by Aaron Sathyanesan | neuroscientist and Dark is Beautiful supporter
What skin colour did Jesus have?
This question, I believe, is at the storm-eye of a scandal for the ages.
Recently, this scandal made the rounds in media outlets, social networks and the uttermost parts of the blogosphere. It started out as a reaction to an article in Slate magazine about a case for why Santa Claus or Father Christmas should be an inclusive figure rather than a jolly-old white dude. Here’s how a talk show host reacted to the article during an on-air discussion:
Jesus was a white man, too. It’s like we have, he’s a historical figure that’s a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?
Foot. In. Mouth.
Apart from the fact that this talk show host wanted so dearly for children to “believe” in Santa, there’s a white elephant in the room (pun intended), trumpeting its heart out for attention.
I would like to point out, though, that attempts to “repaint” Jesus with broad brush-strokes of our modern sensibilities are not new. The Late Rev. John R.W. Stott, a Christian scholar and statesman, in his book Contemporary Christian (1995) lists thirteen versions of Jesus. Some of them are worth mentioning for illustration. There’s Jesus the founder of modern business, based on Bruce Barton’s then best-selling book, The Man Nobody Knows (1925). Barton, who reacted against a soft, namby pamby Jesus who would pass off as the class sissy, produced a picture of Jesus as a chiseled, muscular, tough man who probably was involved in many “outdoor activities.” This Jesus’ entire life was a story of success and most importantly, he taught the secrets of modern business. Then there’s T.N. Carver’s Jesus the Capitalist, as sketched out in his book The Economic Factor in the Messiahship of Jesus (1922) and Jesus the Freedom Fighter as Cuba’s Fidel Castro so many times claimed. And then there’s Jesus the Pale Galilean spoken of in Swinburne’s Hymn to Proserpine (1866) where the English poet laments the rise of Christianity, saying:
Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;
This pale version of Jesus was also captured in the works of the Renaissance masters, where Jesus’ skin complexion is really, really, really light…bordering anemic. The Rastafari reacted against this portrayal of Jesus as colonial and racist; some of them even citing bible verses claiming that Jesus was in fact black.
And then there was the historical Jesus, who was probably not white nor black, but most probably, dare I say, brownish, as you would expect a first century Jew from Palestine to look like.
From all these ‘versions’ of Jesus, one thing seems to be clear – that as human beings, we love to label things. As neuroscience has so clearly shown us, the human brain excels at pattern identification. Our biological nature predisposes us to label x as “white” and y as “black.” But we go a step further and in addition to classification, knowingly or unknowingly, we assign values to these labels. The way we assign these values is intricately tied to our in-group bias. In other words, we like those who look like us and/or agree with us. And this bias seems like something we are born with, not just learned. As research from the Wynn & Bloom labs at Yale have shown, infants as young as three months old display this social bias. It seems like it is in our nature to form groups and classify people as “Us” and “Them.”
What does all this have to do with Christmas? Well, a lot.
Some two thousand years ago, in an obscure town called Bethlehem, a baby was born. His name was Jesus. He hung out with poor. He had fishermen and tax-collectors as chums. He had friends who had lesser melanin pigmentation in their skin (Roman soldiers), more melanin (his disciples) and even no melanin (lepers). This Jesus – the historical Jesus, came for us all. His humanity identified with us. His deity transformed us, and still transforms us. His work continues even to this day –when we clothe the naked and feed the hungry. When we stand up to oppression and injustice. When our enemies hurt us, and we pray for them instead. When we love our neighbours – black, white, brown or anything in between. When we follow him, and lay down our lives, so others, even those who don’t look like us, may live.
This Jesus – the historical Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrate on Christmas, came for all of us – for all the billion shades of beautiful.
So this Christmas
If you’re green with envy
Or blue and gloomy
If you’re in the pink of health
Or gracious and gray
That the colour of Christmas
Is the colour of perfect love
Come from above,
And it is deeper, much deeper
Than the deepest red.
A Philosopher’s View
By Ajoy Varghese | A Dark is Beautiful Supporter
Humans not only perceive beauty, but also have the unique ability to describe it and to judge it.
