This post has been published on Huffington Post India.

This is a discussion we have regularly at home. How can we not? This topic is all around us – in our advertisements, on our TV screens, tossed at us by friends and relatives, in our movies and books – you name it. But of late, I am glad that we are speaking more about this and not wallowing in self-pity. We are reclaiming our right to not be bullied, mocked or made to feel small for being of a darker shade. Most importantly we are empowering each other. I am talking about the topic of skin colour discrimination.

dark skin

Considering that we’ve people in all shades of brown in India, it is surprising the bias we have towards the fairer shades. If you thought only women heard derogatory remarks about dark complexion, you are wrong. Boys and men face it too. Right from childhood, little kids know how to insult the darker skinned one by calling him kaala equating it to ugly somehow.

It stings especially when a young child cannot make sense of it. When fitting in is a need and a rejection of any sort leaves deep scars within. Having faced this in my childhood when I would just retreat into a shell and not show that I was hurt, it took me years to build my self-confidence enough both to take it in my stride and also to give it back sometimes. But more importantly, it was also about feeling beautiful and comfortable in my skin.

I was more conscious of never hiding it under the carpet when it came to my children. Both of my sons are dark skinned and very good looking yet even little kids and adults often call them derogatory names. I’ve never made comments on someone’s skin colour or body shape to their face and always stop my kids from doing so. If all of us had these conversations with our children then perhaps we all would be more sensitive.

I have watched with dismay older women banter about a new bride’s complexion to her face. Very recently, as a matter of fact, I was privy to one such experience and bristled. Why? How is this banter? How can people be so ridiculous?

I have seen people call other people names based on their complexion. The funny part is that many of the dark-skinned people do it. Is it to hide their own inferiority or to just fit in with the general narrative?

When my older son faced these taunts, he came home in tears many times. It is difficult for them to understand why a darker skin tone could be a reason for insult. I don’t understand it myself, but I tell them to ignore it as the people doing it are less aware and insensitive. I have always drilled in him how to take pride in his skin colour. Over the years, I have seen him become confident and less mindful of any such mocking. That really gladdens my heart. I know, it took me more years to make peace with my lovely complexion — tanned and caramelly.

Sadly the world around us will not change. It will prey on our insecurities. It will make us feel worse for who we are. But as a family, as a part of the larger society, talk to your children. It is important that as parents we broach this subject and sensitize our kids.

skin color discrimination

 

The other day, my younger son was narrating an incident to me.

A very fair skinned boy, who is also his friend, had a tiff with him.

As children are wont to do when they are hurt, he lashed out and called him a black boy and asked him to shut up. No matter that the younger son is perhaps just a couple of shades darker than him.

This tiny chit who is very quiet outside the house lashed back, “What is wrong with being black?”

His friend did not know what to say.

I am sure the son was hurt but I have to admire his quick thinking. This is exactly what we have to teach our children. There is nothing wrong with any skin colour. The problem is with our biases.

I felt really proud of how he handled it and I commended him though I could see that he had felt hurt. That is okay. It is human. He will slowly learn to ignore such barbs.

I wish I had his kind of gumption when I was younger but at least I am enabling the kids to handle such situations and most importantly to be more empathetic people. Also when they question such attitudes, they somewhere make the other person think beyond what they have imbibed from movies or from people around them. That is a small victory in itself.

Do you discuss skin colour with your children and sensitise them not to discriminate?

You may also like to read: It’s Black It’s White (an earlier post of mine on the same topic).

Pinnable Pic courtesy and Featured image courtesy Shutterstock

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56 Thoughts on “Talk to Your Kids About Skin Colour Discrimination

  1. Uma (umawrites.com) has the same topic today. Atleast for me at home, we are all shades. We need to ingrain in the children that skin color is superfluous. More than children, the adults need to be trained I feel. I often here them say, a bride is ‘dark but beautiful’. Whatever that means!
    Lata Sunil recently posted…3 Books that made me cry #3B1GMy Profile

  2. The incident about your son is so unfortunate. I love his answer. And our obsession about fair bride is far from over. Glad you talk about it freely. Mothers have an important role to play here.

  3. I can very well understand what your sons must have felt on being targeted thus. I used to, and even now to some extent, get teased for being leaner than the majority of the population at home! Didn’t my parents/husband feed me? I took it in my stride, but as a kid I would feel hurt. It wasn’t my fault that I was built this way!
    It’s in our country, I feel, that such a concept exists – of mocking people for their skin colour and their physical appearance. How hurtful it must be!
    You are so right. We ought to educate our kids right from childhood, sensitise them about how such barbs can leave a person’s heart bruised and battered.

