Monday, October 17, 2016

Fair skin racism: Why we must shun it right now

A visit to the Kirana store can sometimes be a big leap towards insanity. The big cut-outs of fair women smiling at me is not a very happy sight. And the shopkeeper at the big kirana store in the central market, is the only one who stocks up the lotions and potions. While many times he runs short of a basic moisturizer, you will surely find fairness cream tubes of various sizes and types at his store. You name it and he has it, from Fair and Lovely to Garnier and even those for men. It is amusing that despite not being a country of Caucasians Indian people lunge behind fair skin. 
As a young girl I was a fan of basketball and remember dribbling the ball with my best friend at a time of the day when the sun was spewing fire. Both of us never bothered, and by the time we hurriedly paced towards the classroom for the next period, we were sun-burnt. The nastiest May heat couldn't scare us and there we were, two Indian girls fascinated by tanning. While many of our other girl friends hid in the classrooms, petrified of sun burns and skin darkening, we made sure that we hopped around in the basketball court and didn't hide from the angry sun. 


The very first time I tasted a racist remark was when I was in class 11th. A very good male friend of mine, atleast I thought he was, referred to me as 'kalicharan'. I laughed over it twice, trying my best to not make a mountain out of a molehill. Thereby, the jibe used to echo through the corridors of the senior section floor in the school building. I decided to dismiss it as a joke until it started to irritate me. I remember the days when I used to hide behind the classroom doors and take a turn when I used to spot him walking towards me. I had become a victim of the fear that had dug deep into my psyche because of the racist prejudices that youngsters had been unhealthily fed on, in their families and by the society. After many such occasions of hushing up and trying to beat the fear, one day I confronted him and gave him a huge piece of my mind. Since then the guy came back to his senses and never used derogatory words of any kind, against anyone. That was perhaps the first time that I stood up for myself as a girl and a human, who was more than her skin color. The 'kali' word although got stuck in my head. I started using 'Fair and Lovely' which thankfully broke me out terribly, and I decided to give up on it. 

The second such instance that shook my belief in our society, happened in college. My seniors on the day of the ragging, riled a racist remark against me. The one famously used by fair skinned punjabis for South Indians 'madrasi'. Although both my spoken English and Hindi had no tinge of a south Indian accent, it was my skin color that gave them the idea about my roots. What followed was a complaint that led to the suspension of the my racist seniors for a week. Another happening that gave way to the return of fairness creams in my life was a family friend's concerned advice for me. I had already given a whirl to the best brand of fairness cream once, all thanks to the racist prejudices that the indian society uses as a yardstick to measure the worth of a person. This racist blabbermouth gave me a nightmare when he warned me to stay vigilant and rub the tan out of my face, since most Indian grooms prefer a fair skinned girl. Yes indeed, as I began to grey the Indian society started to lose its face. I was also directed with advice on how could sandalwood, turmeric and mud masks could make me fairer and thus get me acceptance and respect.  
Those matrimonial advertisments gave me an idea of how deeply prejudiced and racist we are. I am yet to understand the relationship between a woman's skin color and her prospects of finding a life partner. That makes me wonder, is a woman a show piece that needs to christen itself to the cause of being a social artefact that the parents can flaunt before marriage, and the husband and in-laws after marriage. I haven't used fairness creams since then and discourage women from using it. 
Many fairness creams have been reported to be using high levels of mercury, chromium and nickel which are carcinogenic. Fairness creams lead to the thinning of skin and since it reduces the production of melanin, may also lead to skin cancer. It is depressing to realize that women like you and me are using or did use these creams at some point in our lives to feed the aggressive prejudices of a sexist racist society. 
Celebrities like Shahrukh Khan are promoting 'Fair and Handsome' for men and Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif bat for Garnier Light and Olay Fairness cream respectively. The latest to join the bandwagon of celebrities speaking for fairness products is Yami Gautum for Fair and Lovely. Also John Abraham endorses men's fairness cream for Garnier. Such famous celebrities with a huge fan following promoting the fairness myth is adding fuel to the fire. Meanwhile celebrities like Kangana Ranaut refusing to endorse a fairness brand and Nandita Das launching the 'Dark is Beautiful' campaign is creating awareness and educating the biased Indian against myths that advocate fairness. Vaseline has the fairness body lotion for you and brands like Dove has a whitening underarm deodorant which took the fairness frenzy to a dangerously ridiculous low. 

The winner of course, was the Clean and Dry intimate wash launched in 2012 which took the fairness fascination to the erogenous zone, insulting every nook and cranny of a woman's body. Which they think must have a fair face, fair body, fair underarms and a fair yoni only because fair emits more light and can be seen clearly. India has achieved a new low in 'consumer capitalism' that targets the fear factor etched in our minds by a racist sexist prejudiced hypocrite of a society. 

Oh yes! I forgot to tell you. I recently saw an advertisement of a fairness oil for babies on a Malayalam channel. Enough said? Just tells you of the demons we try to fight, everyday. Now I know why as a young girl I had to put up with belittling comments on my dark skin, because right from their childhood, children are fed with the perception that fair skin is beautiful and it will get them acceptance and accolades as opposed to a person with a brown skin who'll be treated as an outcaste.




A few months ago all hell broke loose, when Tannishta Chatterjee had to bear the brunt of racist jokes on Comedy nights Bachao, a roast comedy show. She was picketed for being brown skinned and the only attribute that the organizers and performers on the show found that they could make fun  of, was her dark skin colour. This episode again raised questions against the deeply rooted racist prejudices that we Indians suffer from, exposing the hypocrisy that maligns our society. In her facebook post, she has also written about how she was often asked about her surname which points to the caste she belongs to, and most people wonder in amusement as to how could a person belonging to the upper caste have brown skin?

As I was sitting in front of the computer screen and recalling my experiences of being bullied for having brown skin,I was wondering about the double standards we show when we raise red flags against the west for discrimination based on skin colour. I am amused as to how we decide to unite and throw stones at people in the US, UK or Australia for not being acceptable of brown skinned and black skinned people but ourselves practice skin-colour racism each and every day of our lives.  


In a country, where even in the 21st century it is imperative to be fair skinned to find a groom or get a promotion or a new job, where skin whitening products sell like hot cakes,a joke on a woman's brown skin is racist prejudice and not definitely a comical joke, and Tannishta Chatterjee should be praised for bringing to light the disrespectful attitude shown towards her by the organizers of a roast show.
India happens to be the largest consumer of whitening and brightening products. That is an honest witness to the racist prejudices that we suffer from everyday, but much before we fall prey to a world that discriminates on skin colour let us accept ourselves as we are, with the plus-size body, dark skin, the scars on the face or the misplaced teeth or imperfect jaw line. A conscious calling to happily say yes to the person you see in the mirror everyday with their imperfections, will not let the capitalist sharks feed on you, to fill their pockets.

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