Opinion & Analysis

Would people love me more if I had lighter skin?

7:38 PM, May 30, 2017

India(Maharashtra):India 'isn't racist,' instead some say it is just 'color-conscious'.

There are many reports about Indian migrants facing racism in Europe, Australia and America. In most cases, victims say they are identified as Indians by their skin color.

The reports are often followed up in India with media commentaries pitying the attackers and saying that India has a superior culture and no racism but the fact is most Indians do not recognize how racial and insensitive they are in everyday life.

Media reports offer copious examples of unchecked racial abuse in India. The attacks on African nationals studying in India is only one of them.

In 2016, Congolese national M.K. Oliver was killed in an attack. Following a string of violent incidents against Africans in New Delhi in April, former parliamentarian Tarun Vijay said in a television discussion that Indians are not racist. But what he said revealed just the opposite.

"If we were racist, why would we have the entire south [of India]? … Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra states … why do we live with them? We have black people all around us," Vijay said. Other than being the butt of jokes, the politician faced no pushback for his comments.

Let us be fair: we have a fondness for fairness. Our ignorance mistakes fair skin as beautiful, pure and innocent. Listen to the umpteen movie songs extolling the skin color of the heroine. Without shame and regret we sing those songs but they express the racial outlook of Indian society.

On a daily basis, we see advertisements promoting products that will change the skin tone of women and men. We want to see women as "fair and beautiful" and men as "fair and handsome." The wanted ads for arranged marriages most often insist on girls who are "fair" or at least "wheat colored." Ironically, those behind the ads say they are only expressing a need and are not being racist.

The quest for fairness has created a multi-million-dollar business. India's skin whitening market was worth US$432 million in 2010, according to market researchers ACNielsen. The business is growing at a rate of 18 percent annually with advertisements asserting the need to be fair, a need that every Indian understands without explanation.  

Being dark is one thing but being a dark-skinned woman is a curse. A dark-skinned girl has to listen to remedial advice almost daily. "Do not drink too much tea or coffee, do not to play in the sun, apply a fairness cream," for example.

Some are generous enough to express their pity for dark-skinned girls. "Don't worry, your color will improve when you grow up," they say as if that is consoling!
Dusky women experience open discrimination. On many occasions they are put down, type-cast and shamed. Sometimes teachers publicly call them "dark and ugly." They are, even if talented, almost always not welcome in stage performances. Some job advertisements explicitly ask for "fair women" for front office work.

India's mass media, including movies and television, also makes fun of dark-skinned people and sometimes comedians and villains are deliberately depicted as dark-skinned. If you tell people this is racism, some firmly disagree "No, it's color-consciousness," they say.

Would people love me more if I had a lighter shade? It is a question that pestered me during my adolescence. Later, I realized, I cannot be sad over something that I cannot control. Now I know how awful it was to think so low of myself. I have always been gorgeous. It eventually seeped into me that brown is beautiful and I love my color.

The issue is much deeper. It is entangled in India's cultural and religious concepts and market manipulations.

Facets of the Hindu mythology reiterate the idea that black symbolizes evil, dirt and destruction. All evil figures are depicted as dark, giving the idea that being dark-skinned is bad, evil and destructive.

Color-consciousness also comes from India's deep-rooted caste system, where dark-skinned people are usually associated with lower castes. An odd blend of racism, prejudice, ignorance and centuries-old discriminatory practices form this system that has grown the skin whitening market.

Modern marketing techniques use wrong cultural concepts to sell products that would otherwise have no market. In the past 25 years, after India opened up its market, skin fairness products helped further racial prejudice against dark-skinned people without any social or administrative objection.

However, we see a silver lining in people's growing awareness. The Times of India some time back apologized for speaking about skin shades in matrimonial ads and promised not to repeat the mistake. Media also reported about some celebrities speaking up against racial behavior in Indian society and media.

Will color-consciousness end in India? Not until we create an ideal society and a market that does not depend on exploiting people's fear, insecurity and timidity for profit.

Laveena Francis is journalist based in Mumbai.

Source: UCAN

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