January 23, 2017

Awaiting colours of change

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It's the morning rush hour. In between flipping the dosa on the steaming pan, I scurry towards the bathroom door, impatiently asking R to hurry up and finish his bath. I scamper back to the kitchen to finish packing the lunch boxes, feeling the pressure of the husband's temporary absence which would have otherwise let me concentrate on just one part of the early-hour circus at home.

"Amma, I'm done. Please get the towel," screamed R into the empty room. Finally, I mutter and stride back to help him get dressed for school. My hands work quickly in tandem, patting him dry and squeezing the moisturizer into my palms when I notice R's. They have a flaky white colour to them, the one that comes with the skin being in contact with excessive foam and water. I apply a generous dose of the creamy lotion over them as I gently rebuke R for using so much soap.

"But, I want my skin to be light. I like light skin not dark" he quips, in almost a matter-of-fact tone.

My hands stop briefly, the mind numb over how to respond; myriad thoughts flogging the brain. How and when did the colour bias make way into a child's mind? I asked him where he heard about the advantages of having a light-coloured skin. He replied that his friend at school had divulged about how having a fairer skin tone makes someone stronger than the rest.

I looked up into R's earnest eyes. I wanted to hold him and soothe him yet I saw that he didn't seem to be wounded by the racist remark. At this tender age, he took his friend's words at face value and only wanted to rectify nature's ways in a manner he thought possible. Even though there was no apparent malice behind the other child's statement, that a skin tone had to be dragged into a child's world made me wonder how these ideas were implanted in the first place.

With all the honesty I could muster, I firmly stated that the skin colour had nothing to do with how a person turns out to be. Strength, poise, dignity, attitude, are all attributes one had to cultivate and nurture from within and the colour of the outer skin has no roleplay in this, whatsoever. R nodded his head solemnly. I wasn't sure he understood completely. There was so much more to add and share, but that would have to wait for the time being. I had to rush.The bus was here. We hugged, said our goodbyes and I lingered a bit longer as the bus rolled away into the street.

I mulled over the episode. I sighed. Not much had changed in the social conditioning yet I couldn't believe that such a discussion could creep in at such a young age. Who could be at fault here? The parents? Relatives? Media? Other kids? The society?

It's probably a mix of all of the above. Years of being slaves to the whites who are synonymous with wealth, culture, power, and for some reason beauty, we have unwittingly bent our knees to this rather foolish ideology of needing to discard the dark shades, albeit literally. If the common man and underdogs have a reason to fall prey, I wonder about the compulsions of the influential and the successful who endorse fairness products and have even undergone cosmetic overhauls to go from brown to white.

Images from my own past came back to me. As a young girl, I'd want to keep the back of my hands facing out because they were lighter in colour. I remember comparing my complexion with that of my mother and sister who are fairer than me and wishing I were not so dark. I recall clearly, from my early teens, that nasty remark from a playmate who called me a "coal". He thought he was being funny. The irony? His skin shade was several times darker than mine! I remember my mother telling me that I was beautiful and reminding me to focus on my talents. Still, those were impressionable years and there was an unmet desire to fit into the society's standards of acceptance.

As I grew up, I began to acknowledge my skills with the quiet realization that they had no relevance or relation to my skin pigmentation. I also learned to shove these demons at the far end of the mind whenever they threatened to corrode my confidence. Just as I thought I was fairly successful at accepting myself, I entered the matrimony arena where the colour of your skin took precedence over all your other accomplishments. The unabashed ask of an educated professional yet homely, good-looking and above all a fair-skinned girl for the 95% of the grooms listed was simply disturbing to put it very mildly.

For a condition inflicted largely by the society, it's rather unfair that the individual victims have to undertake the journey towards healing, rather alone. For, even though you might have the support of the immediate family and friends circle, it takes a good deal of effort to build your own resistance and inner strength. Today, I'm no longer impaired by my skin tone. The mirror no longer reflects just a dusky skinned person. I know that I'm worth far more than the outer layer. But, this hasn't come easily.

Moreover, today's incident made me realize that my journey hasn't ended. Even though R might potentially have it easier because all is still well with the dark and handsome theory, I believe the colours of change need to be ushered in. It's an opportunity for me and several others like me to re-set the agenda where the next generation is taught to reject such hand-me-downs thoughts and seek a better world for themselves.

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This won the crowd favourite at the Yeah Write grid!!!

 


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Have you had such experiences regarding the skin colour? 
Is your child a victim of colour bias? How did you deal with the subject?




