Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fair Game?

News abounds when there's racial discrimination against Indians abroad. We get all riled up when someone was denied access to a bar, not allowed to seek accommodation etc. However, we seldom realize that we might actually be among the most racist people ever.

Caste and religion based discrimination aside, there's this incredible, primal preference that most Indians have for fair skin. India has one of the world's largest markets for skin whitening products (estimated at around half a billion dollars by Nielsen). The recent Vaseline Facebook promotional app whitening your profile picture was a rude reminder of our "pigmentocracy". The fact that this behavior is reinforced by the media is pretty shocking, as people find this an accepted fact of life now. I remember the following ad from Fair and Lovely and as I saw it, it didn't really occur to me the subliminal message that the company was sending so that they could push more product.

I had a discussion with a friend from France about this and that's when I realized the horrible truth. There are occupations in India which are off limits for people who are not fair skinned! Some pretty obvious observations are the film industry, and down south females need to have milky-white skin to be able to land the big roles along side "superstars", who are sometimes on the other end of the skin color spectrum, but that's more sexist than racist. It became pretty apparent to me that camera-facing jobs for TV and media almost always go for the fairer skinned candidate.

It's really scary how this subliminal prejudice has become commonplace, even in my family. I remember my relatives discussing a prospective match for one of my cousins and the usual dialogue (in Malayalam) of "Kutti nallatha, pashe colour pora" (The girl is nice but her colour is not enough!). Colour is a widely-used euphemism for skin fairness in Kerala.

In spite of having an institutionalized form of discrimination and racial segregation not too long ago, countries like the US and South Africa have come a long way in accepting dark skinned individuals in all walks of life. I remember watching some hollywood action movie on TV and one of my Uncles, who is not used to watching English content remarked, "American cinemayil Negroesinu nalla pradhanyam unde" (American movies tend to give importance to Negroes)

One can only hope that this there's a gradual shift in attitude and people realize that a person's worth is not function of his/her melanin content.

1 comment:

Zyber PAL said...

so true!