The match-making party event was Nisha’s last and only shot at finding a lifelong partner. Or atleast her parent’s thought so. Nisha fidgeted with her bangles feeling claustrophobic under all the layers of Fair and Lovely face cream and pancake foundation. “This is not me!” she remembers shouting at her mom earlier that evening. “I am not going to cake up my face and look like I’m auditioning for the circus!” But she knew her frustrations were falling on deaf ears. Nisha was a hardworking social worker making large strides in her own right. She was well educated, well mannered, and pleasant. Every quality one would look for in a companion and yet she was turned down time and again. All because Nisha had one so-called flaw, which was no fault of hers – she was dark skinned.
Omar sat on the breeches with sweaty palms and clenched teeth. His town’s team was playing in the season’s first baseball game and although he wasn’t part of the team, he felt just as nervous. Omar was the cricket star of his school back home. But the sport was almost nonexistent here. While baseball was not really cricket, to him it involved a bat and a ball and fielders. Can’t be so difficult. He had self-taught himself as well as helped many of the kids in his school. On the day of the team trials, he had lined up excitedly along with his other buddies. “Shouldn’t you be trying for the chess team, lad” said the coach as he crossed his name off the list. Omar never made it to the trials. And for the longest time he couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t even give him a chance. Until that moment on the breeches. As he watched his friends take their spots on the field, he realized something for the first time – he was brown and therefore he was different.
The two stories are quite different, but they both point to the existence of one harsh reality – Colorism (discrimination against dark skin). It is so unfortunate that this word even exists in our dictionary. Just the fact that we have a term for this tells me that it is quite wide spread not just in mine or your societies, but societies all over the world. How did we get here? We were clearly not born with such innate prejudices.
In America, colorism has its origins in slavery. Preferential treatment was given to those who were light skinned while the dark skinned slaves toiled under the burning sun. In Asia, it dates back to the period of European colonialism or maybe even before that. Many of the ruling families and the privileged class in Asia were light skinned. While the laborers got sun tanned working outside, the privileged stayed out of the heat indoors. This mixed with white supremacy and there you have it.
A friend recently told me about a sunscreen he came across. It was SPF 50 and … wait for it ….. also a skin lightener! Suddenly the whole purpose of wearing sunscreen to protect against the strong rays fades away and the objective becomes to help keep the skin fair. Media and the advertising worlds have a huge fault in all of this. For years now, they have seen the existence of a large captive market and have monetized on it. They are not just trying to meet the demands of their customers, but they advertise in such a way to create new ones.
Through the course of my life, there have been more people than not who have wondered why I never got my mom’s skin color. Or even better, that I should have gotten my brother’s color and he mine. Why is a tall, dark man handsome but a dark woman, not so attractive? To all those people I say, I am not fair and couldn’t feel lovelier!
I applaud people like Nandita Das and Lupita Nyong’o for spreading the word and campaigning that dark is beautiful. I applaud children like Ahmed Mohamed whose spirits aren’t shattered by the ignorance of those around him but rather ignited to be the change the world needs.
I don’t raise my kids with the notion of skin color. Society no doubt will do that for me in time. When I ask my daughter to describe her friends, she doesn’t describe them by the color of their skin or their origin. To her Ava is tall with golden hair and Emily can swing so high. Other than that, they are all the same. That pure, unadulterated innocence is so beautiful and such a breath of fresh air. How I wish I could bottle it up.