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.
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.
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).