- Shaadi.com was pushed to get rid of a colour filter where people could search what skin tone they would like when looking for a partner.
- This petition comes amid global protests against racism sparked after the death of George Floyd.
- Dating sites such as Grindr too have been guilty of advocating prejudice based on ethnicity in the past.
In the world of online dating dominated by apps such as Tinder and Bumble, it’s no secret that a good-looking face holds more weight compared to intellect. The problem lies in an attitude driven by prejudice based on skin colour wherein fair skin is considered paramount over others.
Recently, Indian matrimonial site Shaadi.com was called out by US-resident Hetal Lakhani who helmed a petition on Change.org against its skin tone filter that users were required to enter. While all she was looking for was a potential suitor, her efforts ignited a cause which has been a long-standing issue in the Indian subcontinent.
“Shaadi.com has a colour filter that asks users to indicate the colour of their skin using descriptors like “Fair”, “Wheatish”, and “Dark” and allows users the ability to search for potential partners on the basis of their skin colour,” Lakhani said in the petition.
“We demand that Shaadi.com must permanently remove its skin colour filter to prevent users from selectively searching for matches based on their preferred skin colour.”
The matchmaking site claimed searches would show all matches of all skin tones for users.
A similar complaint was lodged by Meghan Nagpal who questioned the firm over its lack of inclusivity for darker skin tones but was turned away by representatives.
“I emailed them (shaadi.com) and one representative said this is a filter required by most parents,” Nagpal admitted during an interview with BBC Asian Network.
As a result of Nagpal and Lakhani’s efforts along with more than 1,600 petitioners, the site took down the filters after which Shaadi.com said the filter “was not serving any purpose” and that the filter was a “product debris.”
After the company took the step to finally remove the skin filter, Lakhani said: “Shaadi.com removing its colour filter doesn’t change the reality that people will continue to anchor desirability and suitability onto people’s skin colour. But it will stop giving users the option to discriminate on the basis of something so shallow and arbitrary.
“I have my bachelors, I have my masters. But if a skin tone can take that away from me – that would be the worst.”
While some might admit it was not a trivial feature which could be easily overlooked, it is “one small step in an ultimate goal of promoting equality within the south Asian community on a global level,” said Nagpal.
The statement given by Shaadi.com contradicts its own survey released in 2015 which stated that 49% men surveyed sought a fair woman when looking for a partner. The study surveyed 150,000 users who were not just from Indian towns and cities but also other countries including the U.S, U.K, Canada and Australia.
Movement against colourism inspired by racism protests
The petition against Shaadi.com was sparked by the ongoing racism protests globally after the brutal murder of George Floyd who was a victim of discrimination based on skin colour.
In South-Asian countries, the concept that fair equals superior is hardly new. Lighter skin tones have been coveted therefore giving fairness creams a huge client base. According to a report released by ResearchAndMarkets, the sector is expected to achieve revenues worth more than Rs. 5,000 crore by 2023.
In fact, Bollywood actors and actresses have openly endorsed cosmetic products to lighten skin colour, dismissing darker skin tones.
Nagpal continued saying that while the concept wasn’t new, companies should strongly stand against discrimination of any sort.
“A part of me was thinking there is obviously a mindset within the south Asian culture about fair skin being better, and that’s spilling over into matrimonial websites,” she added.
“You hear it more when older people in our community are commenting about women rather than men; saying ‘she is so fair, she is so beautiful’ and I think it’s more of an unconscious bias.
“People have their biases. But a company should not inculcate that culture,” she concluded.
Echoing a similar sentiment, Lakhani said: “This kind of constant discrimination affects our self-esteem and mental health, with consequences as extreme as social exclusion and physical harm. Colour is only skin deep.
“The idea that fairer skin is “good” and darker skin is “bad” is completely irrational. Not only is it untrue, but it is an entirely socially constructed perception based in neo-colonialism and casteism, which has no place in the 21st century.”
Dating sites must address discrimination of any sort
Only a few weeks ago, dating app Grindr decided to remove its “ethnicity filter” to “stand in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.” However, the app was receiving much backlash from its users for this particular filter.
Currently allowing users to filter matches according to their age, height, weight and ethnicity, the app will make the changes in the next release of its newest software. Dating app Scruff followed suit and removed its ethnicity filter as well.
To further reiterate how dating apps can be biased, a survey was conducted in 2016, which was judged by an artificial intelligence software. More than 6,000 people from 100 countries submitted their photos and the machine had to choose the most desirable ones. The results showed that out of the 44 winners, nearly all were white and only one had dark skin. While the AI system was not exactly trained to be racist but based on the information it fed in its system in the past, it inferred that lighter skin meant superior and more attractive.
Tech companies indeed must actively be mindful of their product offering and consciously remove any such features which could encourage bias or prejudice.
In the words of Lupita Nyong’o who played the role of Nakia in Marvel’s Black Panther, colourism “is the daughter of racism” in “a world that rewards lighter skin over darker skin”. And both should not be a part of the world whatsoever. We couldn’t agree more.