All through my growing up years, I had this fascination for fair skin. I used to gawk and gape at heroines with extremely fair skin, dancing away in beautiful clothes on my television screen. Not once did I realize that it was just layers and layers of makeup! It was during my teenage years that many racist fairness creams started rolling out and I was genuinely curious about them. I always thought "How can creams enhance your skin color. That is something you acquire through your genes?"
But due to peer pressure and teenage complex issues, I gave in and discussed at length about fairness and improving one's skin complexion with girl friends. This trend continued even during the graduation days and I was starting to get obsessed with skin lightening and improving the complexion.
I spent hundreds of rupees on face masks and creams that promised bright skin tone. I used to make a paste of besan (gram flour), haldi (turmeric) and chandan (sandalwood) religiously every Sunday. I did everything to improve my skin that was already fairly decent.
But things started getting worse in due course!
When I started my internship, I had to travel long distances almost every day. The client's office would be at the other end of the city and I had to travel in public transport in the scorching heat. My skin took the bullet. I started getting acne, dark patches of skin became prominent and in a nutshell, my skin was turning dark.
I was constantly questioned about my skin color. I received suggestions and DIY masks for "rectifying" the discoloration of my skin. Every function I went to, my weight and skin color would be the hot topic. My mom used to get calls from relatives who would outrageously suggest remedies because I was a girl of marriageable age! That episode of my life was enough to pull down my confidence and shatter them into pieces.
In India, many people face such humiliation, especially girls. Their body, skin, hair becomes the topic for discussion. Because who will marry a girl who is dark skinned!
Our previous generations have been living a lie that "Fair is Beautiful". What they do not understand is that the skin color has nothing to do with our personality. We are always taught the lesson that fair skin gives us superiority over others. And I believe this whole "being fair is the best" thought came from colonization. Especially in India!
There is even a dialogue in a Tamil movie comedy scene where the comedian who is dark skinned is thrashed after the fair skinned hero instigates the crowd and when he asks why was he beaten up , the crowd replies that "vellai ah irukaravan poi solla matan!" which when roughly translated into English means "A white person won't speak lies." We all might laugh heartily at that joke but there is a very deep rooted problem attached to that single sentence.
Indians have always been brown. We were never meant to be fair skinned. But with the colonization, Britishers (fair skinned) ruled over us (brown skinned). Our ancestors were enslaved and made to feel inferior. This was the root cause of all the racist problems that we are facing today.
Not just India. In many countries and civilizations where the natives have been enslaved, tortured and colonized, the problem of racism and discrimination has taken a monstrous shape.
The concept of superiority and inferiority is still prevalent. That is the reason why we undergoing a major humanitarian crisis of this magnitude. Once we all understand that humans need not be same but they are all equal, half the problems would be solved.
The current generation is aware. We are aware of the disastrous effects of obsession of fair skin. Yet we are falling prey. We are falling prey to multi million dollar companies that are making huge profits by cashing on our obsession. There are so many products available in the market that we are confused.
The problem grew out of proportions and only when George Floyd's case came up and #BlackLivesMatter happen, did we all understand the magnanimity of the situation. The voices are amplifying against color discrimination and for celebrating diversity.
And as a parent, especially as a mother who was once obsessed with skin lightening creams, I am able to relate more to the problem we are all facing. The situation has taken a diabolic turn and it is imperative that we teach our children about diversity, racism, discrimination based on color and other related issues.
Five Ways To Teach Our Children About Color Discrimination
1. Start young
It is important that we teach our kids from a very young age that discrimination on the basis of color is not right. We, as parents, should never hesitate about initiating the topic. When your child asks you questions, however uncomfortable, inappropriate or strange they might be, it is our duty to answer them. Teach them to be more empathetic and sensitive towards others and their skin colors. When we evade questions, children will form an impression the topic is a taboo and will end up forming wrong opinions.
2. Empower them
As parents it is our duty to empower our to think differently. We should encourage them to adopt a thought process that is prudent. We should teach them about the various cultures that are in existence, how people belong to these cultures and they are different. We should emphasize on the fact that though each person is different, they are not the same yet they are are equal. We should teach them to understand the inner qualities of the person rather than the external skin color.
3. Ignorance is a sin
When we come across our children passing comments that are hurtful, racist and discriminatory, it is our duty to condemn such acts. Ignoring their mistakes could prove to be fatal in the future. It is not necessary that we should come down strict on them but we should take this as an opportunity to sit with them and discuss about the issues openly. It is important that we sit down and explain to them how hurt a person can be when he or she is discriminated on the basis of color. Question the children as to how they would feel if they were bullied in a similar fashion.
4. Use age appropriate activities
Media plays a very important role in a child's life. Introduce various age appropriate activities which teaches them about racism and color discrimination. Talk about various cultures, take them to cultural festivals, introduce and encourage them to read books that educates them about diversity in a fun way. Use science to teach them what melanin is and why some people are dark while some are not. Teach them to be more curious!
5. Be a role model
In the end, we parents are our children's role models. When we see racial discrimination or someone using racial slurs, call them out immediately and condemn them. Our kids learn from us. They try to ape what we do. Also encourage them to do the same when they see kids of their age bully kids of other cultures or demean them for their race.
Our kids are the future of this planet. Our forefathers have done enough damage to our society and we are only blindly carrying forward the mantle though we are aware of the damage it will cause. That is even more dangerous. It is time to put off our mantles and show the right path for our kids. It is time for the world to come together and put a full stop to discrimination.