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I’d Rather Be Dark-Skinned Than Have Darkness In My Heart – Why We Need To Address Colourism

Posted: June 23, 2020

Racism, casteism, colourism and body shaming are a part of our society, often disguised under the garb of ‘jokes.’ This why they need to be addressed.

‘Omg itni kaali kaise ho gayi tu?’ ‘Muslimon jaise kapde kyun pehne hain?’ ‘Arre chamar lag raha hai be tu’ ‘Arre bahut aam kha raha hai. Pet kam kar yaar!’

These are just some of the casual comments Indians throw at each other from time to time aren’t they? Right from body shaming to being racist and casteist, we do it all. It is appalling to think how we as a community, partake in these acts almost everyday and hide it under the guise of ‘just kidding!’

Why do aunties have separate cups and plates for those who are a different religion, caste or class from us. Just because! And, uncles don’t mind commenting on someone’s body shape or size publicly. The mention of a different religion, caste or even class sets off alarms in our heads as if it’s time to be prepared and armed for the unnatural to occur.

Oh the love for ‘fair and lovely!’

Anyway, here, I only want to focus on colour. So let’s get back to our love for the fair and, hence, lovely!

Colour and caste are interconnected in India. And they have taken roots so deep and strong, most of us are unaware of how tragically we suffer from prejudices based on them.

Rang saaf hai,’ is problematic because it assumes that anything dark is not ‘saaf‘ (literally means clean) or in other words, is ‘ganda‘ (dirty)

Hindu gods are also pretty complicated when it comes to colour. I might go into that in detail in a separate post some day.

We don’t even spare our children. Do we? ‘Yaar tu to gori hai, tera bachcha kala kaise ho gaya?’ (OMG! You’re so fair, how is your child so dark?)

The even more subtle hints can be found in statements like – ‘Put some ubtan on him/her and see the difference in a month’s time.’ ‘Arre baahar dhoop mein zyada mat ghoom beta. Complexion kharab ho jayega na.’ (Don’t roam around too much in the sun, your complexion will be damaged)

We are raised with coloured biases

How can we face our own biases and those of our society/communities on a daily basis? And how can we at least take that first step toward finding a solution to the intrinsic biases? These roots have taken a bias because of the way we have been raised

It’s important to keep a check on our own privileges. And to work towards more inclusion and compassion for the ones who suffer only because they are darker skinned or belong to a different caste or class.

Let me go back in time to my school days, when for a brief period, I was called ‘Kaali Mai.’ I was told by a loved one to take it as a compliment. Why? Well, we do have a Hindu goddess named Kali so why take offence?

This must be when I had just entered my teens. But way before that, something similar happened. I was asked to play a bear because, of course, I couldn’t be the rabbit. My friend, who was among the fairest kids in class, was chosen to be the rabbit.

Did it affect me then? Actually no, back then, it didn’t. But it affected me much later when I was told to play the brown bear instead of the white rabbit. 

Did I rub my skin harder in the shower to feel fairer? Maybe yes or maybe not. So yes, I’ve faced it too.

Why is fair considered the ‘best’?

It’s crazy how my classmates found it amusing to call me ‘Kaali Mai.’ Not a single friend of mine objected to it or questioned it. Children can be pretty cruel, you see. They learn from what they see and hear around them, in their homes, their immediate friend circle and in schools. (India of the 1990s wasn’t too keen on self reflection, you see)

Children don’t have the capacity to be sensitive, without positive intervention or reaffirmations. Of course, there are exceptions. I sometimes wonder how much of that sensitivity can be termed innate. Children’s upbringing shapes their thoughts and views of the world. They do what they see.

That Indian women perpetuate colourism (similar to racism and yet, different) more than the men is what I have personally experienced. They are conditioned to think that fair is the best! Be it the mother who wants a fair bride for her son or the grandma who prays for a ‘gora’ grandchild.

