So let me put my biases on the table before I begin the discussion. I’m black, a nice chocolaty black, not so black that I’m purple, but black. In the black community as in many communities around the world, lighter skin is viewed favorably particularly in women. There is the whole “lighter is brighter” thing plus the “good hair vs. bad hair” thing. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, watch Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, particularly the scene with the women are having a pow wow. Anyhoo, that’s where I’m coming from when I read about the Fair and Lovely Debate being played out between C.K. Prahalad and Aneel Karnani from U. of Michigan. See these posts from Salon’s HTWW () and NextBillion.net () for a summary.
Here are a few questions the whole debate made me think of:
1) Is it progress when a person purchases a product that allows them to rise above their station when the underlying discrimination that determines their station doesn’t change?
This is one of those questions is that much better with examples as my answers definitely vary.
Example 1: A person with a thick Mancunian accent gets elocution language to sound posh like Lady Di.
Okay, that seems fair enough. Sure it would be nice if all regional accents were equal (some are actually quite lyrical) but that doesn’t bother me too much. It saddens me because diversity is lost, but it doesn’t really bug me.
Example 2: A
Example 3: A person with dark skin buys Fair and Lovely to lighten their skin.
Now that really bothers me. I was trying to figure out why aside from the obvious reasons.
2) Is it empowerment when people who would not have dared to try to “pass” can buy things that allow them to do so now?
I think it is in that people are recognizing the racist system in which they live and doing what they can do get by within it. It is crafty and from the buyer’s side is a smart move.
3) Is it an example that I would use to illustrate the success of the BOP concept?
Uh no. It’s creepy. However you slice it and regale the customer’s rationale choices, Unilever is making a profit off the fact that a certain type of racism/classism exists in India and other places. Ew. Yes it is a product that the people want, but ew just the same. Sure, I probably would be less bothered if it were any other cosmetic and yes I am sensitive about this issue, but still.