I am from India and for far too long I have observed a casual wave of racism in our conversations. Somehow reducing someone to their melanin comes naturally to certain people, how unnatural is that? Now, I may raise a lot of eyebrows for even mentioning this. Some of you may tell me that things are definitely improving and people now are more aware and open-minded and I’m proud of that but this isn’t about how far we have come, it’s about how far we still need to go. 

To seed any thought (positive/negative), one needs to start young. I have seen newborn kids being pitied for being dark, the new mother wasn’t given wisdom on how to take care of the child and congratulated on having a healthy baby — rather she was given various home remedies to lighten the kid’s skin:

  • “If you start now, at least it won’t go darker later!”
  • “Don’t take the kid out in the sun too much!”
  • “Massage the kid’s body with milk and sandalwood paste.”

We love controlling things we have absolutely no control over, how frustratingly ironic!

I have always cringed and felt something wasn’t right whenever I heard someone have an opinion on someone’s skin color, and this was as young as 7-8 years old. I always wondered and asked about the craze behind light skin. I was often told that I should be thankful that I wasn’t dark so this shouldn’t really concern me. Wrong on so many levels, right? Recently, someone shared why Indians are this obsessed with fair skin, it went to the times britishers invaded and colonised us. They were white, wealthy, preferred and had a sense of superiority and they ruled us for 200 years, so three generations grew up believing these notions. These were only ingrained and firmly cemented by capitalism and cinema later. Fairness creams targeting people’s self-esteem by stating that anything is possible if you better your skin color – unmarried girls easily get married and men are taken seriously at their workplace. Having dark skin was seen as a big hurdle to live your life peacefully. 

Dark equals ugly and undesirable. In fact, I remember a whole TV show (more like a telenovela) based on this notion. “Two Girls,” one super fair and one super dark grow up together and the one who is dark is talented but no one ever gives her enough credit and later the fair girl gets married easily and the dark girl somehow suffers in silence (she does get married later but why the wait? Why the struggle?). In another show, a fair-skinned girl is turned “dark and ugly” with makeup because her mother is scared of long standing enemy who, according to her, would fall for her fair and beautiful daughter but would never consider her if she was dark skinned.

You would think it’s a figment of my imagination and I really wish it was. These narratives are not only watched and celebrated, it’s also reality for a lot of families. So, it’s a two-way street — people practicing it and TV shows pandering to the audience and strengthening these ideas. 

This past week has been quite eye-opening for me and I reflected on how I should change the narrative for my future kids, so here’s what I came up with: 

  1. READ books that are diverse in terms of stories and authors. Let’s break away from the fair-skinned Cinderellas and sleeping beauties.  
  2. ENCOURAGE dialogue with them about colorism and racism. 
  3. TEACH them all the things that you had to unlearn after knowing better. Like dark = unfortunate.
  4. CALL OUT racist jokes and remarks in front of them so that they remember to do the same when their time comes. 
  5. CHALLENGE stereotypes associated with a particular race and skin type — this would open their horizons. 
  6. WATCH shows, documentaries, and movies that talk about these issues. 
  7. ACCEPT uncomfortable questions and conversations. Stop brushing these aside or distracting them. 
  8. EDUCATE about learning new perspectives without getting their ego in between. Learning something new and changing opinions should be normalised! 

What would you add to this list for the future generation? Let’s have this conversation and educate each other. 

Madhu Narayan
Mondays with Madhu
Guest blogger, Plant Life Meals