Colonialism and Colorism: Why Anti-Racism Talks Matter in Pakistan

July 22, 2020

BY Madiha Latif

Image credits.

Recently, exoticising(1) and consumption of black culture has been discussed in Pakistan at length. It is confusing though- as Pakistani and South Asian communities in the US are often racist, and colorism continues to exist in Pakistan as well. Little is  understood or known about black communities and their history by local Pakistanis, and many opinions are formed via television, movies, and the music industry. 

Irrespective, it is comforting to know that Pakistanis have begun to call out racism, and showing allyship with marginalised groups, but these conversations cannot be limited to what is happening in the United States or “western worlds”. Pakistanis need to embark on the uncomfortable journey of dismantling their own racism, existing within their own country.

From ignoring our history with the slave trade to casual colorism, racism and racist behavior are deeply engrained in subcontinental and Pakistani history. One can blame the colonial masters for shaping these views, but it is important for us to take some responsibility for this in the 21st century. 

The Sheedi community in Pakistan has forever been and continues to be ostracised. Descendants of East Africans that were part of the slave trade, the community was brought in by Arab merchants between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they form part of Sindh and Balochistan. Most continue to work for feudal lords as farmers, but recently have begun to mobilise for their rights. From being discriminated against because of their physical features [dark skin, curly hair], they’re also subjected to harrassment, hate speech and even isolation. Most continue to live in poverty, have no access to educational or employment opportunities, and due to ignorant perceptions, are treated poorly and even regarded as “savages”.

 “Yaqoob Qambrani, President of the Pakistan Sheedi Ittehad, believed many the doors of success are shut on them because they face discrimination at various levels, including schools, workplaces, etc. “We are battling hard to establish our true identity”.
Source: Fair Planet

Current MPA, Tanzeela Qambrani, faced discrimination when she was nominated as a candidate for provincial assembly. Her nomination was opposed due to her being from the Sheedi community, and “descendent of the slaves”.

It’s important for us to start identifying our learned racism through neocolonial practices, and racist behaviors, and to have the uncomfortable conversations in our circles. It’s essential to recognise how little we understand the nuances of systemic oppression of the black community in the west, while also ignore the systemic discrimination happening at home. It is time we do better.  We can start by dismantling beauty standards of fair skin, calling out the use terms like “Habshan [ a woman or girl of African origin], “Kaali” [dark skinned],(2) as insults, and by demanding an end to the exoticisation of black culture while ignoring our own communities. 

1. The representation of something ordinary as being exotic; this is applied here to understand that black culture is seen as foreign and different, because it doesnt align with mainstream standards
2.Pak TV show under fire for blackfacing models while showcasing makeup for dark skin