It don’t matter if you are black or white…
Thus went the famous song by MJ. Here in India, it is more like It’s light brown; It’s dark brown. And, it matters a lot!
India, which is a brown country, where skin tones range from the really dark to the lightest browns, you learn about your skin colour from a very young age. If you are darker toned, you would have heard a derogatory comment from as soon as your mommy popped you out. If you are lighter skinned, you would have heard paeans in praise of your ‘beauty.’ Strangely skin colour is equated with beauty though the two have no connection whatsoever. I have come across an equal number of unattractive fair and dark-skinned people. But, in India, you are beautiful if your skin colour is lighter. Don’t know if it is a hangover of our colonial past, or we truly can’t look beyond colour and its various shades.
Discrimination based on your skin colour prevails all over the world even in the most developed countries. But what is astonishing in India is how well accepted and ingrained the connection between dark skin and ugliness is in our country. A number of dark-skinned girls and boys, including yours truly, have clawed their way to self-confidence, while others have been crushed for life.
Here, no one breaks a sweat before making a demeaning statement about your skin colour to your face or to your child’s face. Here mothers tell their own daughters to do something about their skin colour or they won’t get a groom. Where hot-shot celebrities like Shahrukh Khan don’t bat an eyelid while doing an advertisement that attributes their success to a lighter complexion inducing depression among the largely dark-skinned population. Where darker-skinned actresses always find their name preceded with dusky while announcing their achievements. I am sure it is the biggest challenge that they had to overcome. Their talent, looks and luck had nothing to do with it.
This message that dark skin is ugly is everywhere, blatantly! Switch on the telly or any magazine. Most advertisements show milky white models and most cosmetic creams promise a lighter, glowing complexion. A leading skincare brand, Fair & Lovely (can the branding be any more brash) had advertisements that showed darker skinned girls being failures in life (interviews, in landing a relationship etc.) till they acquired a brighter complexion. The dark skinned actresses progressively look fairer and more acceptable with every role they do. Sadly, even those like Deepika Padukone who could have been a better role model for darker girls are doing a fairness cream advert.
If you were to look at our hoardings or our actors, you would think that there is a systematic effort to obliterate dark skin from our landscape. It is as if the dark skinned folks did not exist. Unfortunately, kaala, saanwala and kaali are tossed as abuses at people. Just the other day, I was seeing a snippet from the interview of Priyanka Chopra, a former Miss World and one of the most popular actresses in India, mentioning how she grew up feeling ugly because she was always teased as kaali since her childhood. Imagine the scars we effortlessly leave for our children to grapple with without batting an eyelid.
Let me tell you there is nothing funny about making fun of people based on their skin colours, as many consider it banter to shame you. This apathy we display while saying such insensitive things makes me want to hit back. Not only adults but kids pick up this attitude from their parents. I have some despairing incidents that have happened at my kids’ school.
This race to fit in and be lighter skinned leads to ridiculous behavior like applying ghastly face powder that creates a chalky, scary look. Some people repeatedly bleach their skin or use harmful skin products to get that elusive lighter skin. It degrades them as people and shreds their self esteem. Walk into a beauty parlor and you can be sure to be asked for a de-tanning, skin lightening treatment. Go to buy cosmetics, and you will find the incompetent people selling you a foundation one shade lighter so that you look fairer. Oh yes, let us not forget to mention those hideous newspaper ads that openly ask for fair brides only. Of course, what else could matter to two human beings who are deciding to spend the rest of their lives together? Even men are not immune to the discrimination. They aspire to be Fair and Handsome too.
I can’t believe how ludicrous this behavior is. How can we as a country be so silly and so self-destructive? Where is our native pride in our beautiful, black, lush hair; lovely black doe eyes; striking sharp features and a healthy, glowing skin that is nourished with one of the most nutritionally balanced cuisines in the world?
Like all mindset changes, this one will take time too. And it does begin from home. Please don’t stop your children from playing in the sun because they will get dark. Don’t tell your daughters to use face packs to lighten their skin. Don’t make fun of people’s colour; your children are watching and imbibing your attitude. It is because you don’t want to address this derision of darker skin that millions of Indian children grow up with complexes.
I talk about colour openly in my home, sharing some of my own ridiculous experiences that now I can laugh at but hurt as hell when I was younger. At least, my children will hopefully have a more holistic view of human beings.
Here I would like to mention campaigns like Not Fair Very Lovely that are raising awareness about this issue and to bring pride back to all the darker skinned people in India.
It is time that we took pride in our true colour.