There’s been a lot said on the dark versus fair, racism debate. And it’s not going away in a hurry, particularly with the RSS’ health wing reportedly claiming to create customised babies that are “fair” and therefore, we infer, superior. But, it’s not just the right-wing groups, the prejudice can be seen all around us.
In the film Baahubali: The Beginning, when the kingdom is attacked by the Kalakeyas, it turns into a challenge for the throne between cousins Baahubali and Bhallaladeva. However, the great visuals aside, the army of “savages” features black, curly-haired folk with skulls and bones strewn around them, hinting at cannibalism. If the reference was to sun-kissed tribals, it didn’t really work. Black, in other words, stood for villainy and barbaric behaviour in this southern extravaganza. Does anyone remember Africans in India, not so long ago, screaming themselves hoarse that they are “people like us” and not cannibals either?
Sometime ago, former parliamentarian Tarun Vijay came under flak for his inane remark, asking how we could be racist, when we live with “black people” or south Indians. Turns out, our schizophrenic relationship with colour goes beyond the north-south divide.
A couple of days ago, a press release dropped into my inbox on The Black Prince, a film on the relationship between Maharaja Duleep Singh and Queen Victoria. Why black, I wondered. Seen from the prism of the Western world, we could be black or brown, both sounding equally unacceptable. Why couldn’t it just be The Indian Prince? But, is black necessarily a pejorative in this case? I’m still searching for answers!
Black, overall, stands for negativity or, at best, creates an air of mystery. So, whether it’s a black or “evil” heart, black magic, Black Friday or just dark despair, black, defined as the absence of light, is rarely a harbinger of joy. Unless, of course, you’re wearing black to hide your bulges.
As a society, where we’re black, white, wheat-ish or all shades of brown, we need to look within and explore our inherent biases. When we try to tame our curly mop with rollers and straightening creams, use fairness creams and go for anti-tan facials, it’s an inner complex that we’re catering to. When we call white people expats and everybody else immigrants without a second thought, that’s also being racist.
A children’s book titled “Brown Like Dosas Samosas and Sticky Chikki”, published by FunOkPlease, tries to equate brown with all things wonderful. But show a child dark-skinned, curly-haired savages in Bahubali: The Beginning and they are left to draw the same connections that generations before did—that black is evil, not to mention inferior. And curly hair? It’s the glossy, straight stereotype that rules, in ads and real life, creating an illusion of polished perfection.
Actor Abhay Deol, too, called out celebrities endorsing fairness creams to make more responsible choices. Actor, and now global icon, Priyanka Chopra gracefully accepted that she had made some wrong judgement calls by endorsing a fairness cream early in her career and confessed using them as a teenager due to low self-esteem.
However, like Priyanka, it’s less about the world out there and more about bringing a change within. Whether it’s ditching foundation that’s a shade lighter, the tendency to favour the politically correct “dusky” over “dark”, let’s take a long look in the mirror and free ourselves of our complexes. The sooner we do that, the quicker it will reflect in our choices and the world around us.
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