By Rebekah Paul | A Dark is Beautiful campaigner
If only life were as easy as Jimmy Kimmel’s “Meet My Best Unfriend” Facebook Challenge:
“You are dark but photogenic.” – Unfriend
“Your sister is lighter skinned than you, no?” – Unfriend
“You’d have been a great looking guy. Tall, dark and handsome.” – Seriously? Unfriend
“Karuppi” – Unfriend AND Report Abuse
“We’ve written wheat-ish as your complexion on the marriage bureau form” – UNFRIEND… wait… what? I can’t really unfriend my parents now, can I?
I’ve been called it all.
From being verbally assaulted by random strangers to compliments packaged badly by well meaning friends and family.
I’ve heard it all.
From arguments on colonialism and the perpetuation of their ideologies to how racism is worldwide.
After years of playing the shepherd or the Orient king bearing gold in school and church nativity plays, after too many years of hoping that I’d get picked to be an angel instead, I guess I figured out, even as a child, that sports might be my way out.
I believe I was fortunate to have studied in a school where the teacher’s discrimination started and ended at choosing the angels in the nativity play. I believe I was fortunate to have close friends who couldn’t think along the lines of skin colour, at least not in derogatory terms. I believe I was fortunate enough to be averagely good in sports and couldn’t find time for much else.
I also believe I was extremely fortunate to have parents who made light of my skin colour apprehensions if any and edged me on to give my best in whatever I did. My parents taught me to take life with a pinch of salt. “Be a cheerful child!” my father tells me to this day, despite me being a grown woman.
Life changed as I grew. I wasn’t so safe anymore from rude, brash comments and discrimination. I grew more resilient and learnt the art of ‘ignoring’.
I grew up seldom allowing the opinion and biases of others get in the way of my own expectations.
And then on occasion I’d decide to put up a fight at the cost of being called ridiculous and irrational. During final year at college, for our hostel’s nativity play, we fought it out and said ‘include dark angels’. And there we were, a bunch of us who had seldom got an opportunity before, all dressed up as angels.
I doubt we inspired our warden and staff to continue opening up all roles to girls of all skin tones. And I doubt we even enjoyed it amidst all the glares and sarcasm. But I think we did something about our situation on that dark, freezing cold December night
On a good day I’d like to think that we were not just being overly-sensitive kids. Instead I’d like to think that that night we inspired our juniors to not be limited by people’s biases.
On a not so good day, I am reminded of all my lost opportunities and the times I have chosen to keep quiet. Times I have been over-looked ever so subtly that to call it unfair would seem criminal.
If I had ever cared to count, I’m certain that in my lifetime, I’d have heard ‘you’re so talented!’ so many more times than ‘you’re beautiful!’ And many times, being called talented was not for actual talent itself but rather as a compensation for my misfortune of dark skin.
Marriage seemed to be a daunting task for even my otherwise level-headed parents. But they were spared the agony of having to hear people ask them “exactly how wheat-ish is she?” (True story! -happened to a cousin).
My husband makes me feel beautiful every day. Not because my self-worth depends on it or because he feels the need to pay penance for all the bad things people have said/say about my dark skin.
But he genuinely, honestly, sees me as beautiful just as my parents and so many of my friends and family do.
I’m glad I did not let skin colour define me. And I’m glad that we have finally come to a time when people are not disregarding this as an issue too trivial for discussion, but are instead speaking up about the unseen and untold damages it causes in children and adults.
I look forward to a time when the word ‘beautiful’ is all encompassing – all skin tones, body types, inside and out.
In the meanwhile you can count on me to celebrate my shade of beautiful!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebekah lives and works in Chennai. She enjoys baking, paper crafting and blogs at goldfieldandsunshine.blogspot.in
By Kavitha Emmanuel | Founder & Director of Women of Worth
Have you ever wondered where skin colour bias originated from? I have. And frankly speaking, there is no simple answer. Skin colour bias is so much a part of our culture that if we tracked it down to see the real enemies it would possibly point to all of us, our families, our extended families, our society, our ancestors etc.
We are all guilty of either propagating or tolerating this age-old bias. Most people are unaware that such a bias can actually affect people in a deep way.
A campaign like, ’Dark is Beautiful’ (by Women of Worth) has as its core mission the task of exposing the issue, educating people on its effects on society and encouraging those who have experienced trauma because of skin colour bias to regain their confidence and self-worth.
