“Performative Wokeness”: Suhana Khan Lauds “Fair & Lovely” Move, While SRK Endorses Fairness Creams

Social Commentary

“Performative Wokeness”: Suhana Khan Lauds “Fair & Lovely” Move, While SRK Endorses Fairness Creams

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

The murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in the United States brought thousands of people to the streets. It also ignited a much-needed conversation around racism. It spilled over to India, with criticism directed towards fairness creams, like Fair & Lovely, and matrimonial companies like shaadi.com. Then, Suhana Khan dragged into the controversy.

On Thursday, Hindustan Unilever, one of India’s biggest consumer giants announced that, “We’re committed to a skin care portfolio that’s inclusive of all skin tones, celebrating the diversity of beauty. That’s why we’re removing the words ‘fairness’, ‘whitening’ and ‘lightening’ from products, and changing the Fair & Lovely brand name.”

Some users criticised the move stating it was only a marketing gimmick, and that merely removing the word doesn’t make much of a difference. The problem is with the product itself, not only with the marketing.

The company has been accused of engaging in virtue-signalling activism.

However, the move was also lauded by some as a step in the right direction. Among those cheering was Shah Rukh Khan’s 20-year-old daughter Suhana Khan.

In an Instagram story, Suhana Khan said, “It (HUL) has also committed that it will remove all suggestions that success is linked to skin tone or colour in communication.”

It immediately attracted criticism on social media with many users pointing out the irony that Shah Rukh Khan is the brand ambassador of a men’s fairness cream called “Fair and Handsome”.

Social media users have claimed that Suhana Khan’s statement is Bollywood’s typical performative wokeness. A kind of “activism” to increase one’s social capital instead of being actually devoted to the cause. Merely for the sake of likes, clicks and PR points, they will say the trendy right things but when it comes to action, things are starkly different.

It is not only Bollywood, but even corporates have been seen engaging in such behaviour.

Companies change DPs on their social media platforms to the pride rainbow, or tweet with #BlackLivesMatter. But when it comes to taking action in making changes in the boardroom, hiring policy, and pay, the gap between talk and action is quite troubling.

Along with Shah Rukh Khan, criticism has been directed even towards other actors like Hrithik Roshan and Kartik Aryan, who are promoting such products even today.

While removing “fair” from a product’s brand name is an easy thing to do, bringing about real change after decades of questionable advertising will require much more to be done. And as for Suhana Khan and the rest of Bollywood, walking the talk on the issue is due.a