44 comments :

  1. This shades of color thing is a problem thanks to all the fairness advertisements. There is just a 2 shade difference between my sons. But, my elder one used to insist to use the same soap as the younger one as he is lighter. I just explained that God makes people in all different colors and he will just have to live with it. It does not make him a better or bad person. At that time (< 10 years), he was ok with the answer and it has never come back. I don't know how old is your son. But giving a light response helps.

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    1. My son is 7 now. Yes, I gave him a similar response and I'll keep drilling this into his head. Thank you, Lata, for sharing your story. Sad that this seems to be a common malady that we need to deal with.

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  2. You rightly put it there Uma. We were ruled by the whites and somewhere down the lane we defined beauty to be that way. And that js why beauty products are the bestselling in India.It is extremely difficult to change mindsets that are set like concrete Byt certainly not impossible.
    More power to you and R!😊

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    1. There should be certain checks in place before allowing such products to make such false claims. Imagine, yet, they are popular!

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  3. Oh well! Each one of us has a take like this to tell. Like you mentioned it took years to feel confident and self assured and easy in one's skin. And no of job is not over as we teach our kids to respect and feel happy about what they have. We have conversations about race and skin color regularly at home. Sadly l don't see this obsession with fair skin going away any time soon.

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    1. I'm also going to initiate these kind of conversations at home and make R feel comfortable about his skin colour. Thank you, Rachna, for your insightful post about your own experiences.

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  4. Its not about my Kid but about my Brother who was teased for his dark color not by outsiders but my own Father. Though he loves him much but we need to understand the long term affects of this for-fun-teasing. I wish this to end. Your article is too good Uma.

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    1. Oh, that's sad, Upsana. Sometimes even a lighthearted jibe can inflict a wound. I hope your father realizes this. Thank you, Upasana!

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  5. I happened to read Rachna's post just before yours. I don't know what to say. As you mentioned, at impressionable age like this, kids are vulnerable and the hurt stays. It takes many many years to heal from within. I am sure that with you around to guide him R will be able to get rid of these episodes faster than you did. Our society is yet to change for the good in a lot of areas.

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    1. I hope so, Rekha. Thanks a lot for being here :)

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  6. Beautifully written, Uma.
    I will never understand the India obsession with fair skin, and i frankly don't see anything changing anytime soon either.
    My heart goes out to R and You, to R for his innocence at wanting to be 'fair' and to you because I so agree when you say , 'For a condition inflicted largely by the society, it's rather unfair that the individual victims have to undertake the journey towards healing, rather alone. '
    Glad you overcame it all. You're beautiful!:)

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    1. I'm glad to have a supportive family and a loving partner. It made things easier for me. Thanks a lot for the lovely compliment, Mayuri! *blush*

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  7. Very well written Uma. Have faced similar questions from both my kids (yes,even my little one) and having faced some scenarios as a child / teen myself too. Never easy when appearance is given more value than ones own capabilities or qualities. however, one day at a time. :)

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    1. R and N are champs! It's so sad, no? I'm sure you'll do a fab job of steering them in the right direction, Suja. Hugs!

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  8. It's definitely something that has been instilled by society at large. I wouldnt blame one single person nor is it entirely the media influence around. Children observe listen and pick up such things pretty soon. But yes the task ia now in your hands to teach R otherwise and to accept all shades of skin tone.

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    1. It's a vicious circle, Ramya, and yes the onus lies with us to correct the thinking.

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  9. This color craze has always been something that ponders me tooo Uma! I feel it is because of some inherent genetic inferiority that is deep within us that 'white' seems something superior. No other part of the world has so many white beauty products that is there in this part of the world. The moment a child is born the first thing that is asked is - what sex and skin tone!

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    1. Yes, and even before a child is born, the mother is fed saffron strands so that the child is fair in colour. I'm hoping our generation as parents can spiral a change, Menaka.

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  10. It is so sad that our fixation with the fair skin tone is growing unabated and I dont think it is going to end anytime soon. It is truly heart wrenching to see small kids face such discrimination. As parents, it is important that we not only teach our kids to take pride in who they are which includes their skin tone but also how to deal with such prejudices and bullies too.

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    1. Well-said, Shilpa. It's important to teach kids the importance of self-worth.

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  11. I am glad you are R's Mum. For all the child needs is someone to explain what not to believe in and what to stand for. Discrimination based on color is not new in our country and keeps showing up time and again. Look at the commercials, the matrimony sites, our movie stars and what not. Beauty has parameters and these have already been set. But only a mother like you can help her child understand what this all means.
    Very well written, Uma. Beautiful post.

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    1. Sometimes the society and strangers inflict larger wounds that have to be dealt with maturely. I'm hoping R grows to have a matured approach and ignores such remarks. Thank you, Parul <3

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  12. First of all, well written Uma.
    And lots of hugs to you and R.

