None of us are perfect, stop having a holier than thou attitude. We learnt in Islamic class in High School that the way to treat homosexuality is by putting them away from that situation. There is NOTHING about mistreating them or abusing them or criminalising them.

Two, stop picking and choosing the sins you want to punish people for. A man carries out pedophilia and marries a child who was already underage under Islamic Law? SILENCE and people claiming that there are exceptions to the rule.

Muslims drinking in clubs and Muslim men missing Friday prayer? Silence. And everyone turns a blind eye (like don’t people who drink alcohol get caned as well, where is their punishment and education aye?).

Men looking at women who don’t cover themselves and objectify them? Nope, no silence. The anger is taken out on the women themselves even though Allah has decreed for men to lower their gaze.

But oooh suddenly when it comes to homosexuality everyone is verbal about it. And it’s not just the caning, it’s about how we look down on people who fit the so-called gay stereotype or who express these tendencies. Just because a religion (and I’m not just calling out Muslims here because other religions such as Christianity are just as bad in expressing their homophobia) tells you that something is a sin, it isn’t an excuse to discriminate the sinner in any way or to treat them cruelly.

God hates those who don’t treat people with dignity, or who discriminate just because we have different views. For you to openly punish someone for their sins,  you have committed a bigger sin in not treating them with dignity, for criminalising them and their family, for backbiting them and for not holding your tongue and lashing out on them.

Having empathy for the way these people are suffering doesn’t make you a sinner and doesn’t mean you’re saying ‘go forth and sin, children’.  After all, doesn’t the true teaching of Islam all about having humanity and empathy?

There were many instances when the prophet showed empathy and kindness and humanity towards the people who didn’t follow the Islamic teachings. If we’re going to follow the Quran then we should follow the Sunnah (the way of the Prophet) as well.

Did God not say that fitnah (spreading rumours and gossiping) is worse than killing 100 people? That the lowest level of hell is reserved for the hypocrites?

So fine, go on and continue to be narrow-minded, but remember this.

The next time you try to tell someone that their sexuality is going to make them burn in hell, remember that your hypocrisy will make you the fire’s fuel.

Disclaimer: All opinion pieces are my opinion and mine alone, and do not represent the views or the organisations I have worked for or am working for.

Ramadan Chats with Neryssa #6 : Mercy

“In all our talk about how God always condemns and punishes, we forget that God is also the Most Merciful’

[Ramadan Chats with Neryssa # : Mercy]

This post will be a little different from my usual Ramadan Chats with Neryssa posts. Where my past posts aimed to explain certain terms and concepts in Islam, I am using this project as a platform to talk about certain issues in the context of the Islamic religion and also reach out to my fellow Muslims.

Today I would like to talk about mercy.

I remember back before I started wearing the headscarf and started practicing the religion, and I would be subjected to direct and indirect attempts to shame me into practicing the religion. I remember once my religious studies teacher tried to shame me by calling me up on stage because it was Ramadan and I was wearing a pinafore and not the baju kurung which was the alternative uniform that was much more covering.

Or how ‘religous scholars’ or some of the much more ‘conservative’ Muslims would talk about hellfire and punishment towards those who don’t practice the religion.

And I remember being so turned off by the religion,because hearing them talk about how God was full of hatred and punishment had me thinking ‘well if I’m going to get punished anyway, I might as well be happy and do what I want first’/

Not to mention the internalised misogyny that came with these people ‘preaching’ about religion who mainly targetted women, especially those who didn’t wear the headscarf while guys who didn’t even pray or go for Friday prayers are often let off the hook which is pretty dumb because praying is one of the the five pillars of the religion, not the way you dress, so you would think they would actually focus more on the latter.

But what turned me towards the religion wasn’t their words that aimed to spark fear into submission towards God and religion. It was those who talked about the stories of how God loves His Creations

And how one time there was a man who wasn’t that good of a person but he showed compassion one day towards a dog by giving it water so God granted him paradise.

And how Umar (who was the third caliph) who used to hate the religion and condemn the prophet where he tried to kill him, only to fall in love with the religion through Prophet Muhammad’s kindness towards him despite how he treated him.

And so on…

In all our talk about how God always condemns and punishes, we forget that God is also the Most Merciful.

And it should be obvious to us. Do we not start our prayers with “Bismillahi rahmani rahim” which directly translates to  “In the name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful”?

I’m not saying that the rules in Islam are unimportant and that we shouldn’t follow them. However, we also shouldn’t be quick to condemn and assume someone is going to Hell just because they went against those rules.

Who are you to do that? Who are you to play God and make that kind of judgement? By doing so, you’re acting as if you’re God which you know is something that is against the religion. Who are you to assume that that person won’t change for the better?

Who are you to assume that you won’t change for the worse?

It’s good to give people advice but shaming them and using fear won’t make them love the religion. Nor would it make them listen to you. There are tactful ways of educating someone, and calling them out publicly shows that you don’t really want them to learn, you just want to make yourself look good.

Show kindness. Show compassion. Show mercy.  For how do you expect God to be those things towards you when you won’t do so with His creations?