By Sabita Parida:
The word ‘fair‘ puzzles me. In the context of equality and equity when we use the word ‘fair‘, it stands for reasonable, just, rational and non-discriminatory. But change the context — use the word ‘fair’ for skin tone, the perspective changes and it means something very different. Though it still stands for pure and white, it is no more rational or non-discriminatory.
We have often heard that “the beauty of the mind and soul is worth much more than the beauty of the body.” Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet, best known for his book “The Prophet”, wrote, “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”
Since my childhood, I have always wished that this could have been true in the real sense in the real world. If it had been true, it would not have been necessary to have a ‘Dark is Beautiful‘ campaign in the 21st century to sensitise people about the unfair effects of skin colour bias and the over-dominance of whitening creams in the television advertisement space. In the United States, the airtime tan creams get on television, rivals the whitening cream ads back home but the tone of the commercials is in striking contrast.
The premise upon which the whitening cream advertisements are based are flawed, baseless and discriminatory. The word ‘fair’ is used such that it leaves no stone unturned to make one believe that people of darker skin tone are in no way equal to someone who has a fair skin tone. This bias is so deep-rooted that I am not sure how many generations it will take to change it or if, at all, it will change.
The ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign is absolutely precise in its underlying statement. It states: “This belief, shaped by societal attitudes and reinforced by media messages, is corroding the self-worth of countless people, young and old.” It has hit the nail on the head of the ‘fair’ demon.
And who can know this better than I — a mother of a four-year-old daughter whose skin tone is not ‘fair’. Having lived with the ‘I-am-fair-you-are-not’ bias for my entire life, I knew the day wasn’t far when my daughter would come to me with her ‘skin color’ agonies. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was for the timing. She is still in kindergarten.
One night, while sharing the wishes she would, like a shooting star to fulfill for us, she said that she had wished for her legs and hands to become a little fairer like the other girls in her class. My heart sank. It was beyond my imagination that a child attending kindergarten should ask this. I had hoped for a few more years to pass.
Composing myself, I asked her the reason behind this bizarre wish. On a little coaxing, she told she had been taunted by few of her classmates for her skin tone and that they used this to demean her during play time. It was absolutely startling and unacceptable to me.
We might be behaving worse than our previous generations. How on earth is it possible for four-year-olds to know about skin tone and how dark skin colour is not good and fair skin is admirable? Could it be that parents, like us, despite our education, consciously or unconsciously feed such feelings in our children’s mind?
While I was trying to convince my daughter about how skin colour does not matter, and how it didn’t qualify one’s merit or character, she amazed me with her fabulous observation on media’s characterisation of skin tone. Here we are talking cartoons, as that is all that she is allowed to watch on television.
She observed how mostly those with dark skin tone are the bad guys in every serial while the good guys are usually fair complexioned. My argument faded before the characters she listed from cartoon serials; from ‘Doremon’ to ‘Krishna’. She was surprised to learn that her favorite character ‘Krishna’ was actually dark in the original depiction. She then asked why there was a need to represent the good and strong with fair complexion, if the colour of the skin had nothing to do with the character of a person, their will power, bravery or good values. I had no words to answer her. As a society, we try to create a strong correlation between shallow skin complexion and strength of characters; perhaps we are trying to justify our own nomenclature of ‘fair complexion’ by adding all these layers.
I got busy reeling off life stories of many great heroes and ‘she-roes’, starting from Gandhi to Mandela, from Indira Nooyi to Nandita Das. I spoke about how each one of them has established themselves in many fields and how skin tone or any other type of discrimination did not stop them from attaining their goals. She got me once again. She asked, “So does a person with darker skin tone need to put in extra effort to make others realise what he or she is worth?” I was stumped.
I am afraid my young daughter will revert with further counter-arguments pretty soon. She is going to ask if whatever I said to her was true, then why do we call people with white complexion as ‘fair’ and why do we always use fair and dark to represent good and evil, respectively. And then too, I will not have any answers to satisfy my child.