It is important to stand up against racism and colourism, but it is also important to understand differences between the two
Popular thesaurus brand Merriam-Webster has declared it will change their definition of racism after a 22-year old university student emailed them about inconsistencies in their current definitions of the word.
The student said that the dictionary definition of racism is often used by those who want to argue that something is not racist, "on the basis that racism requires a personal dislike of someone based on their race to be real."
She wrote, "It is both prejudice combined with social and institutional power. It is a system of advantage based on skin colour."
It is not just this particular incident; the latest Black Lives Matter movement shed light on many similar issues which previously seemed trivial.
After George Floyd's murder, the whole world, including Bangladesh, stood in solidarity with protesters in the US.
However, when I noticed that some social media users were sharing stories about how they were victims of racism, it struck me as odd.
Most of them were Bangladeshi citizens, so how did they face racism by being the majority race?
After a little research, I gathered that most of them were actually talking about facing discrimination based on their darker skin tone.
I was able to infer that racism and colourism had become the same for them. In reality, these are two different things.
So, what is racism?
In simple words, racism is a systematic approach of depriving a specific group of people from opportunities, discrimination by laws or social norms or just simply creating an environment of animosity because of their racial identities.
The word "racism" has become almost synonymous with black people because they have been fighting the bigotry for centuries.
But they are not the exclusive victims of racism.
Variables of racism keep changing from geographical and social context such as skin colour, cast, ethnicity, indigenous origins etc.
In that sense, across the world, indigenous people and minorities are subjected to systematic racism.
Alice Walker, the first person who introduced the word "colourism" defined the word in her book "In Search of our Mothers' Gardens" (1983) as "prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their colour."
It is basically the ill notion of enjoying privilege for inheriting lighter skin tone.
This is a common phenomenon throughout Asia where people make fun of dark skin or hurl offensive words at dark-skinned individuals. Being darker is considered a shameful matter.
It is believed that fair skin can give people all the attention and success that they aspire to. Especially when it comes to marriage, women with fairer skin tone are more preferred as brides.
Dark-skinned men also face discrimination, although not as much as women. But both dark-skinned men and women are sometimes discouraged to become film actors or models.
Colourism is an ingrained predisposition which the British brought into our society.
They would implement racist policies and treat the locals poorly because of their brown skin tone.
The British left the land but unfortunately, they left this malpractice behind.
However, although we continue to identify people based on their skin colour, they are not discriminated the way they were before.
Dark-skinned people are not deprived from receiving education or having job opportunities; they are treated under the same laws and enjoy the same rights.
Colourism is entrenched within us, but it is prevalent on a more personal level.
A mother might not accept a dark-skinned daughter-in-law, but that does not mean she wants to cause her any harm.
If someone is bullied by friends for being dark, that is very hurtful, but that person's teacher does not deduct his/her marks for being black or brown.
Oddly enough, people with brown complexion from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan also face racism in the West along with East Asian people.
It is something they would have never faced in their homeland.
But the offensive remarks they do face in their homeland is not necessarily discrimination.
It is a conventional malpractice which forces them to feel isolated and inferior throughout their lives.
Although it is just as disturbing an issue, we have to accept that it may not amount to racism.
That being the case, we need to understand the difference.
It is good that we are sympathising with the oppressed but perhaps not all of us are in a position to relate with their suffering.