The “Dark is Beautiful” campaign has an underlying assumption— that Beauty exists! It is a clear reference to the ubiquitous existence of beauty in our world. It is also a bold challenge to social attempts to fracture beauty. One attempt to do so is by pitting one skin colour against another. The campaign asserts that that beauty is not contained in one colour but in many— individually and together. The campaign also asserts that beauty is not skin deep.
Prior to the Dark is Beautiful campaign, when was the last time you actually heard a public debate on beauty? Not likely that you did. Not surprising, either. It’s easier to use a TV ad to assault your senses than to present a logical argument to challenge your reason.
I recently heard a male celebrity protest that he had every right to choose his skin colour. How can you argue with that? Except that when a personal preference is advertised as a public good, it has made itself a subject of public scrutiny and judgment. So, if a celebrity says that endorsing a product is his right, then the public has an equal right (and I think, an obligation) to judge it. Else, his personal preference must be parked within the confines of his own thinking.
It’s a pity that we have allowed the contemporary discourse on beauty to be hijacked by beauty pageants and advertisers. Both groups are in bed together— cultural elite who seek to control and manipulate the minds of the masses by entering the citizen’s mind through the backdoor of the senses and not through the front door of Reason.
|Beauty exists. Science cannot reduce it. Religion cannot deny it. (Photo: western4uk)
How can we begin to think more deeply about beauty? Here are some preliminary considerations.
We don’t all agree on what it means to be beautiful. Some find Madonna beautiful. Others disagree. They find Mother Teresa’s face beautiful. I should not be surprised that not everybody finds babies and sunsets beautiful. We implicitly recognize that beauty defies straightforward objective standardization.
Not surprisingly, all cultures have their own notions of beauty and happily disagree about what it means to be beautiful. The fact of beauty is an objective reality. Our interpretationsof beauty are subjective and culturally influenced.
Beauty stirs us: A blade of grass glistening in the sunlight, a child’s laughter, haunting lyrics, the face of a woman, the integrity of a truth-teller and a graceful prowling tiger. There are moments in life when we encounter beauty and we have a heart-arrest, an out-of-body experience, transportation outside of ourselves. When beauty grips us, we are less preoccupied with ourselves. Sometimes, it makes us blush. At other times, it evokes awe.
It appears that we are the only species that recognizes beauty. This is no mere evolutionary superiority. While animals’ instinctive biological drive is excited by colour, scent, sound, etc., humans’ perception goes beyond the sensory. We have the unique ability to describe beauty and to judge it. We write songs about it or produce pieces of art around it. We even fight over what we consider beautiful. Pascal wryly remarked that “Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.”
Beauty exists. Science cannot reduce it. Religion cannot deny it.
So, what does this unique ability to discern beauty tell us? Does it say anything at all? Is it simply brute fact or a signifier? Well, that’s a discussion for another day.
“Though She Is Dark, She Is a Nice Girl”
By AJ Franklin | A Dark is Beautiful campaigner
Growing up, I was teased by classmates for being a crow, urged by relatives to apply fairness creams and finally, when it came to marriage, I was told in advance that people would expect lots of dowry from my family because I’m dark.
According to most of my relatives, we had to enlist me in a matrimonial services provider, so we went to a suitable one and I filled in a host of forms. On each form, after the basics, there was a slot for skin colour. I went ahead and ticked the box that said “dark complexioned.”
The person in charge read the form and made a funny face at me, as though I had made a stupid mistake. She pointed at the skin colour box and said, “Please change that to ‘wheat complexioned.’”
I asked why, and she rolled her eyes at me and said in Tamil that it was standard procedure for any girl of my “karuppu” skin to tick “wheat complexioned” to boost my chances of “catching” a groom.
Holding back both anger and laughter, I asked the million-dollar question, “What will they say when they see me in person?” She replied, “Just get a facial bleach done before they come to see you, or tell them you tanned over the summer.”
I smiled politely, told her I’d rather not lie, and re-ticked “dark.” She shook her head ever so disapprovingly. And that was just a regular Tuesday for the unmarried dark girl.
