This is a discussion we have regularly at home. How can we not? This topic is all around us—in our advertisements, on our TV screens, tossed at us by friends and relatives, in our movies and books, you name it. But of late, I am glad that we are speaking more about this and not wallowing in self-pity. We are reclaiming our right to not be bullied, mocked or made to feel small. Most importantly we are empowering each other. I am talking about the topic of skin colour.
Considering that we've people in all shades of brown in India, it is surprising the bias we have towards the fairer shades. If you thought only women heard derogatory remarks about having a dark complexion, you are wrong. Boys and men face it too. Right from childhood, little kids know how to insult darker skinned children by calling them kaala or kaali, equating it to ugly somehow.
Right from childhood, little kids know how to insult darker skinned children by calling them kaala or kaali, equating it to ugly somehow.
It stings especially when a young child cannot make sense of it. When fitting in is a need and a rejection of any sort leaves deep scars within. Having faced this in my childhood when I would just retreat into a shell and not show that I was hurt, it took me years to build my self-confidence enough both to take it in my stride and also to give it back sometimes. But more importantly, it was also about feeling beautiful and comfortable in my skin.
I've been very conscious regarding this matter with my children. I've never made comments on someone's skin colour or body shape to their face and always stop my kids from doing so. If all of us had these conversations with our children then perhaps we all would be more sensitive.
I have watched with dismay older women banter about a new bride's complexion to her face. Very recently, as a matter of fact, I was privy to one such experience and bristled. Why? How is this banter acceptable? How can people be so ridiculous?
I have seen people call other people names based on their complexion. The funny part is that many dark-skinned people do it too. Is it to hide their own feelings of inferiority or to just fit in with the general narrative?
When my elder son faced these taunts, he came home in tears many times. I have always drilled in him how to take pride in his skin colour. Over the years, I have seen him become confident and unmindful of any such mocking. That really gladdens my heart.
Sadly the world around us will not change. It will prey on our insecurities. It will make us feel worse for who we are. But as a family, as a part of the larger society, talk to your children.
The other day, my younger son was narrating an incident to me.
A very fair skinned boy, who is also his friend, had a tiff with him.
As children are wont to do when they are hurt, he lashed out and called him a black boy and asked him to shut up. No matter that my younger son is perhaps just a couple of shades darker than him.
There is nothing wrong with any skin colour. The problem is with our biases.
This tiny chit who is very quiet outside the house lashed back, "What is wrong with being black?"
His friend did not know what to say.
I admire his quick thinking. This is exactly what we have to teach our children. There is nothing wrong with any skin colour. The problem is with our biases.
I felt really proud of how he handled it and I commended him though I could see that he had felt hurt. That is okay. It is human. He will slowly learn to ignore such barbs.
I wish I had his kind of gumption when I was younger but at least I am enabling the kids to handle such situations, and most importantly to be more empathetic people. Also when they question such attitudes, they somewhere make the other person think beyond what they have imbibed from movies or from people around them. That is a small victory in itself.
Do you discuss skin colour with your children and sensitise them not to discriminate?
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