Dark men want fair wives and dark women also prefer fairer men. All this simply, so that, at least, their unborn child is fair. Yes it is that twisted!

Let’s stop obsessing over fairness, shall we?

So first and foremost, women please stop obsessing over getting ‘fairer or having a lighter complexion than your natural one. Let’s be proud of our skin colour and own it like queens. And let’s not but products that make us fairer and our skins lighter. 

It’s also high time mothers stop rubbing the crap out of their babies in order to make them look a shade fairer. And if those around you have a problem with you child’s complexion, stop them and ask them to explain in detail as to why they said what they said.

I mean it. Doesn’t matter if it’s your own mother or your aunt or that friendly neighbour. (Of course, the list includes the men too!)

Change your own heart towards the biases that exist in your head. Ask yourself why you get uncomfortable when someone comments on your skin colour. Are you the one who gave them a chance to do it since you don’t love yourself enough and have been negative about it? Give this one a thought first.

Are you intervening every single time someone points out your colour or your caste or your body shape/size to you? The battle against prejudice is a practice and unless you do it daily, it won’t transform into change at any level.

Call things out when they seem wrong

You have to call out the sexism, the racism, the colourism that’s all around us. Really, you cannot be a silent observer or receiver and tell yourself “Oh let me just stay away from such people.” No! That’s escapism and nothing else. So don’t indulge in it.

This goes for all the other types of shaming that are prevalent in the name of “I care about you, that’s why…”

I’ve had more than a couple friends who messaged me saying they so want to talk to their family or relatives about certain issues but fail most times. Either they lack the courage or they don’t have the right argument to support their viewpoint.

Here’s what I think we can do in such situations.

Deal with arguments like a pro

Be informed.

Educate yourself on the history of the issue you want to talk about. Find the right resources to support your stance. You have to be armed with the right knowledge so that you don’t succumb to the emotions that can fly high during such discussions.

Be compassionate.

Remember where the other person is coming from. Of course, a person’s background or age doesn’t give them the authority to be racist or be part of casteism. But as a wise person, you need to put yourself in their shoes to understand how to make your point in a way that they’ll at least think about it.

Share on social media

Social media today is an excellent medium to share your thoughts. Don’t shy away from sharing what you feel about certain social evils without blocking certain friends and family members. Let them read what you think. Be courageous. It’s okay to have a different point of view. You don’t have to please everyone every time.

Don’t be arrogant

But don’t be arrogant about it. Always be open to discussion and debate. Let them know how strongly you feel about certain social issues and how much you want to engage positively to bring about a change. It might get awkward or uncomfortable the next you meet them and have the conversation, but that would be the very first step towards change.

But look after yourself too

Call it out

If you’re part of a WhatsApp/social media group that supports racism or sexism in the form of cheap jokes and distasteful memes, please call them out. You might get blocked but that would be great wouldn’t it?

Minimise your interaction with people who affect you

For your mental health, minimise your interaction with those who are adamant about their prejudices or those who just don’t want to look within. It’s better to stay away from toxic relationships that affect your mental health and peace. You absolutely have the right to do so. Just be civil whenever you see/meet them. And please, pick your battles.

It is up to us to change the world and set the right example for our children. The very first step is to accept that you HAVE prejudices. There’s hardly any person in this world who doesn’t. We’ve all been conditioned that way by society. Believe me.

It is up to us to make changes right now

For those who are parents or have children in their household, talk to them about differences of colour, caste and gender in a way they understand. You might shield them from the issues at home. But once they’re out in the world, they’ll face them and might also become a part of the problem.

Let’s start with our homes and those in our immediate environment.

PS: You might not end up as the most popular relative but there are chances you will sleep more peacefully at night, knowing you’re trying your best.

Remember, dark is just the absence of light, the light of compassion in one’s heart.

A version of this was earlier published here.

Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Bala

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A former journalist, a freelance content creator and a mom blogger who can be found

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