I laughed my head off and told my parents and so called well-wishers that I’d rather be single than marry someone who looks at my skin, and not my character, for a lifetime of being husband and wife. I was quickly labeled “stubborn” and “picky” and preparations were well on their way, under my nose. I told my parents that the most I could do was to humour them by actually agreeing to meet these prospective grooms and their parents.
So the grooms arrived with their parents in tow, looked me up and down and asked ever so candidly about dowry and skin colour, stating how unfortunate it was for my parents to have not one, but two, dark girls. Most were willing to “accept” me for a fat dowry. I said a polite “no” and turned all of them away.
Then I met the man who would shock our society by marrying me whilst being much fairer than I; that too without a single rupee of dowry, much to his parents’ dismay. Post wedding, I had it tough from Day 1. All his relatives were confused as to why my husband had married me. They asked him questions like these, mostly while I was also present:
“Did you do something wrong with her before marriage?”
“Didn’t you find a fairer girl?”
“Is she pressuring you to marry her?”
“Couldn’t you have waited for God to send you a better girl?”
“Aren’t you worried that your children will be born dark?”
His parents acted like they had to say something in my defense, but usually ended up saying, “Though she is dark, she is a nice girl.”
I thought that the dark skin abuse would stop when I conceived. Oh, was I mistaken! Free advice was given by all on what to eat/not to eat to give birth to a fair child.
Each time I picked up black grapes, tea, jamun or strong coffee, my in-laws made me put it down saying that black-coloured foods will darken my growing fetus!
I was forced to add saffron to my milk to whiten my baby. My poor husband was torn between me and his dear parents. We had such bad fights. I cried, refused to eat, and shunned visits because I was so depressed.
My in-laws prayed that if it were a girl, she should take after her father and be of “nalla colour” and if it was a boy, it would not matter, but it would be nice if he, too would be fair.
Soon as my daughter arrived, I was shown such love, because “SHE WAS BORN WHITE.” It was all celebrations for my in-laws because their granddaughter was like her father— fair, and not like her dark mother.
Sadly, my in-laws are still are going on and on about my skin colour. I took a stand and stopped talking to them after a long fight on the subject. They crossed a line when they said that I somehow darkened my daughter’s skin after I took her home.
I am sure that these people sound inhuman to you, but they are meek, middle-class, religious, simple southern folk.
All around our society is this vile bias against dark skin. Till now, this has been a bias that no one speaks about very openly. It has been brushed aside or laughed at, and for the dark person, taken in stride as a “flaw” one has to live with.
Why can’t most people just accept my dark skin? I personally feel that it is because this idea of “fair and lovely” had been drilled into children’s heads from birth by parents, teachers and the ads that very cleverly brainwash them from the day they begin to watch TV.
It’s time stop teaching our children that that the princess in the story is “as fair as can be.”
It’s time to say that fair isn’t the only kind of lovely.
It’s time to embrace the dark child.
It’s time to view people as human beings, and not a shade of colour.
Dark is not bad, dark is not unlucky, dark is not ugly.
Stand up and say it: “Dark is beautiful.”
By Kavitha Emmanuel | Director of WOW
The success we have had so far with the Dark is Beautiful campaign is because of people like you who have believed in this cause and lent their support wholeheartedly. We have gone this far as an NGO with very little resources. This is a people’s campaign, your campaign!
Many have asked, “Why target only Emami’s Fair & Handsome, and not other brands?” Some have even wondered if we are supported/sponsored by Emami’s competitors!
To clear the air, we wish to inform you that Women of Worth and the Dark is Beautiful campaign have no relationship, financial or otherwise, with any cosmetic brand. We share the same conviction about every brand that is promoting fairness products through unfair advertising, which we believe endorses the toxic belief that fair alone is beautiful or handsome. Our intention is NOT to deface organizations, corporations or people. We are ALL responsible to lead change.
The WOW team has been working tirelessly to make this campaign what it is today. Lydia Durairaj, our campaign manager, builds bridges with people and keeps all the moving parts moving. Magda Tewes is our student coordinator and a graphic designer.
