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Bias Against Skin Color Seen Globally

FILE - People march on the street in solidarity with protests against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Seoul, South Korea, June 6, 2020.

Alfiana A. Rosyadi, an Indonesian who recently completed graduate school in South Korea, said the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. has made her think about the well-documented and pervasive racism outside the U.S.

"People may say this is just America's issue, but white privilege exists around the world," Rosyadi said. "This movement has given me insight that this can happen in my country, too."

Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests — condemning racial injustice and excessive use of police force — erupted across the U.S. after George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, died in Minneapolis last month after being restrained by a white police officer.

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Tens of thousands of people gathered Saturday in cities far from the United States to express their anger over the death of George Floyd

The protests have spread across the world, as well.

"People are acknowledging that racism and discrimination happen everywhere," said Rosyadi. "So, I think they are showing solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement to stop all kinds of racism in the world."

Hate crimes

In the U.S., recent hate crime statistics show that nearly 60 percent of the documented 7,036 incidents in 2018 were motivated by a bias against someone's race, ethnicity or ancestry bias, according to the FBI.

Of the nearly documented 5,000 hate crimes against race, ethnicity or ancestry, 46.9 percent were anti-Black or African American bias; 20.2 percent were anti-white bias; and 13 percent were anti-Hispanic or Latino bias.

Around the world, hate crime data from 42 participating states show that of 5,735 incidents in 2018, 1,825 (31.8 percent) had a racist or xenophobic bias, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

And the Global Slavery Index in 2018 shows slavery continues in many countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. That includes forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and forced marriage.

"We see it present across the world in different configurations, towards different groups and on the basis of a variety of ideologies," said Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, professor of international history and chair of the international history department at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva, in an interview with IHEID earlier this month.

"The problem is just as gnawing and complex in these other places — see, for instance, how in recent months, in the context of the coronavirus crisis, Chinese nationals (and Asians more generally) were at the receiving end of racist incidents in many places while simultaneously in China some African students and migrants were discriminated against," he said.


In Indonesia, BLM protests have reignited the discussion about racism toward Papuans after news of protests in the U.S. spread among Indonesia's online community.

Papua and West Papua are Indonesia's two easternmost provinces, where the population is mostly dark-skinned Melanesians.

"I haven't personally experienced discrimination based on my skin color, but sometimes people from the east of Indonesia, who have darker skin, may get treated differently because people are not used to seeing them," said Rosyadi.

"My concern is that more people like fairer skin, especially for girls, and so some use a lot of [skin-lightening] products. Many Indonesians lose confidence for having darker or tanner skin because on the TV, actresses or other celebrities have fair skin," she added.

Skin-lightening products

Skin-lightening products are popular in many countries. A basic Google search for "skin-lightening" lists hundreds of products using images of Black, white, Asian and Latina, mostly female, skin.

In 2018, American pop star Blac Chyna was criticized for promoting a skin-lightening product called "Whitenicious" in Nigeria, where 77 percent of women use skin lighteners, according to the World Health Organization.

"Many use it in the hopes that they'll have an easier time ascending in their careers, finding husbands, or simply for a self-esteem boost in a society that looks at lighter-skinned women more positively," wrote online news outlet Vice.

This week, multinational manufacturer Johnson & Johnson said it would no longer sell skin-lightening products.

"I think more recently people are beginning to embrace darker or tanner skin, and seeing them as beautiful," said Rosyadi.


Lucy Ma, a freshman from China studying at Emerson College, said racial stereotypes have been perpetuated after high-profile crime cases involved minorities in her home country.

"People in small cities have less chance to really know the minorities in China, which creates a higher rate of racism," Ma said. "Big cities have more minorities than the small cities, and people in the big cities know the stereotypes cannot be the factor of how we define people. That's why there are much fewer racists in big cities."

While she said she's heard of no street protests in China, "people are supporting BLM groups through social media such as Weibo," said Ma. "There is a racism problem in China, but it is generally based on where you are, especially in small cities where there's much less diversity than the big cities."


Racism in India, with its tradition of a caste system, includes alleged birth rights, regional origin, religion, poverty or wealth.

"If you watch Bollywood movies you'd imagine India was a country of white folks," author and human-rights activist Arundhati Roy told Dalit Camera in a June 8 interview.

"Indian racism towards Black people is almost worse than white people's racism," she said.

South Korea

Dawoom Jung, a senior majoring in international studies and justice and civil leadership at Yonsei University in South Korea, said she noticed many Korean artists and social media influencers use their platform to bring awareness to BLM.

"I've seen a lot of Korean influencers and artists participate in the #blackouttuesday social media movement and donate to organizations. I've also seen illustrators take the initiative to translate the news into Korean and make cue cards so people in Korea can also follow what is going on," said Jung.

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Activism seen at protests, social media campaigns

Taking action

While social media has been an effective tool to discuss racism globally, some say more action needs to be taken offline.

"It's easy for people to post a black picture with the #blacklivesmatter hashtag, but it isn't more than granting attention to the subject. It simply doesn't truly help anyone," said Kenny Teucher, a student studying English and biology at Leipzig University in Saxony, Germany.

"In Germany, many people were involved in the subject, but only on Instagram and Facebook. I think that it is a problem that only few people want to take it a step further, whether it is through demonstrations or other political engagement," he added.

In France, society has grappled with the unsolved case of Adama Traoré, a Malian French man who died in 2016 after being restrained by police. Elise Crespin, a recent graduate from the Saint-Luc Tournai Institut, said #JusticepourAdama (Justice for Adama) has been revived since BLM protests.

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Paris riot police fired tear gas to disperse a largely peaceful but unauthorized protest to denounce police brutality and entrenched racism. In London, far-right activists and soccer rowdies scuffled with police as they tried to 'guard' historical monuments that have been targeted recently by anti-racism protesters for their links to slavery and colonialism

"His family and especially his sister have been leading protests since his death. He is an example of what is going on in France, because he is not the only one," said Crespin.

"I think we are tired of hearing the same things and the same injustices. Everyone woke up. Our systems are wrong and they must change," she said.

Kathleen Struck contributed to this report.

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