Pali Kaur: Punjabi Media & Entertainment Has A Colourism Problem

The preference for light skin in the Punjabi media trickles down to our daughters and creates a self-esteem issue rooted in a superficial expectation

Pali Kaur
August 5, 2021 | 3 min. Read | Opinion 

When Aarsh Benipal’s track Rang Sanwla was released a few years ago it was a huge hit.  

Unfortunately, when you really listen to the lyrics the singer is not praising tan skin.  In fact, he clearly states his preference is for light-skinned girls but because one of them broke his heart - he is going to settle for a darker one.  

Except in passing, few other Punjabi tracks deal with the theme of skin color unless it is to praise a female’s gora rang.  One of the rare newer songs mentioning the difficulties of having dark skin in a colorist society is Kaka’s smash hit Kale Je Libaas.  

Kaka’s lyrics are profound in that he is sharing the protagonist’s experience of being rejected by a potential girl who loves dark clothing but will not date a guy with dark skin.  Even though Kaka’s song is super relevant, I still think it does not mention the segment of the Punjabi population that actually suffers the most from colorism - women.

Focusing on Punjabi entertainment, we can see that there are many examples of sanwla rang or darker-skinned male entertainers, but how many can name more than one or two women who are even slightly tanned?  

Even if there are some examples, such as Sonam Bajwa, it seems skin-lightening treatments and make-up are used on them so that after a few years they magically seem to whiten their tones.

The preference for light skin in the Punjabi media trickles down to our daughters and creates a self-esteem issue rooted in a superficial expectation.  It is one of the ignored tragedies that our community has not overcome the plague of colourism.  

Actress Kul Sidhu’s recent interview really brought this home for me.  

She says not only was she born as a woman in a patriarchal society but on top of it, she was born dark-skinned.  Sidhu examines how being tan limited her opportunities and more importantly messed with her mental health.  

This last part is what should ring alarm bells for all of us.

The good thing is that the diaspora is taking notice and calling out the blatant colourism in mainstream Punjabi media and culture.  Twitter users are questioning artists who choose white women to appear in their videos versus Punjabi women.  

Singer AP Dhillon received heat just this month for releasing a music video featuring a white, instead of Punjabi, model. However, I noticed this debate focuses more on race than colorism.  The truth is, even movies and videos with Punjabi women almost exclusively include light-skinned ones.  Nonetheless, I hope that calling out the preference of European women to Punjabi will eventually lead more diasporic community members to reject the obsessions with gora rang in general.  

You can already see this trend in social media such as TikTok where Punjabis who promote a Eurocentric beauty standard are being ridiculed for supporting it. 

It is high time we pay attention to who is cast in our media.  

We must take a stand for the sake of collective well-being.  When our movies and videos portray the false narrative that light-skinned females are better-looking or that dark is automatically ugly, we are taking away opportunities from artists who might otherwise succeed.  

It is also important to remember that the true traditions of Punjabiyat are above colorism.  Our great poets teach us that every skin color is beautiful.   Although about divine love and not the superficial romance of pop culture,  I always remember the words Baba Farid Ji wrote about Laila and Majnu.  

Someone points out to Majnu that Laila is dark and he might want to rethink his crush.  Majnu replies:

Tuadhi akh na dekhan vaali/
Ved vi chitta te Quran vi chitta/
vich shahi rang di kaali/
Jithe akh laggi othe ki gori ki kaali?

Your eyes just can’t see [Laila’s beauty]/
The Vedas appear white so does the Quran/
But the ink within is black/
When you’re in love, light skin or dark doesn’t mean a thing.

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Pali Kaur is a blogger and educator based out of California. She works with immigrant communities, focusing on Spanish and Punjabi speakers. You can find her on Twitter at @wittypunjaban


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