The color of my DNA is brown. I’m conditioned to despise it and assign labels to it– including but not limited to- low status, bad character, poor hygiene and scant education if any. And this is how it all began.
My mother is fair complexioned while I’m not. ‘Tumhari ladki kaali hai’ or ‘your girl is black or dark’ was a common remark I came across which my mother rushed to correct; ‘no, her color is gehua’ i.e ‘wheatish’ as if to provide me solace. It didn’t. Not really. Because I’d been labelled and it was drilled into me from as long as I can remember. Over and over. not necessarily in an accusatory rather in a matter of fact manner. Yes, my color is dark, meaning I’m not fair, or pretty or beautiful etc. And everyone knows how important it is for a girl to be ‘pretty’ in our society. I don’t think the intention was to put me down as many members of this ‘color’ club were very dear to me including my own mother. But it had its effect. I began to believe I was lacking. That I was inferior to my fair counterparts. I used to compare myself with others all the time. Often, I’d align the back of my arm with my mother’s hoping to see a change. I did try a couple of creams and soaps but gave up soon enough as they had no effect.
Fortunately, this ‘anomaly’ of mine remained a mere irritant. I wanted to make something out of myself. I was good in both academics and extracurricular activities and generally I got my way. So, even though I was insecure about my looks I didn’t let it hinder my progress. I realized very soon that color has nothing to do with beauty or character or competence. Working as a physician in the west I also discovered how color segregates people and turns them against each other and negates all the progress that humankind has made. Today I feel enriched interacting with people from different backgrounds and cultures and I realize how shallow and abhorrent it is to judge someone based simply on their skin color.
Once I was in college, my mother stopped talking about my color. Perhaps she realized I’d got beyond such commentaries and idiocies. But her ideas were deep rooted. She continued in her colorisms; equating fair skin to beauty or even goodness. When she watched TV or saw someone at a social gathering, she’d inevitably remark to me about their skin color. It’d be an offhand remark. I don’t think she even realized what she was saying was wrong. It’d make me very uncomfortable but I let her be because it’s easier to maintain status quo than engage in conflict.
It’s difficult for me to write this because it’s tough to introspect. It’s hard to accept that things aren’t hale and healthy. It’s so much easier to point fingers at someone else, call out their hypocrisy, their duplicity but so difficult to look at oneself and do the same. Please don’t get me wrong. I love my mom. She has umpteen redeeming qualities. She’s one of the sweetest, kindest, compassionate, strongest women and I attribute all I am to her but there are somethings I can’t ignore anymore hence I’m writing this.
Fortunately, my daughter isn’t like me. Born and brought up in the west she is very aware about the evils of racism and it’s association with color. She engages my mother in debate, which sometimes turns into a heated argument. My mom (like most moms who like to get their way) is very resistant to being told she’s wrong and doesn’t like to admit it. But I know she realizes it and I see a gradual change in her. I’m proud of my daughter for not being afraid of saying things the way they are.
I don’t live in an illusion. I see the world for what it is– black and white and tons of brown. And I accept the nuances and inherent prejudices that exist and are part and parcel of our society and psyche that we take for granted even though we know they’re wrong. This shouldn’t continue if we want a better world, especially for our children. We should accept the color of our DNA. We should thrive in our skin. Let’s pledge today to rid ourselves of our prejudices.