As we celebrate the month of International Woman’s Day, I pen in a piece on a topic that is very close to my heart, and touches one of the core issues plaguing our Indian mindset – colour. An issue that comes up time and again, and is so ingrained in our upbringing, that it will be a herculean task to change things.
Yet, I try.
I am a South Indian brought up in Delhi. Having a fair complexion, I always shied away from declaring my roots! All because, I had constantly heard my neighbours and friends give rhetorical statements like ‘North Indians are gora-chitta‘ or ‘Dark skin is for the South‘ or ‘You Southies have brains, we North Indians have looks!‘
There were times when I used to openly say I am a South Indian, and would hear statements like – ‘You don’t look like a South Indian?‘ or ‘Aren’t South Indians dark?‘
And I am not alone. There are many more such brethren of mine. And this with a fair skin! Imagine how would a person with dark skin feel if they are constantly told that they are not beautiful enough, attractive enough or desirable enough? Do we really think their self-confidence, and lives, will not be affected by such taunts?
Think about it – what can be the intention behind such talks, other than to demean others?
I wonder why the world is so obsessed with white colour? After all, it is just a colour and is something we are born with.
No one is spared.
Time and again the Twitterati chooses to troll Twinkle Khanna, the actress turned writer, and bring out the colour difference between her two children. Being Twinkle, she always ensures they get a nice retort back!
It all begins when children are young. The moment a child is born, relatives start comparing siblings’ skin colour. I remember the first question when my son was born was – ‘Is he fair or dark?‘ I recollect that during our school dance performances, all fairer looking girls were made to stand in the front, even if they were the worst performers.
And of course, the first question asked during any bride seeing ceremony is, ‘Is the bride fair?‘
What an irony!
And let me tell you, it is not limited only to India. We have had centuries of white supremacy and races being considered as kings or slaves based on colour. The remnants of it still exist around the world. But it’s time we change.
Let us open our eyes and do something different. It is time for us to have some empathy towards others. It is time that we recognize that wisdom and good karma come with being kind to others around us. It is time we recognize that none of us are perfect, yet each one of us is a pretty perfect version of ourselves. If we call someone dark and ugly today, someone else will call us fat and ugly tomorrow, or something else. It is easy to find some fault in each one of us because beauty is also a relative concept like everything else.
We, at Eyra, hope to expand the dialogue to talk more about discrimination based on degrees of skin tone. And here is what I think we all should do:
- Embrace your Beauty and Strength. Find ways to embrace and celebrate your identity – the strength and beauty of ‘you’ being ‘you’. A person’s worth or success is not defined by their skin colour. It is actually quite short-sighted to think that any opportunity like a job or a marriage proposal is easier for someone with fairer looking skin. Let us focus on the talent and beauty that lies within rather than the difference in skin colour.
- Speak up if you see racism in action. If you hear someone making a racial joke, or mistreating people because of their race, step in and speak up. Let people know that racist comments are not okay. If you are not comfortable or do not feel safe being confrontational, try to break their thought process down and ask them questions. For example, ‘That joke doesn’t make sense to me, could you explain it?‘ Do not be afraid to engage in conversations against colourism. Remember that not saying anything – or laughing along – implies that you agree.
- Motivate people with dark skin and encourage skin diversity. Did you know that the largest consumer of skin lightening products is India? We should spread the message of accepting skin diversity among the next generation. Even in our tinsel town Bollywood, there has been an overwhelming acceptance for film actresses with darker skin. Rekha, Kajol, Anu Aggarwal, Shilpa Shetty, Bipasha Basu, Nandita Das etc., the list is endless. Among male actors too, Rajnikanth, Shatrughan Sinha and many others have ruled the hearts of millions. So why is it difficult for common folks like us?
- Support anti-colourism campaigns. The Dark is Beautiful campaign works to promote the idea that every person is beautiful, regardless of their skin colour. There are many campaigns out there that promote this idea, and supporting these campaigns can help you become more involved in the issue.
- Last, but most critical, be a proactive parent. Expose your children to diversity at a young age. Discuss TV shows, movies or books that present stereotypes. Explain about skin diversity and show them the importance of skill and confidence over colour.
Though we cannot change the world in one day, let us collectively try to be a positive influence in the lives of others and make this world believe that – dark is as beautiful as fair.