    "Having a fairer skin tone makes someone stronger than the rest." I'm sorry to say, but it's thought process like these that kick starts such issues. And sadly, as I commented on Rachna's post, it often starts at home.

    Kudos to you for supporting R and for being an awesome parent.

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    1. Yes, unfortunately I do see some new-age parents too subscribing to silly notions such as these. Sigh! Just hope the saner ones outnumber them and eventually we move to a better adjusted and sensible society.
      Thank you, Sid, for the kind words :)

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  13. Timely post. Thank you for an intimate look into your life. The way you juxtapose your own reaction to R's not understanding was great but then to go even deeper and share your own thoughts as a child when these things started to worm their way into your own thoughts really nails the point on home.

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    1. Thank you, Nancy, for a lovely feedback. I'm glad that you were able to connect with the emotions.

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  14. How heartbreaking to hear this from such a young child! I'm sure you'll be able to help shape his values in a positive way.

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    1. I hope so too, Marcy. Thanks for being here :)

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  15. It's sad that this 'information' is presented in such a way that children can take it on face value and believe it. Lucky he vocalised this and had you there to steer him in the right direction with a thoughtful response. Here's hoping that he won't have to have the same conversation with his kids one day.

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    1. Indeed, it's a sad state of affairs but I'm also hoping that parents of this generation become proactive in raising kids with the right set of beliefs and attitude. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Laura.

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  16. There are fights we seem to fight over and over in an endless loop. Nothing feels worse than having to fight them for our children. Well told.

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    1. That's true, Nancy. I hope this changes or at least I'm able to empower my child enough to rise above all of it. Thank you, Nancy!

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  17. Perfectly said, Uma. Skin colour shouldn't matter, and racism is bred, never born. For that little boy to say what he did means he has heard it from someone close to him. And therein lies the vicious cycle we should all fight to drive away.

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    1. Completely agree. And, that's very worrying because that means fighting this at so many levels. Hope to get there someday.

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  18. Sometimes I feel issues like skin colour are so dated and then I hear the neighbour say something or the kids pass a random remark about it and I realise the issue is still so very much alive. That's quite sad given that there really is so much more to a person than skin colour or for that matter external appearance.

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    1. Rightly-said, Tulika. Some issues don't seem to die away and that's so sad!

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  19. What a beautiful write-up it is, Uma! I'm still in awe of the usage of words and the vocab and how effortlessly it gave the right meaning. Simply flawless!

    Talking about skin tone. I was bullied most of my school life for not being fair, the implications of which chill my spine till date. What I really hate to digest today is when I see young children as 6 or 7, who know the what is white and what is black, who prefer being fairer and who notice the first thing as skin color. It literally breaks my heart when their parents discuss such issues in front of them without realizing the repercussions it is doing to their child's thought process. I sometimes feel sorry for them and sometimes my heart gets filled with anger.

    Why is there so much of importance given to the skin tone, I still wonder. No matter how clear my skin looks sometimes, I always get more compliments when it looks fairer on some days!

    I simply loved the article !

    Cheers
    Geets

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    1. Hugs, Geetika, for what you went through in your childhood. I don't understand it too. And, thank you so much for such high words of praise. Not sure if I'm worth it but really, thanks! <3

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  20. Hi Uma, Many congratulations on writing this thought-provoking post and also for winning the crowd fave this week on yeahwrite! Very well deserved. It worries me that children are learning to see color at such young ages. We need more parents like you to assert on our kids that skin color has nothing to do with strength or success. He might or might not have fully understood, but I'm sure some part of your words will stay with him.

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    1. Hema, Thanks a lot for reading and for your encouraging words and wishes. Glad you liked the piece!

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  21. Loved your writeup! I'm sure it resonates with each one of us.. All of us have faced the issue of colour in our lives. Even if not directly, it surely has affected us in some way or the other.

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  22. Thanks for writing this. My daughter also got this impression from watching Youtube videos. May be, she thought fair people are superior in some way. Even rhymes like Chubby cheeks reinforce this. I have tried my best to educate her and continue to do so.

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  23. Such a touching post, this one, Uma. Yes as you have rightly pointed out we as responsible parents can play a role in educating our children and try to minimise this kind of discrimination be it colour or any other kind. We can as responsible parents play a role in making the next generation more open minded.
    I also want to write a line or two about your writing. There was little light humour in the day-to-day events you described at the start of this post. I really liked the style. You have a very good command over the English language which can be clearly seen in your writings. Your expression of emotions conveys your deep feelings and you have done it in a very simple and elegant manner. Keep writing more and more. Way to go!

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  24. Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your weblog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing on your feed and I am hoping you write again very soon!

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