Since our petition on Change.org to ‘take down’ Emami’s discriminatory “Fair and Handsome” ad, many have asked us the question: Why not other brands? Why only Emami? Why only Shah Rukh Khan?” Are they the only ones who are guilty of ‘unfair advertising’ or responsible for skin colour discrimination?
Not at all! If we had chosen some other brand’s ad, we still would have faced this question. Change has to begin somewhere.
The word ‘petition’ actually means ‘request’ or ‘appeal’. By posting a petition we are actually requesting Emami and Shah Rukh Khan to ‘lead the change’.
Several well-wishers of Mr. Khan are worried whether the campaign is aimed against him. I wish to reiterate that the campaign is against skin colour bias and not against Mr. Khan as any individual.
We do want to see Emami’s discriminatory ad taken down. We do want King Khan to stop endorsing products that promote skin colour discrimination. Those are our requests.
People often argue that products are manufactured to meet a demand among the masses. The demand-and-supply model cannot be an excuse to override responsible business ethics. An issue as serious as skin-colour discrimination cannot be ignored. A healthy society will be on the look out to sort out its discriminatory practices.
Today we are proud of having moved ahead in our perceptions of dowry, our society’s preference for male offspring and various other practices that reflect gender bias or discrimination. Why have we ignored skin-colour bias? The demand-and-supply model cannot be the easy answer to playing on the existing bias or insecurities of an entire group of people. We are and should be more responsible than that!
The Dark is Beautiful campaign seeks to address this complex issue in various ways.
At the launch of the campaign in 2009, we hosted contests in painting, photography, short stories and poetry on the theme “Dark is Beautiful’ to give people a chance to express their views through art. We held a Dark is Beautiful Concert, Book Reading, and Art Gallery in collaboration with British Council, Chennai premises.
|DisB Launch Concert Emceed by VJ Paloma Rao
Our media literacy module spreads awareness among school and college students that ‘beauty is beyond colour.’
|Media Literacy Workshops for High School Students
Our blog series called SURVIVING DISCRIMINATION showcases stories of men and women who have overcome the discriminating effects of skin colour bias or of those who are still trying to figure a way out.
Our social media platforms gives people a place to share their thoughts on the issue vent, find support and feel understood.
In March 2012, the campaign organized our first flash mob at Elliot’s Beach, Chennai and released a TVC featuring one of our brand ambassadors Anu Hasan. The event was chaired by Mr. Pratip Philip, Inspector General, Chennai Police. The flash mob’s slogan was “Why this colour-veri?” chosen after the famous Tamil hit song “Why this Kola-veri di?”
|Anu Hasan was the first celebrity endorsement the campaign received
|Why this Colour Veri? Expression Board
Over the past two years, celebrities like Anu Hasan, Nandita Das, Tannishtha Chatterjee and Vishaka Singh have lent their support. Their participation in the campaign has gained us visibility and media attention.
|Nandita Das challenges skin colour bias
The petition, as you can see, is one among the various initiatives of the campaign. We are well aware that skin colour bias is so deep rooted in our society and that it has to be seen and addressed from different angles.
Media Literacy and Responsible Advertising
However, having said all of the above we acknowledge the need for responsible advertising which, whether we like it or not, plays a huge role in shaping and influencing the way people think and act. If this were not true why would brands want to use stars to sell their products?
From rural India to the most educated in urban India people look up to icons like Shah Rukh Khan. We celebrate and esteem stars as role models. Therefore, it is only right that we require them to exercise a certain sense of responsibility towards their countrymen. They are not just entertainers. They are prominent voices in the nation that people from all walks of life stop and listen to. Our petition is simply this: Please say ‘no’ to skin colour bias!
Show us that you care!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kavitha is passionate about campaigning for issues concerning women, children and the underprivileged. She finds great fulfillment in helping women realize their dreams and live up to their full potential. She founded Women of Worth (WOW) with a vision to empower, train and motivate women to ‘Be the Best They can Be’. She is always looking for opportunities to create avenues for change that will make the world a better place for women.
By Sudha Menon | A Dark is Beautiful Campaigner
If you have grown up in a dark brown skin, like I have, you have possible heard this sentence many times in your life: ” She is dark but smart”, ” She is not dark, just dusky. And, very intelligent”. “She is nice. A little dark, but nice…”
I grew up in an age when being dark was a horrible fate. Being dark meant either being noticed because of your dark colour or worse still, ignored or neglected to such a point that you begin to feel you don’t exist. That people can’t see you.
