JournalismPakistan.com July 11, 2013
Maria is a pretty girl,
What you call a bit of awright,
In the shadows, you ken see
She’d almost pass for wite (sic)
It was in Capetown I read this observation, scrawled on a wall near the Sunday jetty entrance. My friend and poet, Ernst, known in those days as a Cape Colored, pointed it out to me. It doesn’t change, does it, he said, not even in the new South Africa.
We have the same problem in India, I said, we hurt ourselves with equal dexterity.
He would not believe it, said I was making it up, just to keep the conversation going.
I said it was a bit much thinking he had the lien on prejudice, it’s a six way street, even whites can be the target, it works every which way. I said, in India we start young, we tell kids not to go in the sun, especially if they are girls, we tell them no one will marry you if you are dark.
I paint him this verbal picture of millions of little girls running scared, rubbing at their tender skins like an army of Lady Macbeths washing, washing, washing to rid themselves of the tan, otherwise it is straight to a life on the marital shelf.
He laughs because he thinks I am being funny. I tell him it is more tragic than he thinks because when it isn’t legalized the texture of prejudice can be far more insidious.
Siblings are compared, the fairer brother or sister is extended privilege, often unspoken but always there, the other one, she’s a nice girl. Just a bit on the dark side.
A brown and black nation using nicknames based on color, Inky, Blackie, Hubshi, Kaloo, a generation of teenagers spending pocket money on skin fair creams that promise you a lovelier tomorrow, don’t you want to be fair and sunny and good-looking, fathers with marriageable daughters tossing in bed with worry and paying Rs 22 per column centimeter for the classifieds section where their daughter is sanitized in skin color, a sort of wheatish complexion the deliberate double ‘ish’ a ringing testimony to the depth of the pigment. Which genetic forefather infested our family tree?
Fair babies are better looking than dark babies, knead them with dough and rub the flipping pigment out, apply bleach but get the melanin before it gets them.
I tell him that fair Indians are about as bad as the most racist Afrikaaners were and if an Indian married a black American the average middle class Indian family would curl up and die in a corner of their home.
I said it happened to a friend of mine and he did not tell them whom he had married so at Mumbai airport the family, having resigned themselves to sonny boy having plighted the troth with an American rather than one of their own creed, sought sanctuary in the fact that there was some tangible social significance to being a westerner. They all dressed up and fetched up at flight time and suddenly this gorgeous, bronzed black American girl flung herself full length on the arrivals floor, having been informed by her husband that Indian brides did this sort of thing when meeting their in-laws.
The in-laws were horrified.
The in-laws were deep into catatonic shock. How could he do this to them?
I tell him the tragedy is the couple stayed five days of their one-month homecoming.
I change tack and tell him how cruel it is, how lovely human beings, especially girls, are victimized in little ways and not so little ways and how fairer progeny somehow get a better break on things. Even jobs. Fairer people just seem to be more visually acceptable.
Aunts never tell them don’t wear green you are too dark.
Relatives don’t tease them and leave them introverted and bewildered and hurting.
Friends don’t nickname them with spearing labels. Their self-esteem does not lie there mangled by insensitive and endless commentary.
I tell him we spend a lot of time slagging off racism elsewhere.
Then we go back home, picking up another tube of complexion lightening soap.
Want to be fair and lovely. Yes.
(The writer is a Senior Editorial Advisor of Khaleej Times and the paper’s former Editor. He has also been the Editor of Gulf News, Gulf Today, Emirates Today and Bahrain Tribune)
The Express Tribune, November 11, 2016
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