    • Oh yes, skin colour and body shape are both used to mock and torment kids. I was very skinny and yes my parents heard the same comment — Don’t you feed your kids properly?

      We do what little we can, Shilpa. We can neither shut the world nor change its prejudices. But we surely can enable our children to emerge unscathed from such mocking and also make them better than most.
      Rachna recently posted…Talk to Your Kids About Skin Colour DiscriminationMy Profile

  4. It never ends, does it? Skin, hair, clothes, shoes, weight; we are on scrutiny forever. My daughter still carries scars from her middle school days in Gurgaon. Can you guess for what? The length of her skirt, which wasn’t short or sexy enough for others. The multi-faceted Akankshas and Priyankas make sure that the (supposedly) lesser students have a tough time. The key is to ensure our child is confident enough to tackle these situations. Bravo to your son Rachna, he handled it well. This what will take him far.

  5. And here you are with so much more wisdom and clarity in your thoughts on the same topic. Really proud of how your son handled the situation, Rachna. More power to you and your sons. Surely, I think on similar lines and I’m going to have more such conversations with R. Thank you for the pingback and mention, Rachna!
    Uma recently posted…Awaiting colours of changeMy Profile

  6. It’s sort of irritating that we still have to deal with issues like ‘skin colour’ in this day and age, when we’re trying to break down barriers to equality.
    Super proud of the way he reacted – well done to him!
    As for having conversations, we do try our best with Rishi and ensure that he doesn’t have that sort of ‘discriminatory’ feelings creeping in
    However, having said that – I reckon a lot of these ‘tendencies’ do tend to start at home; after all, kids do learn most things from their parents.
    Sid recently posted…16 . . . going on 17My Profile

    • You are absolutely right, Sid. This mentality is imbibed at home. Children that young don’t have defined thought processes and hence reflect the biases of their own parents. But l am glad that many of us are sensitizing our kids.

  7. Such a valuable post, Rachna. There are movies that propagate that “fair complexioned people don’t lie” probably as a parody, but people actually believe a fair skin is superior. Of late, I am disgusted about the fairness cream ads for men, as well–bad enough they advertise them for women.

    There was a time, I remember, when office interviews were more partial to fair-skinned prospective employees! What a culture we live in!

    I admire your son for his response–what good grounding! I personally think dark-skinned and all the shades of brown complexion are far more attractive. Does that make me equally biased? 😀

    (Such a pretty girl in the pic)
    Vidya Sury recently posted…Banjaras Samvridhi Hair Oil and Hair Pack ReviewMy Profile

    • Thanks Vids. I’ve always found darker complexions fascinating and appealing. I don’t think it makes you biased. 🙂 It just makes you a refreshing change from the usual. Maybe some day we’ll all take pride in being brown.

  8. Perfect answer!
    The problem is not with the children. It is with the parents. It is with the family upbringing. I know of people who ask their children to not mingle with dark-skinned children. They tell them that it will make them also dark. My little one who is just eight told one such girl who taunted one of her classmates whether she would like her hair to be black or white. I was so so happy and proud. 😀 If only we stood for each other instead of looking down upon them or humiliating them, the world will be so much more beautiful.
    Rekha recently posted…#MythicalMondays – SampatiMy Profile

    • So true, Rekha! The problem is the parents because it is that thinking that the child imbibes. Super proud of your girl for her support. There are good kids too. Just the barbs rankle sometimes.

  9. It’s quite sad that skin color is still a topic that needs to come up for discussion, isn’t it? You seem to be doing a great job with your kids – wish more mothers would have similar conversations; hopefully this would become a non-issue then!
    Modern Gypsy recently posted…How to feel vibrant, energetic and ready to embrace lifeMy Profile

  10. I have been at the receiving end too at times, especially during my childhood days.

    Once when i curled-up my hair negro style, i was often referred to by that name. Anyway, i think i didn’t think too much then (been a very long time now) and was not affected much. Talking to kids does help, it at least boosts their morale!

  11. In our house my elder brother and I were the dark ones as was my mother. I don’t remember being taunted or teased by anyone. Compared to me, the L&M is darker! But colour was not given any importance, though my MIL who was very very fair and beautiful laid great store by the colour. My boys took their cue from both of us and never had any issues about colour. I think it is the parents who should take the lead in giving the children the right perspective on colour of the skin and how it doesn’t matter whether it is dark or fair. The reason why your boys have the right attitude is because you are setting them the example. Like so many things, this mindset is also changing.
    Zephyr recently posted…Fighting for the truth – Netaji Subhash Chandra BoseMy Profile

    • I agree, Zephyr. It’s the parents who take the lead and hence if a little boy is indulging in name-calling based on colour, l can imagine who is the source of such behavior. Just makes me terribly sad. Even now the elder son heard stray comments sometimes but he is well equipped to both ignore and retort and l take a lot of pride in that. He is a sensitive boy and there is no reason why any child should have to face this. But at the same time it is a good lesson in handling bullies and bigots. Thank you for your love and support always.

