Disclaimer: This is purely an opinion piece, not meant to endorse, defend, or offend anyone. Also, it contains a few personal accounts of racism that I have faced as a person of colour — no bias against any country, just pure experience.
There’s no better way of describing this year than brutal, and the last couple of weeks have been a testament of that. Just when we were trying to recover from the many setbacks brought by 2020, the devastating death (read: murder) of George Floyd in Minneapolis in Minnesota shook us up again.
George Floyd was a Black man suspected of forging a $20 bill — he was taken into custody and later killed by a police officer who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes while Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. Bystanders watched and recorded the incident in horror, asking the officer to step back.
This inhumane act sparked a wide range of protests in the US, including riots in which shops were broken and looted. President Trump has been criticised by many for his controversial statements and the way he handled the protests. These include Secretaries from his own Cabinet and Party who are so disappointed by his handling of the delicate situation that they’ve endorsed his rival, Democratic candidate and ex-Vice President Joe Biden in elections that are to happen later this year.
This cause is especially close to my heart. I grew up in India and Australia and identify as a second-generation Indian-Australian. I’ve faced racism for a large chunk of my life. I’ve written many posts on social media about being bullied for being ‘hairy’ and ‘brown’ in school in Australia, which led to me being nicknamed ‘Chewbacca’ in Grade VI and VI.
Things weren’t better in India — I’ve often been described as ‘savali’ (dark) and told to not stay in the sun for too long; my mother used to ask me to apply uttmal after school so that my tan doesn’t make me appear darker. These made me think about the form of racism that is prevalent in Indian homes — colourism.
Last week, Indian-American comedian Hasan Minhaj released two episodes of his Netflix show ‘Patriot Act,’ one of which talked about the impact and importance of the ongoing protests for the Asian-American community. In the episode titled ‘We Cannot Stay Silent About George Floyd,’ Minhaj aptly explained the extent of colourism in Indian homes stating, “We clown them. We call them Kallu.”
Thanking colonisation, he mentioned how half of Bollywood endorses fairness products. I remember watching fairness ads and applying them as directed so that I appear fairer; even today, when I buy makeup, I’m one of the darker shades of my preferred foundation — mind, there are people with a much deeper skin tone than me. So what is our obsession with colourism?
Colourism has been talked and written about for many years — there are articles on Youth Ki Awaaz addressing the issue, yet, we never seem to learn. We understand that celebrities endorse fairness production because of the crores of rupees they get paid, we understand that their pictures are photoshopped, yet, we buy into this act and call them out as hypocrites when they support Black Lives Matter.
Moreover, it’s the other way round too — going back to the earlier mentioned episode of Patriot Act, in which Minhaj said that we love it when Black people do well, and worship Beyonce and Michael Jordan, yet, we never want to be associated with anyone Black ourselves. Moreover, the media has taught us that we can’t be successful if we are dark.
Fairness creams bank on advertisements where jobs or prospective rishtas are lost because they are too dark. We all understand the thought behind racism and colourism in our society — yet, we turn a blind eye.
Not just in the media, but mythology too, the colour of many of the gods (with the exception of Krishna) was fair; meanwhile, the demons were often dark-skinned. Buzzfeed India uploaded a video a couple of years ago, explaining the same thing. Popular mythologist Devdutt Patnaik said “We were introduced to the politics of colour very early on in our lives, in the most surprising of places: in children’s comic books,” referring to Amar Chitra Katha’s portrayal of white gods. Not only that, this portrayal also gave way to casteism where the skin colour became lighter as one rose in the caste hierarchy.
Hence, one can see historically that those born in Adivasi, Dalit or Bahujan families were portrayed darker in colour than the royalty or priests. Now, we have a problem, we all defend the BLM Movement in America on one hand, yet, we are (indirectly) taught to see those with darker skin in a similar light with which the African-American community is seen in the U.S.
This is a topic that can be talked about for ages with various perspectives. However, the bottom line is — racism is still prevalent in every Indian household; but even though we know it, do we acknowledge it?