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.
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.
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.
I am only as dark
as the brownest person
in the room with me;
(Photographs – Thekkady, Munnar and Valparai)