2015: A rackety race odyssey

Greater Racket-Tailed Drongos are whirling dervishes who frequent foothills. Black is not just the colour of their plumage. It runs through their soul. And it gives them an air of magnificence. They are cloaked in shadowy panache. In human beings though, this end of the colour spectrum is treated with ignorance and superficiality.

I find discrimination by skin colour to be a synecdoche for India being socially-backward. Colourism is as much a form of racism as it is a reiteration of our identity crises. It is omnipresent in the politics of language, religion, caste and economic statuses. It may not dictate major governmental policies or spark large-scale riots.

But there is still a disturbing and popular belief that fair skin will get you ahead in life, whether at work, home or anywhere else in India.

Racket tailed Drongo
It may not be a device to blatantly fuel hatred and marginalization as evidenced in other countries. We are subtle in minimizing each other’s cultural and historical identities based on skin tones. We make insensitive jokes about it under the pretext of hyper-socializing. We sexualize the aesthetics of fair skin and glamorize the allegories associated with it. It is why a product as insensitively branded as Fair & Lovely is a hot-seller in local cosmetic industries.

The arranged marriage system is an indication of just how commonplace it is in India. Anyone who has been through this meat grinder can attest to being privy to awkward conversations around it. Admitting to dark pigmentation is viewed as the antithesis of showcasing an international visa status or wealth in land properties. Matrimonial websites and brokers have such detailed parameters to market one’s exact skin tone.Racket-Tailed Drongo

Local cinema is another culprit. Especially the decisions around casting actresses. About 99% of them are light-skinned. Even if a little dusky, there is either an insensitive joke about it or her pigmentation is an important part of a so-called liberal story-line.

There are a bunch of other reasons too. The most troubling part about the issue is how desensitized we are about it. Colourism isn’t a part of many popular discourses. At least not in my urban social circles. It goes to reiterate how Indians choose to ignore whatever isn’t of direct and grave consequence to their lives.

In fact I can only remember two occasions when it stirred strong reactions from me. The first was when I heard a new classmate in high school crack a joke about my colour. The other time had an old lady passing a crude remark about sycophantic desire to have fair-skinned grand children. In neither situation did I feel anger on behalf of my fellow Indians; only that I was specifically targeted because of my appearance.

Maybe we, as Indians, feel guilty about standing up against it, given how insensitive we are in other matters concerning religion, caste, sexual preferences and native tongues. Having said all that, my perspective on colourism is probably hypocritical given how quick I am – at times – to socially judge people based on which part of India they hail from.

Perhaps we can all afford to lose a few biases without losing any part of ourselves.

Racket-Tailed Drongo

Dark room

I am only as dark
as the brownest person
in the room with me;
uncomfortably blind,
unsuitably free.

(Photographs – Thekkady, Munnar and Valparai)

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35 comments

  1. I’d like to think that my “Naked Waves” post yesterday, the soil/flesh inference, may have helped trigger this fine piece. If not, don’t tell me 🙂 Both are universally connected in my head. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. psssttt I think so too, comrade.

      Colour should have little to do with aesthetics of human skin me thinks too. For instance – folks songs are beautiful in very different ways from downtempo music. neither’s tempo nor lyricism can be comparable. I’m sure there’s an apples and oranges metaphor somewhere that i am avoiding just to complicate matters.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How boring would it be if we all looked the same?! There’s a reason shades are exploited in aesthetics the way they are. Um, hellloooo, they’re beautiful 😛

        I LOVE folk music, such a rustic, original, earth driven, soul quivering experience every time a folk song is played, and as Indians we are so blessed to have the variety that we do 🙂

        Haha, the concept is very simple really, it’s just everyone else who desires to complicate matters 😀 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Here again, the U. S. has more than its share of this madness, too. African-Americans used to talk about “improving the color” as they chose spouses with an eye to children. Maybe they still do. See also the official portrait of the Governer of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, who is, in real life, several shades darker than he was painted.

    Race is as much a false cultural construct as color differences are within a “race,” when used to the detriment of one group. That’s one reason our family is proud of the openness of our children, who have given us grandchildren with backgrounds of three different “races.” Perhaps someday we’ll all be beyond this, a lovely caramel color.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A false cultural construct indeed, that about encapsulates the issue. The African American comparison is fiercely relatable on one side, on several others it is not. We have had a dark skinned Islamic dravidian and a woman for presidents but neither did much for marginalisation notwithstanding how critical their roles were. One could argue the same about American shores too, I suppose. Of course here colorism is a social issue, not one threatening political governance.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I was talking about it at a social level, my friend. I don’t think any country is holistically racist by nature. It’s just my humble opinion that enough evidence exists in Indian societies for it to be a part of public discourse. I hope I haven’t offended your sentiments as an Indian. Thank you for the comment!

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  3. there are some advantages to be blind, such as not seeing the sad separations some minds make believe. Yet, I hold hope that, each day, kind hearts and open minds slowly melt the evil iceberg of discrimination.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, the issue does exist though, as you too mentioned, it is at a social level. It exists in all parts of India in whatever subtle or obvious manner it exhibits itself.

    Probably after years of being ruled by race/s that had much fairer skin than even the fairest of fair native Indians, there arose within Indians, some complexes about skin color as well as about their native Indian languages besides many other things. People, that is the masses, emulate their king or the ruler esp. if the sophisticated rulers back then were not one of us but considered themselves to be much superior than the ‘coolies’ they were ruling upon. It becomes a love-hate relationship with such rulers.
    Hence, it’s not just a fairer skin color but also a person’s expertise in a particular language (the one that I’m using right now) that continues to be passionately and overtly worshiped in India.

    But of course, that’s not the only reason. Moreover, this psychological impact is now hard to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point, Alka, The colonial hangover played a rule in it for sure. As for language, I think we can blame the government a little for that. Having a national language beats the purpose of “unity in diversity”, if you ask me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, the language is a reminder of its colonial origins and it does overshadow our mother tongue/s in each part of India, but it also plays a binding role as it brings people from various states together. Everything comes with a price though – some loss of basic Indian identity.
        I know what you mean. Each state should continue to use its own language for all purposes.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Learnt a new word today 😀 (synecdoche)
    Judging people from other parts… Hehehe. I used to go through this phase where I decided I wouldn’t give in to generalizations and any preconceived notions I had about certain groups of people, but then they tended to disappoint me. Later I thought, maybe the trick is to expect some irritation, and then be mildly surprised. 😛
    Loved your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I learnt that word after watching a movie. Synecdoche, New York. Some mesmerising scenes in it (youtube one called “the funeral” when free)

      I like your theory of lowered expectations, makes sense given all we know. Thanks buddy!

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      1. Ahh no no I didn’t mean our lives suck and then we die hehe it just seemed like a poignant perspective. When you have the time, google “Calvin Hobbes Mars is amazing” and laugh it off!

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  6. Excellent expression of a topic that is so difficult to approach in so many cultures. On another note: the phrase “Greater Racket-Tailed Drongos are whirling dervishes who frequent foothills.” is awesome outside of the central context of the post. Still you use these birds to turn the notion of “fairness” on its head. Great work.

    Liked by 1 person

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