Naya Pakistan: Gora Pakistan | Feministaniat

Apr 2015

Everyone remembers Zubaida Apa’s ‘Ab Gora ho Ga Pakistan’ campaign. In this ad, Apa jee wades through a sea of young urban middle class(ish) women who have been doomed with what appears to be grey skin and therefore are (rightfully) borderline suicidal (one character even looks like the girl from The Ring).

Grey Girl Syndrome

Grey Girl Syndrome

The Ring wali larki

The Ring wali larki

To relieve them of their misery, Apa jee announces that she has a soap with both, yes viewers, BOTH whitening and cleansing agents (2 in 1!!!). Upon usage of this soap, not only does the camera screen swiftly shift from greyscale to color but also results in the unification of previously afsurda women into a Naya Pakistan rally-like formation of young urban middle class women, chanting ‘Ab Gora ho ga Pakistan!’.

Whitening soaps are obviously not a novelty neither in Pakistan nor anywhere else in the post-colonial world. I must have been eleven or twelve when after watching a TV commercial for Safeguard soap featuring a young woman scrubbing away the brown off her face that I asked my mother if she could buy me the same soap. I don’t remember what she said but a day later, my father sat me down and told me that I was beautiful the way I was and that I didn’t need a special soap to cleanse myself (yay for cool parents!).

While the production and consumption of skin whitening products: creams, serums, injections, and thousands of other bleaching products etc. has only recently skyrocketed – the majority of producers being big European and North American cosmetic companies like Unilever etc. and the consumers being young urban educated middle class women of color in the global South – the history of soap as a commodity used in the purification of brown and black bodies goes back to the initial stages of colonialism. (Yes, it all started with white people telling brown and black people they weren’t clean enough which is totes hillarious because everyone knows that it was in fact white people who never showered back in the day.)

Image from: Blay 2011

Image from: Blay 2011

Image from: Blay 2011

Image from: Blay 2011

So how did white people go from showering once every six months to telling 80% of the world to scrub their epidermis off?

Well, colonialism needs a justification and white supremacy is the ideology which justifies colonial expansion under capitalism. In this ideology, the act of appropriation of land, markets and resources is concealed as a favor or a burden the white man is taking upon himself to civilize/cleanse the dirty, evil, barbaric brown/black races by giving them the gifts of a legal system, privatization of land, and Imperial Lather (definition: a frothy white mass of bubbles produced by soap used for imperial ventures). Over the centuries, where on the one hand brown and black women across the world have internalized these racist ideals of physical beauty, capitalists like Unilever have produced commodities which allow brown and black women to buy their way up to whiteness.

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Zubeida Apa’s Whitening Soap then is part of a colonial legacy of selling commodities to brown and black people which serves both making money through the creation of bogus/useless commodities and keeping people oppressed through ideological dominance. Furthermore, whereas white supremacy was an explicit ideology under colonialism, it morphed into modernization discourse in the early post-colonial decades around the mid 1900s. Here, whiteness and cleanliness were sold as markers of modernization and development.

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The bleaching cream, Mod Girl, is the perfect example of commodifying the desire for instant (bass 15 minut mein gori gori) whiteness and modernization.

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In the contemporary moment in Pakistan, the discourse of progress and development has been dominated by that of a Naya Pakistan: a nationalist social movement for development which targets the young urban educated middle class, a huge portion of which are women, in the fight against corruption (read: the sole cause of underdevelopment and lack of progress).

Taking note of this discourse, Apa’s ad targets this very demographic and tells them that a Naya Pakistan has to be a Gora Pakistan. These young women are told that while being part of a social movement is giving you a sense of empowerment, it is incomplete if you are not gori gori. Being gori can empower you by giving you the social capital you need to be more marriageable, employable, desirable and fashionable, a REAL Mod Girl in Naya Pakistan. In doing so, Apa jee makes the desire for whiteness a nationalist development project.

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References
Blay, Y. A. (2011). Skin bleaching and global white supremacy: By way of introduction. Journal of Pan African Studies4(4), 4-46.

 

One Response to Naya Pakistan: Gora Pakistan | Feministaniat

  1. Marzia Raza on Apr 2015 at 11:29 AM

    Well, I agree with most part of the article but I have a question. The gora rang craze is not the only thing keeping us clasped in the clutches of white man’s soft imperialism. It is their political and social values too which have penetrated our minds and society. The values are not devilish but then they aren’t ours. What is your take on that? The liberal ideals we all so devastatingly adore and imitate are less a product of our own brainstorming and largely borrowed. How do you see that?

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