Advantages and Disadvantages of Light Skin When Abroad
24 Feb 2017
I would like to share my experience and point of view the advantages and disadvantages of having different skin color when abroad, not to criticize or talk about racism, but to inform and to educate about the different situations you can come across when traveling. The following article is focused on my experience traveling and living in Asia and Europe.
The color of your skin has an impact when traveling, and I am not just talking about discrimination, which is the main issue around the world, but also about how the local people treat you. As a person who comes from a white skinned mother and a dark skinned father I can say that I fall in the middle of both, therefore I can just talk from my own point of view and how as a mixed person stuck in the middle I got to experience both sides of the story.
I will begin by telling you about my experience in China which is a beautiful country full of wonderful friendly people but with a different view to skin color than most western countries. Chinese people are obsessed with white fair skin, if you take a closer look at ads all around they mostly show white people and they even largely advertise skin whitening products. For a Westerner this can be a sign of racism and discrimination, but in China this obsession for having a light skin comes from their history.
In China having a fair white skin is linked back to Han dynasty(206 BCE – 220 CE), when people of high class were described as such, whereas people with darker skin were considered of low societies mainly because they worked in the field under the sun. In China social status said more than your ethnicity background, therefore showing that you are from a higher social status, even if it’s only by the color of your skin, is really important to the culture and society. Thanks to this historical fact there is also a connection between white skinned and dark skinned foreigners coming to China; it is also very obvious when it comes to job hunting. Many employers ask for a recent photo and the hard truth is that they will prefer a white foreigner over a dark skinned, no matter the requirements fit the person or not.
The privilege which white foreigners have in China can be an advantage when landing a job, especially if they’re competing with a dark skinned individual, but it can also become a disadvantage for someone who wants to be acknowledged for his/her skills rather than for his/her looks. For those white people reading this article I recommend you to take advantage of this privilege if you’re having difficulties finding a job in your own country, but for those who are looking for a job and have the disadvantage of having a dark skin color DO NOT hesitate! There are better ways to land the job that you want; you just have to work on your unique skills, so do not take it as something personal, you can take it as an opportunity to brush up your skills and show the world that your skin color should not be an obstacle to achieve your goals and dreams!
My second experience is European countries where people want to be tanned, due to the lack of sun they receive during the year. It is the contrary of what you expect in Asia: in Europe is pretty common to see people tanning outside if the weather is suitable for outdoor activities, people lay under the sun to get tanned, some of them even risk getting burned. When the weather is not moderate, there are many solariums around where people go for this sole purpose. In Europe people pay to enter a cabin that projects UV rays into their skin and give them the desired tan. The reason that people tan in Europe may vary from person to person, there isn’t a generalization on why they do it. Some people do it because a tanned skin shows fewer flaws, others to be unique, others to accentuate their features and others just to fit in.
Some theories show that in Europe having a tan skin means that you have a high salary, because you can take vacations to tropical countries, while if you come from a lower social status you’re ‘doomed’ to stay in the cold weather or work for long hours in an office. But as many theories out there, there will always be two sides of the story that you can look at and make your own conclusions based on your own experiences.
The color of your skin can also be used as camouflage when traveling to other countries. When I was in Asia I was able to camouflage in local areas without getting much attention, thanks to the similarity I possess to the Asian race. I have also experienced being with the company of Caucasian friends who were always the center of attention when trying to explore such non-touristy parts of the countries I visited in Asia, which in most of the cases was a bit annoying for some of them because they were seemed as ‘unique beings’ and everyone wanted to take a photo with them, hindering them from having a relaxing experience while visiting non-touristy places not crowded by tourists. However, for some people can be fun to take part in such experiences. A disadvantage of being too obvious due to your skin color is that based on the prejudice that being white means you come from a higher social status, vendors tend to take advantage of it and scam you into paying more than the normal prices.
As a person who comes from mixed parents, I grew up with a view of both worlds; hence I can admit that it’s interesting how people tend to categorize you differently depending on where you are by the way you look. In all my traveling adventures I had to adapt to one side of my ethnicity either to take advantage of one of them or to teach others how to deal with both. I’ve been in situations where I had to use Photoshop to lighten my skin(job hunting); places where I am considered more attractive; use my skin color to camouflage in local areas: places where I got cheaper prices or where I experienced a lack of service just because of my skin color. I take all these experiences as lessons to understand more about the world and how we humans operate: we tend to categorize objects, ideas and people, sometimes not because we want to, but because that’s the way we communicate. Communication is the key to success and language is one of the most important tools which we use to survive. Language is only possible because we have to label and categorize, thus it’s already an instinct of us humans to categorize and relate concepts to each other in order to make sense of the world that we live in.
Photos By Fernando Smolders
Written by Fernando Smolders
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