The rest of our core team is made up of committed volunteers:
Photography and Design: Zippora Madhukar
Design: Shalomie Tewes and Joanna Williams
Editing: Deepika Davidar
Writing and New Media: Marsha, Joy Christina
Cartoon Artist and New Media: Anju Sabu
The Change.org teamhas given us invaluable support and advice, and thus given voice to over 22,000 people who want to see an end to discriminatory advertising.
Our gratitude extends to our volunteer models: Anu, Mary, Aparna, Diya, David, Arpit, Monisha, Christy, and Fenny, along with all who were part of our video, “1.2 Billion Shades of Beautiful,” directed by Surya Jayaraman, with music by Timothy Madhukar. Our TVC with actor Anu Hasan was a contribution from Aubrey Sequiera, Goldwire Films.
To all those who allowed us to use their stories on our blog: You’re brave and beautiful.
We appreciate each of the celebrities who have backed this cause with their words and their time: Nandita Das, Tannistha Chatterjee, Anu Hasan, Rupinder Nagra, Wilbur Sargunaraj, Vishakha Singh and Shekhar Kapur.
Most of our printingis sponsored by Go Media, while Audio Sciences has provided sound for our events.
Naturals and Unlimited Innovations have sponsored our T-shirts.
We also wish to thank Mr. Pratip Philip ADGP (Additional Director General of Police) and John Ravindran (chartered accountant) for their input and assistance.
We acknowledge our venue partners in Mumbai, Panasonic Experience Center and New Alpha Academy. Venue partners for previous events include British Council (Chennai), MLS Business Centres and Express Avenue Mall (Chennai).
We thank the media,who have reported on the campaign and engaged the public in meaningful discussions.
WOW warmly thanks all Mumbaikars who have helped us so far with practical support and sponsorships towards our petition delivery process. A special shout out to our Mumbai coordinator, Vasu Vittal Rao and to Savi and Ashwani Kumar Shukla and Arati Purani.
The WOW core team also wishes to recognize the support of our families and friends who’ve advised and encouraged us.
Our hope is that campaigns like this will be a catalyst to bring reformation in the way people perceive beauty and worth, and that our society will uphold values of justice, equality and dignity for all.
Anyone who wishes to support the campaign through sponsorships, partnerships, financial contributions and other resources can write to us at: email@example.com.
Dark is Beautiful is celebrating 1.2 Billion Shades of Skin Colour on Saturday, November 16, in MUMBAI. Join the colour madness at these locations:
Point 1: GATEWAY OF INDIA. Pick up at 9:00am
Point 2: MARINE DRIVE. Pick up at 9:45am
Point 3: CHOWPATTY. Pick up at 10:15am
Point 4: HILL ROAD. Between 2:30 and 3:00
Point 5: BANDSTAND. Between 3:00 – 4:00
Volunteers can join the celebrations at these venues. Artists, Musicians, Dancers, who would like to be a part of the event and share their talent to raise awareness – musicians, host a sidewalk gallery, or learn more about the campaign – can come directly to Bandstand.
Volunteers who would like to join us on the bus can contact Lydia at 0 99403 58429 or Magda at 0 96772 53180
Here are the values of Women of Worth (WOW). We encourage volunteers to adhere to the following:
- We value all people based on their innate worth. Skin colour, physical features, caste, social standing or ethnic origins do not determine a person’s worth
- We do not endorse cultural or traditional practices that strip people of their freedom to choose and to be who they are
- We believe in showing our discontent or disapproval in a respectful and peaceful way
- We do not believe in or approve of violence, vulgarity or unethical practices to achieve the campaign’s goals.
- We do not believe in judging people for existing attitudes towards skin colour but would like to promote change of attitude through discussions, dialogue, petitions and partnerships
- We believe that change is possible. Even those who have overlooked or endorsed the issue of skin colour bias in some way can still turn around and lead the change.
- We are on the look out to build bridges rather than to burn them. We are always open to connecting, networking and partnering with individuals and organizations who seek to lead the change
- We believe that media is a powerful tool which if used rightly can bring positive change in a society
- We are not against the advertising industry but stand up for change towards responsible advertising
- We believe in building unity in diversity and endorse the celebration of all skin tones from white and wheatish to dark and dusky.