Growing up, I remember the best years of my childhood were spent in clothes that were shades of either grey or brown so that I felt I was a mouse that disappeared into the background. Dark people could not carry reds, blues and greens was the thought back then but every time loving family members brought me yet another grey or brown dress for my birthday, my heart broke a little more.
If you look at photographs from my childhood you can spot me immediately. I am the girl in the corner of the frame, angry eyes staring down the photographer, almost willing him to make me look lovely, despite the drabness of my clothes. In many ways , I think the colourlessness of my clothes made affected my personality for a long time. I was a shy kid with few friends and I became a rebel to boot, possibly to get some attention for myself.
My parents and siblings never made me feel I was any lesser. My father, in fact, would proudly say I was his prettiest baby but the community around reminded me of the colour of my skin at every opportunity, not by talking about it but in subtler ways that hurt way more than that….
I never did know how to verbalize my hurt back then but my heart yearned to wear bright red, emerald green, orange and pink. It is possibly a hangover from my childhood that my cupboard is now full of these colours:-)
I celebrate colour and revel in wearing every hue of the rainbow.
Somewhere along the way I learnt also to look at life in a more cheerful way. Maybe it was because I felt so much on the fringes of life, side-lined and neglected, that I have grown up to be a person with empathy and compassion and a sensitivity towards the differentness of people. I seek out diversity in life and have made it my mission to celebrate that in every manner possible.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sudha Menon is a long-time journalist and author of best-selling non-fiction books, Leading Ladies; Women Who Inspire India and the recently launched Legacy-letters to their daughters from eminent men and women. After a childhood where she fought with the demons of self-doubt and a deep-rooted complex about the colour of her skin, she says she found her calling in becoming a “chronicler of people’s lives.”
By Pamposh Dhar | Dark is Beautiful campaigner
We are bombarded by print ads and TV commercials all day long. So much so that we hardly pay heed to them any more. But when “King Khan” himself shows up on the TV screen in our home, we sit up and take notice. He is India’s most popular star, the heart-throb of millions. In TV interviews, and even in most of his films, he comes across as a down-to-earth, sensitive man. We love him for that.
But now, with the Fair and Handsome commercial he is making some of us very uncomfortable. A few friends find my views objectionable. Mostly this seems to stem from the feeling that SRK is a superstar, someone we adore, and therefore someone we cannot possibly find fault with or give advice to. Our love for SRK inhibits us from criticizing him, but let’s face it – the Fair and Handsome commercial sends a clear message that to be handsome or successful you must be fair.
He is a superstar, true. But we are the people who have made him a superstar and we are the people who keep him at the top. We are the consumers of his films. Of course, we do that because of his considerable talents and the hard work he puts into his films. But we are the ones who decide if we like what we see and hear.
So, when he acts – with his usual elan – in a commercial that enhances a mindset that makes little children feel unloved and young men feel inadequate, then we can tell him that we do not like what he is doing. We can ask him to stop lending his megastar status to keep alive an essentially racist attitude. We can tell him we do not love his doing this, even if we still love him in his films.
We do not want him to waste our love, the fan following that keeps him at the top, on strengthening an attitude that is clearly wrong and does so much damage to the self-esteem of men and women. Worse, it is part of the mindset that makes us cruel to little children, making them feel unloved and insecure. (You can find some heart-rending stories in this blog and on the campaigns Facebook.)
I’d like to invite you to join me and the thousands of people who have already signed a petition asking Fair & Handsome and Shah Rukh Khan to take down this commercial. Let’s tell our hero to practice what he recently preached on his own Facebook page. I quote a post from 22 July: “You were born to be real, not to be perfect. You are here to be you, not to be what someone else wants you to be”…Gurumantra i was taught
Quite right, SRK! We are here to be ourselves, and we are perfect just the way the Maker made us. Please don’t try to improve on His handiwork!
Click here to say YES to responsible advertising
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pamposh Dhar is a counsellor, personal development coach, meditation teacher and energy healer based in Singapore. A former journalist, she is also a consultant writer and editor. She has previously worked as a gender specialist and trainer, and gender issues remain close to her heart. Pamposh is a fair Kashmiri in a long-lasting and extremely happy marriage with a dark Tamilian.