My husband and I are light-skinned (Asian-Indian skin tone) parents to a #dark, bonny toddler. We certainly don’t make for an eyebrow-raising picture but we do often get asked who our daughter has taken after.
We totally understand the curiosity
Depending on the mood and weather, our response ranges from a polite reply to a quip. And yes, we have had very few run-ins, but, ironically with close relatives. Typically, their biases show up disguised in the form of sympathy - befitting a calamity – towards us or unsolicited advice on skin lightening techniques.
While it is not lost on us that we live in a fairness obsessed society (the fairness product market is one of the fastest growing segments not just in #India but in many regions of the world, particularly Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries.) Fair skin is purportedly associated with beauty, wealth, and higher social strata but our immediate social circle and milieu tend to allow us to live impervious of this.
However, reality struck me in my face a couple of months ago when my daughter became a target of color prejudice at an upmarket retail outlet in Kolkata’s technology and residential hub, Rajarhat. At the store, my overfriendly daughter tried to shake hands with another little girl. She was accompanied by her mother and older brother, who seemed to be in his tweens. Even before my mother could stop our daughter, the girl started bawling. My mother tried placating her. When the mother of the children was picking up the girl, the boy said, “My sister is scared of dark people.”
Stung with indignation, my mother retorted, “I was just wondering - how could a grown-up boy say such a terrible thing?" Nothing came out of my shaken self, though. I left the store in shock – more so because the person in question was seemingly urbane and it happened in a city that has been a melting pot of different races, ethnicity, and cultures since time immemorial. Later, when I recovered, I kicked myself for not speaking up to the mother. I don’t fault the boy, though. He is a product of the environment, which obviously leaves a lot to be desired. Also, he was not mature enough to display socially appropriate behavior.
Biases color our world
But in all fairness, even the mother is not alone in internalizing a biased mindset. In some form or the other, implicit biases are ingrained in all of us. This is where awareness and education come into play. They help us recognize biases and hence correct our thinking - from how we act to how we should act.
And preconceptions start forming right from childhood. Look at children’s literature, nursery rhymes, songs, dolls, superheroes and so forth! Many of them reinforce biases and stereotypes. So, a ‘curly hair, very fair’ child is ‘teacher’s pet’; dark people often seem to be portrayed as mean or baddies; fat people are cast as bullies, pot-bellied men are either greedy or corrupt, boys wear blue and girls wear pink, dads work in office and moms at home, boys race toy cars and girls play with doll houses.
Inclusivity is the way forward
We need to change this. And this should start from our homes. Our social, play and learning/work environment ought to correctly reflect the real world, foster increased awareness to assay and tackle subtle yet negative messages about different #color, cultures, gender etc., so that diversity becomes a way of life and inclusivism does not remain a labored response.
Going back to that awful episode, I do sometimes think of what could have been an effective and responsible response.