I happened to recently witness a discussion among some relatives of a guy I know about his marriage. It was the first time that I was doing so and I was very surprised by some of the stuff that I heard. They were going through photos of women and simply discarding the ones that did not look fair. Plus these people had gone to see a girl whom the guy happened to like. Apparently, she was really smart, nice to everyone and was a big hot-shot at some company. Plus, from what I could gather, she was also really humble. But, you see, there is this one “big” problem. The girl is not fair. The elders especially the women were dead set against the marriage and were of the opinion, that they cannot risk a “bad future” for the next generation.
This was, to say the least, simply shocking for me. You could tell that the guy was pretty depressed but trying to grasp the “wisdom” that his elders were trying to inject into him. They recounted tales of how they had suffered because of their dark skin and how they had to use loads of “Fair and lovely” in their teens to ameliorate their condition and all.
I cannot simply grasp how people in an educated society can think in this manner and place a premium on fair skin over any other quality. How can such a literally skin deep quality take priority over lasting and deeper qualities like professional aptitude, character and intellect? Why is black or dark skin considered to be a bad quality? Why do people automatically assume that fair skin is equivalent to beauty?
Do they think that by perpetuating the same kind of petty injustice that they were subjected to will somehow make their suffering worthwhile!? Is it not more prudent to use one’s experience to understand how pointless this kind of behavior is and try and excise such tendencies from our family?
I have also had my fair share of pity for being dark. Relatives used to express their sympathy for my predicament and finish off by alluding to the sliver lining that I was at least fortunate enough to be not born as a girl. Initially, I too accepted their point that dark skin and looking okay don’t go together. But, I could see pretty girls everywhere and all of them were just as likely to be dark as fair. But somehow a lot of people don’t agree. They simply say, “oh! athu karuthatha”, as if somehow that straight away meant that the person was disqualified from being considered pretty. Eventually, I figured out that I don’t have to agree with others when it comes to subjective things like beauty. I also decided that I would never let anyone tell me what/who is beautiful and why so.
I am not a big fan of judging people by appearances. But, it is kind of understandable if some people are naturally predisposed to like people with a pleasing appearance. It is also possible to digest the fact that for some people looks matter the most. But, what is sometimes in doubt, at least for me is whether we intrinsically consider black to be less beautiful or is it something that social conditioning and childhood experiences inculcate in us. Maybe the association between dark skin and labor in the sun and our malayalee tendency to consider manual work as something less respectable is the reason for our disdain for dark skin.
Whatever maybe the reasons that our elders had for assuming that dark skin meant that you were from a socially backward section, those reasons no longer exist. But, like all the other superstitions and irrational little quirks, this prejudice too prevails in our society. It is hard to fathom the negative impact this has on young children and people of marriage age, especially girls. Discrimination is always deeply resented and the hurt it causes is doubled when it is in the name of something the value of which is purely notional.
Cultural specifics like these can never be fought with law or persuasion. The changes should happen within ourselves. I believe that when it comes to this particularly pointless discrimination our generation wields the power to end it once and for all. We can start by not allowing skin color to influence the choice of our mates with whom we will hopefully spend a lifetime together. By not making our kids feel uncomfortable about their bodies unless they are treating it badly and setting themselves up for bad health in the future. We can teach them to understand that people are complicated and beautiful and help them appreciate the deep and meaningful qualities that each one can possess.
There is no use blaming cosmetic manufacturers or movies or ads or the media in general for the situation. They merely sell products that we want to buy. Unless we change our tastes they are going to keep on reinforcing such self-perpetuating and irrational prejudices in our society.