Anjali was with her mother, trying to pick a dress for a party. She loved the black satin dress with shiny silver sequins on the bodice. After long deliberation, her mother said “No sweetheart, you are already so dark. You will look darker. It is for fair girls”
Many girls like Anjali and I, have had our self-esteem battered at a young age due to our dark skin.
In India generally, North Indians have a fair complexion and among South Indians, one will find members of the same family having different skin tones. In mine, I am the darkest. I grew up as an introvert and it had a lot to do with my dark skin. I have been reminded not to wear certain colored dresses which would accentuate my dark skin tone. I have been encouraged to use fairness creams and home remedies with wild turmeric and curd for lightening my skin tone.
It took me years to fortify my confidence and I had a lot of help from my life partner who consciously strayed away from the fair skin obsession of the Indian populace. He calls me “Karumbi” in our native tongue which translates to “blacky”, when he feels romantic, yet I can’t shake off the familiar sensation of the dejection that name brings, which I grew up with.
In schools, dark-skinned children are nicknamed as “crows” and when one describes a stranger in the third person, dark and fair is an adjective that always finds a way into it, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Our matrimonial advertisements have alliances sought from fair and beautiful brides and grooms. Dark-skinned girls require a large inheritance to be a saleable commodity in the marriage market. Pregnant women are made to eat pomegranate so that their newborn babies would have the coveted fair complexion. Often the home remedies and bits of advice border on the ridiculous like drinking black coffee can darken your complexion.
Family & friendly reunions have that person who would berate or compliment you on that slight change of skin tone and that person is sometimes me. The camera settings on our mobile phones are with all possible filters which would give us fair and flawless skin.
All Indians want to be fairer !!!!
Indians have now coyly admitted the racism which they name as colorism or a skin color prejudice that existed in this country even before the colonial rule. Dravidians who were the original inhabitants had dark skin tone and Aryans who migrated into the Indian sub-continent in 1500 B.C brought with them a fair skin tone.
The research article published in mcgenet.com gives detailed evidence for the European gene present in North Indians as one of the reasons for their lighter skin tone and the Dravidian gene in South Indians for their brown skin tone.
Indians who felt outraged and commented on George Floyd’s death in America were rudely told to mind their own backyard colorism, caste divisions, and Hindu Ultra Nationalism.
Indian feminists have been speaking against the FMCGS which promoted and sold beauty products that lightened skin for decades with no avail. But George Floyd incident prompted Unilever and other major international consumer brands, to remove labels such as “fair” “white” and “light” from their products, including the skin-lightening creams that are wildly popular in India thereby admitting that they were promoting racist attitudes. Now “Fair and Lovely” face cream is sold as “Glow and Lovely”
At the same time, a big Indian matchmaking website, Shaadi.com also decided to remove a filter that allowed people to select partners based on skin tone. But this did not change the “fair “adjective from matrimonial printed in newspapers.
No one expects these winds of change to blow away colorism to oblivion. It has taken such deep roots in the social perception that even a storm cannot bring it down. But yes, one might consider it a nod in the right direction.
In India, most dark-skinned women are still desperately trying to look at least a shade fairer. Our beauty salons have fairness treatments which evolve frequently, with one new ingredient replacing the other. Some use makeup that is meant for lighter-skinned women, choosing to look “whitewashed” rather than embracing their natural skin tone. Others use bleaching products. Men are in the fray too, with fairness products and treatments like “Fair and Handsome “ with A listed movie stars as the faces behind the product.
80 % of the Indian population follows Hinduism. While talking about religion, Hinduism has many powerful Gods and Goddesses who are dark-skinned. The foremost example is of Goddess Kali, the dark-skinned deity widely venerated among people all over India. Draupadi, a central character of Mahabharata is also known as Krishnaa due to her dark complexion. Lord Krishna who is one of the most worshiped of all Indian mythological characters, also an avatar of Vishnu, belonged to the clan of the cowherds in North India and was dark-skinned. But that doesn’t hold us back from being fixated with fair skin.
Image courtesy https://in.pinterest.com/pin/811844270298072202/
Indians’ prejudice doesn’t stop at skin tone. We have casteism which segregates people as upper, lower, and scheduled castes. Our application forms for education and jobs have the column for caste and sub-caste and we do have a reservation system based on caste rather than the economic background.
We also have religious discrimination and religion is the most sensitive topic which one dares not remark on, despite having constitutional freedom of speech and secularism. India when it comes to incidents of hostility related to religion, trailed only Syria, Nigeria, and Iraq, all places where sectarian violence is widespread.
Despite being a country that teaches Unity in Diversity with its distinct mixture of ethnicities, discrimination, and sometimes violence against certain ethnicities especially from North East India is prevalent. They are the butt of jokes for their similarity in appearance to people from China, and are often referred to as “chinkis” This casual racism aggravated in the time of COVID-19. They have been spat on, denied entry into shops, expelled from rented apartments, and abused on grounds of internalized racist assumptions around the virus.
Besides the discrimination towards fellow Indians, there were incidents of intolerant behavior towards foreigners. The 2017 attacks on Nigerian students were condemned as racial and xenophobic even though the Indian government tried to underplay it as random acts of violence by local miscreants.
All this put together, makes me think that, probably Indians are one among the most bigoted people and the Bible Verse “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” is truly meant for us.
The log in our eyes is stuck and teaching a new generation to think above the prejudices is as easy as averting Climate Change.
The only possible option is teaching myself that I am more than a Brown Lady and educating my children that humans share over 99 percent of their genetic material with one another and encouraging them to belong to the race of homo sapiens and not White, Black, Asian or Latino.