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Exfoliating Colorism: Contestations, Comedy, and Critique in India's Transnational Media Field

Friday, February 22, 2013
12:00 AM
1636 International Institute/School of Social Work Building, 1080 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor

Feminist cultural studies scholars have documented the beauty industry’s transnational cultural production of smooth, perfect skin that has “amnesia,” the capacity to erase the passage of time and the onslaught of nature and the ability to defy the contaminating encroachments of ethnic, racial, biological, and cultural affiliations. But, what about those exfoliating skin stories of dissent and critique that aim to reform the abject conditions of the desi dark-skinned body? What do we know about the grainy texture of abrasive skin stories that seek to peel away local and global layers of colorism and racism? Resistance to colorism in India and among global desi communities originates from the actions and critiques of ordinary individuals, activist organizations, artists, and celebrities andfrom voices and representations in mainstream popular culture, online citizen spaces, and journalism. The media instruments deployed in these articulations of resistance span the sometimes anonymous parodies and spoofs of skin-lightening commercials posted in cyberspace to women’s orchestrated consciousness-raising media campaigns in Chennai, India, and well-known journalist Barkha Dutt’s public affairs talk show “We the People” in which she moderated a debate on racism and colorism in a 2008 episode, opening with the provocative question, “Is India a country of closet racists?” This presentation explores the empirical and political contours of the growing chorus of resistance against colorism and beauty norms in India, and it evaluates the possibilities and limits of these forms of dissent.

Radhika Parameswaran is Professor in the School of Journalism and adjunct faculty in the Cultural Studies and India Studies programs at Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research and teaching interests focus on feminist cultural studies, South Asia, globalization and postcolonial theory, and qualitative research methods. Her publications include a Wiley-Blackwell edited encyclopedic volume on global audience studies, two monographs, over 20 articles in leading journals in media and communication studies, and nine book chapters. She is the recipient of three outstanding teaching awards from the School of Journalism

Radhika Parameswaran