  12. It saddens me that people still behave this way. My friend is worried that her daughter is dark. Are there more relevant things that parents should worry? Like education. I think it’s high time people should focus of personality than physical aspects of a person.

    The moment someone talks about skin color, I stop taking them seriously.
    Saru Singhal recently posted…Meri Adhuri Prem Kahani – #50ShadesOfStupidityMy Profile

    • If the parent has a mindset that the child is lacking then the child will grow up confused, complexed and apologetic for their complexion. How truly sad! Whereas our parents empowered us and inculcated pride in ourselves. In a lot of ways parents can make or mar the self esteem of their kids. These days if someone talks to me about soon colour, l quickly lose interest.

  13. It’s so weird how people tend to give importance to things like skin colour, clothes and mannerisms of speech, instead of being more receptive to people’s feelings, and understanding one another.

    People pass harsh comments on outward looks, because it’s easier than taking an extra minute to calm down and look inwards.

    I do hope many more people realise that the levels of melatonin in one’s skin doesn’t determine anyone’s destiny. And neither should it determine the way we interact with each other.
    Mithila Menezes @fabulus1710 recently posted…The Bare NecessitiesMy Profile

    • It’s true, Mithila. Among children it is quite common to bully each other about looks. Like you said it is easier to feel instant beautification instead of looking within our being a considerate human.

  14. Very quick thinking on your son’s part ! It’s terrible when have to face such bullying but you are doing a great thing by making them aware.
    Asha recently posted…A Rustic Interlude in RajasthanMy Profile

  15. Nope we haven’t spoken about skin colour yet. Somehow the topic hasn’t come up. But I should now. It is such a valuable lesson for the kids. Your son handled it so very well. I am glad he didn’t deny it like ‘i’m not black’ or even a – ‘you’re black too’. I love how he threw that straightforward query at his friend. You have taught him well Rachna .
    Obsessivemom recently posted…Another Monday morningMy Profile

    • I think sooner or later it will come up in conversation. I actually haven’t taught him at all. It’s just that we’ve had conversation around skin colour and how some people may make mean comments. With the elder son l used to sit down and even coach him what to retort but the younger son picked it up on his own. I was so happy just like you mentioned that he didn’t try to pull the other guy down but just told him something to mull upon. I am not even saying that the other kid is bad. It’s just that perhaps his parents must be making remarks on skin color that he picked up.

  16. I read Uma’s post too. It’s sad but indeed they’re that the colour of the skin had become a basis for bias in society. And it’s adults, media society…. Everyone who is to be blamed for this. But small changes begin from the home front and it’s a parent who could talk to children and instill the right values in the child.
    Ramya Abhinand recently posted…The Road is My Therapist!My Profile

  17. I really don’t understand why people are so obsessed with fair skin. We have been discussing it at home because my sister has endured such barbs, she still does. But now she doesn’t get affected anymore. of course, if anyone says something about her skin colour in front of me, God save them. I forget all etiquettes then. It annoys me that we give something so superficial so much importance. Children should be taught to see beyond this and I’m glad you are doing that with your sons. As parents we need to be careful what we unwittingly teach our children. I just wish every parent was this careful.
    Nabanita Dhar recently posted…10 Beautiful Maya Angelou QuotesMy Profile

    • I can understand. One does make one’s peace as one grows older. But imagine the kids. I also want to jump in and bash the face of the person in when they make such rude comments. I just wish we would be better people and set a good example for our kids.

  18. When people comment about your skin colour, looks to make you feel small, its more about them than you.

    Only a low self-esteem will feel good while putting others down.

    And kids parrot what they hear from their parents. This is where the school should intervene and come down strongly on such students.
    Purba Ray recently posted…An Open Letter from the Short Skirt to Upholders of Women’s MoralityMy Profile

    • That is true, Purba. But it is difficult for a kid to understand that. It leaves them confused and small.

      I wonder if the school can really do anything. Most people make these comments and feel nothing wrong in doing so.

