The actress Emma Watson is involved in a controversy.
She appeared in Lancome’s advertising, and one of their products is a skin-lightening cream.
This has caused outrage among many people who see skin-lightening cream as inherently racist.
Years ago my wife had a similar experience.
She’s an art director and she was working at an agency that had a chance to pitch for a cosmetics account.
One of their products was a skin-lightening cream.
Many of the people at that agency refused to work on the pitch.
They also saw skin-lightening cream as inherently racist.
My wife thought they’d got it wrong.
She’s Chinese, from Singapore.
Asian people like her traditionally use skin-lightening cream to disguise blemishes.
They don’t grab handfuls of cream and rub it all over their entire body to pretend to be white.
As she said “No one wants to change their race, we just want to cover up bites and bumps.”
Recently I asked my daughter, who’s half Chinese, if she had any skin-lightening cream.
She said of course she did.
She said the same thing, Asians like her use it to cover up blemishes while their skin is repairing itself.
Nothing to do with wanting to be white.
I had a similar experience myself.
At GGT, Chris Bardsley wrote a commercial for Walkers Poppadums.
We had an Indian Elvis Presley singing “Keep your gums off my Poppadums” to the tune of ‘All Shook Up’.
It was a very funny ad.
But the Daily Mail phoned up the Indian actor.
They asked him if he felt ashamed to be poking fun at his own people in this racist way.
He said something like: “It’s a particularly white conceit that you think you are the only people confident enough in who you are to be able to laugh at yourselves.
I am a Sikh and we consider ourselves second to no one.
I am confident enough that I can happily laugh at myself.
You think that everyone secretly wants to be white, so mentioning our race is like reminding us of a disability.
Let me assure you, that exists only in your mind.”
I thought he gave the Daily Mail the perfect answer.
He didn’t want to be white, he was proud of what he was.
Just like Asian people who buy skin-lightening cream don’t want to be white.
They are proud of what they are.
But some people are secretly convinced everyone wants to be white.
So they take offence on other people’s behalf.
Yet when I get a sun tan, no one assumes it’s because I secretly want to be another race.
I want to be what I am, just a bit darker.
When I first went to Singapore, I went sunbathing in my mother-in-law’s back garden.
One of her little nephews came running into the house shouting “Auntie, there’s a mad man in the garden lying in the sun.”
He’d never seen it before.
In Singapore people avoided the sun, women even carried umbrellas to avoid getting a tan.
They didn’t want to belong to the white race.
They just wanted to be what they are, but with a pale complexion.
It’s the opposite way round for us, but that’s their choice.
I think what’s racist is assuming everyone wants to be white like us.