What Color Are You?

This is a subject that is incredibly personal and painful for me to discuss. Why? Talking about it would invite pity, which I don’t like. Today, I see the cycle repeating and realize for the first time that my false pride can take a hit but this needs to be spoken of.[Day 28 of my “One Day One Blog” ]

When my brother and I were young, my parents made a conscious effort to teach us that there is just one God. Depending on the circumstances, he/she may appear as Ram or Krishnan or Jesus or Allah or Devi. And no matter whom you prayed to daily, we were all the same.

Somewhere in high school I got introduced to the caste system in our history lessons. Brahmins were considered to be the “higher” caste and Shudras the “lower” caste. The teacher unfortunately did not make it clear to our impressionable minds that the “hierarchy” in castes no longer meant anything. Perhaps, it was a conscious omission. I don’t know.

When I came home and asked my Dad he sat me down and explained how caste system came about, around the concept of specialization of labour and how that was no longer relevant in our society. I believed him.

Until I grew up and left Kerala I wasn’t really aware that most people did not think like us. Throughout my school and college life, I was also incredibly fortunate to have friends whose thinking and upbringing aligned with this. I guess you can say that I lived a life protected from the dark shadows of caste-ism.

But what I did not realize was that I was subjected to another form of racism all my life. I just never clubbed it with religion and caste related problems.

The problem of color

You see, I was born with dark skin. My Dad has a dark complexion and Mom was fair. My Dad and Mom thought I was pretty amazing. I believed them.

One day, an old school friend of my Mom bumped into us. My Mom happily introduced me to her. I recollect her first remark, “ Oh, your daughter didn’t get your complexion.” That was my 1st experience with racism.

I had an uncle who was incredibly fond of me. His favorite “compliment” for me used to be, “ She is so cute even if she is dark”. I grew up listening to this nonsense without even realizing that I was being subjected to racial abuse of a type. There are so many more such examples, but it is pointless to go into them in detail. If you are an adult, who grew up in India, you know what I am talking about.

For the longest time, I have wondered what we as a nation have against the dark skin. The only rational explanation I have come across so far is that, it has been associated with people of lower caste and therefore somehow undesirable. It is in the very nature of human beings to aspire for something better. I assume everyone aspired to belong to the “higher” classes and the love for fair skin crept in on the way. Again, this is just my theory but I have yet to come across another one.

The damage these people have inflicted on me and thousands of other boys and girls like me is unbelievable.

So when my little niece was born, it was an unspoken understanding among us adults that we would teach her that all religion is one ( it was easy as it comes naturally to us). More importantly, we would not let the stigma of “complexion” color her perspectives.

She will be five in August. Last week, she was sitting between me and her mother all excited to watch Baahubali 2. The advertisements were on in PVR. And Vicco Turmeric Advertisement was on which sang the praises of turmeric for a beautiful skin (I think they were politically correct and did not say fair skin, just a glowing complexion). But of course, with a very fair model. At the middle of the advertisement my niece turns around and tells her Mom, “ Mamma, please buy that for me. I want to be fair”. This is my not-yet-5-year-old niece.

Both of us were shocked. And hurt. After all our efforts, we still could not protect her. Later in the day, I saw her Mom trying to explain how both dark and fair complexions are equally beautiful.

I have a bevy of nieces and nephews who were born in the last one year. And I hear these dialogue, not from the older generation but from ours.

Oh Wow…How did the baby become so fair when both the parents are dark

Oh my God… the child did not get her Mom’s fair complexion…How sad!

Don’t take her outside; she will lose what little colour she has

Oh the baby is so dark… anyways, it’s a boy so that’s not too bad

This is not a scene from twenty years ago. All these were words flying around me in the last 1 year alone.

I am just too numb to react when another generation is being brought up with their confidence shattered to pieces.

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Friends, this is the Day 28 of my odyssey to write one blog EVERY DAY for the month of May 2017. “One Day, One Blog

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