  19. Kudos to your son! He handled that situation really well. I’ve grown up being told how bad it is that I’m dark. I still remember people saying how I was like my mum and dark whereas my sister was more like my dad and lighter skinned. My paternal grandmother disliked me and would make it a point to comment how dark mum and I were. Apart from that, I’ve always had ‘well-wishers’ tell me not to play in the sun etc etc. It was pretty bad growing up with that around us and of course, who can forget all the Fair and Lovely ads. Thankfully, since moving out of India and coming here to Australia, I’ve not heard anything negative about my skin colour. Ironically enough, some people envy my dark skin and the ability to tan easily. The mentality about dark skin needs to change! It’s been going on for far too long…
    Sanchie @ Living my Imperfect Life recently posted…5 share-housing tipsMy Profile

    • It’s so disheartening how deep these biases run sometimes within our families as well. Oh yes that sun thing is so common. I can understand how you feel appreciated in Australia. I felt the same when I went to live in the US. It was so liberating in a way when no one comments on your complexion or gives you tips. It’s just so weird in India.

  20. It is so sad that our fixation with the fair skin tone is growing unabated and I dont think it is going to end anytime soon. It is truly heart wrenching to see small kids face such discrimination. As parents, it is important that we not only teach our kids to take pride in who they are which includes their skin tone but also how to deal with such prejudices and bullies too.
    Kudos to lil G for handling that bully well.

  21. Your younger one is super smart and genuine I must say. I have gone through so much because of being dark skinned. Right from my childhood where my cousins used to place their “white” arms next to mine and compare the colors to the time I got married when my MIL was upset that I was not fair enough. Mind you, her son is a couple of shades darker than me.

    Sadly, this is a topic that will continue to be spoken about as there will be people who shall continue to think of this as banter. They think they are being funny, but they need to wake up and smell the coffee!

    If I ever have kids, I’ll tell them the last thing that they need to worry about is being dark. Even if they are blue or green, it should not matter as long as they are nice people. That is what the world needs most these days.
    Soumya recently posted…One Day At The Passport OfficeMy Profile

    • Felt sad at reading your account. What a crappy society we live in.

      We will keep telling our kids that colour does not matter but the people around them being insensitive jerks will make them question this thought. But yes, we can enable them not to feel small.

  22. Luckily we have been living in many different countries and my kids (now almost adults) got more used to having friends after chemistry and see beyond skin color. Its so crazy – somethings I think its all in the beauty industry – that they all want us to have- whatever we are not born with….. Interesting read:-)
    Eli recently posted…Nobody puts baby in a cornerMy Profile

  23. Children can be so cruel at times. But you can excuse them because they are too young to have learned empathy. What of the adults who should know better?

    As I read your post I cringed. I have always been plump. You can imagine what I went through as a child. Even today, there are idiotic people who think it is there job to inform me that I need to lose weight. Nice of them I guess, since I dont have mirrors in my house.

    Gah!

    • I completely agree. I see a child as a reflection on their parents. These same kids will end up becoming great friends too. But the adults should be better. Oh we love to pull people down. I had a plump friend who has a skinny husband. Gosh, the taunts she had to put up with. Even random people sneered. It was as if she was eating her husband’s share of food or some such. It just makes me mad. And the tips she got to reduce weight. She almost went into depression. You really have to develop a thick skin to tolerate all this.

  24. Just the day before yesterday i was thinking to write a post in this topic.
    You have presented it very logically and analytically.
    Thanks a lot for sharing such important side.

  25. Draupadi, one of the main characters in Mahabharata was supposed to be very beautiful and many kings and princes wanted to marry her. She was dark.

    A dark skinned woman or man with a good soul is much more preferable one than a fair skinned monster.
    Sabyasachi Patra recently posted…IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 9 Issue IMy Profile

    • I know. I am aware of Draupadi and Krishna. A good soul is preferred for any person. Why can’t we just remove this cultural obsession of ours with colour is what I wonder.

  26. I read Uma’s post and now this and both are exceptionally well written. Because a topic like this is ubiquitous, I feel children at the age as early as 5-6 know what is black and what is white. And obviously, they prefer the latter one. It really wrenches my heart when children learn such things from their surrounding and the parents knowing this don’t do anything about!

    Loved your take !

    Cheers
    Geets recently posted…Bitter Sweet LifeMy Profile

  27. I have written about what happened with S and me also. It is just sad that these are the standards we uphold and teach our kids. I just hope the change here is not so painfully slow that it never comes.
    Jaibala Rao recently posted…The Page TurnedMy Profile

  28. It’s important that we ourselves accept this and teach children the same.Your son said the absolutely perfect thing .A very smart little boy indeed.Sometimes our conditionin males us judge .It’s a colonial hangover
    Amrita Basu recently posted…#Thankful Thursdays week 14:For not beingMy Profile

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