Discussing Dusty Skins And Privilege (Part One)

Generally on any given day, I don’t go by generalisations or assumptions, given that my LadyBrain is allergic to ‘boxing’. But after careful observations and using devices that sound so scientific that you’ll be left impressed, I can say that all of you readers are really smart, analytical and incisive; mainly because you read this blog. So it must have not escaped your attention that I am a woman of colour and I write about my country India, the things I see around me or my lived experiences. Call it narcissism or limited vision or selective focus, the truth remains that my nationality and position as a woman of colour in a (virtual) world dominated by the digital dollar is the space I have access to as well as choose to discuss. However, to be entirely truthful, I had never thought of using the phrase WOC till some troll pointed out just what he wanted to do with my ‘deliciously brown’ face a while back. Since then, the effect of hueism has somehow taken residence underneath my skin and refuses to go away.

Yesterday, my friend and I got to talking over coffee about how we perceive our skin colour as anything but ‘brown’. Strangely, she has always considered herself ‘fair’ and I’ve seen my skin tone as ‘wheatish’. Obviously, from skin tone, the conversation goes to fairness creams. For the uninitiated, ‘fairness creams’ somehow get under your skin — literally speaking — and use some fancyarse magic with the melanin content of your skin and voilà! you’re white fair. A good example of this magic would be the following ad. Warning: The ad causes you to hurl and/or fling your computer across the room. Or you may just want to bang your head on the nearest nailed wall.

And people insist colonisation left with the British and their absurd fondness for bulldogs. But I digress. My point is, today you will not find women looking at Queen Victoria’s painting and wishing their skin could be translucent as well. Today you will find women — and men too! It’s the decade of the meterosexual after all! — religiously applying fairness creams every morning, afternoon, evening and night. Fine, I embellished a little but that doesn’t change the popularity and demand of these creams. Here is a censored version of what my friend I discussed earlier yesterday.

Friend: Have you noticed how Indian girls go swoon-y over ‘fairness’ or ‘whiteness’ creams?
Me: Yes. It’s like an antidote to all evil, so I hear.
Friend: And the word used for our complexion is “dusky” with the slightest tinge of “dusTy”.
Me: Didn’t you hear, our skin colour causes kids to have rabies, breeds terrorists, makes babies cry as well as make all the dogs start chasing their tails while trying to lick their feet.
Friend: You forgot to mention how men are tempted to rape us because of our dusTy skin.
Me: That was implied. As it always is, between any two dusTy Indian girls.
Bystander: All of this is a joke right?
Me: No, we don’t joke.
Friend: We can’t. We are feminists.
Bystander: (Vanishes into thin air) …

On a more serious note, I know people who refuse to believe Indians themselves can be biased towards the ‘Whiter complexion’, refusing to believe that the DoucheColonialGaze is now internalised to such an extent that now it seems as a part of Indian culture. The trajectory according to their idiot logic is that since we were oppressed for about roughly two centuries by the Whites, we are not going to worship the coloniser, plus the history textbooks say we are independent now, hence colonisation must be over. By that logic, we can also say feminism, class oppression and caste politics are over because it says so somewhere in some book that each of this evils are a part of the past. Without pointing out the obvious flaw in that strain of thought — it’s just not worth it — it would be naïve to think that only a few people think this way. Never underestimate the reach of screwed up logic, I can remember my grandmother saying.

Indians love skin colour, even if this means labeling each person like a lab rat. And just like we were taught in sixth grade, under each petal of the flower, you will find multitudes of systems and meanings. So fair means ‘beautiful’, wheatish means’ she might find someone, perhaps if she gives up speaking ‘ and dark is seen as ‘GET HER AWAY FROM ME! YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT IS CONTAGIOUS THESE DAYS!”. Recently some sensitive smartarse came along and popularised the word ‘dusky’ so now people say ‘dark’ only if they have ingested copious amounts of alcohol or forgot to take their medication for being politically correct. Suddenly ‘dusky’ skin becomes desirable, only if the woman in question is notably pretty, adheres to all norms of ‘ideal feminine’ body shape that is; all of this is rather obvious and well known. What people don’t know is that ‘dusky’ people like actresses, entrepreneurs, teachers, [Insert your career option here ] are good at their jobs precisely because of their skin. Or something incredibly and similarly inane. I confess I don’t know the details of this argument because my LadyBrain slammed itself shut somewhere around ‘dusky’.

What is interesting is, how a few people have managed to use this ‘duskiness’ attributed to their skin to their advantage, or that is what the media would have us believe. This is why we think Nandita Das is such a ‘good actor’ because a lot of producers and directors initially rejected her because of her skin colour so she could dedicate herself to ‘indie’ and ‘experimental films’, not because she initially might have had no say over what projects she took on. Because Bipasha Basu is ‘dusky’, she has become the new-age sex-bomb of Indian cinema. Not because she has spent years perfecting and crafting that persona or anything. Being ‘dusky’ is my only hope a few of my aunts and relatives have told me, considering how ‘dark’ I’ve become in the past 20 years. It’s funny, I would have ignored all of it — sort of a habit when it comes to taking my relative’s opinions of anything at all even remotely seriously — until that one day some one commented on my skin in this e-universe. I had always considered my body to be relatively invisible online considering one doesn’t use it, or in some simplistic essence is left behind. Obviously that was wrong as my skin does have some value attached to it, regardless of the gaze I’m subjected to.

Now that I think of it, my ‘dusky’ skin has boxed me in. I am that ‘brown’ girl who ‘writes about other mud squatters her country people’ online. Beyond that, it seems like I am nothing else. I am still wondering when did I get co-opted into a system of ‘tokenism’; when the ‘dusTy’ label was accorded onto me or when I let it define me (I decided to write this post after receiving record number of troll e-mails yesterday — 118  — that seemed to suggest/assess/define me nothing beyond my skin). And as of now, the box seems to get smaller by every passing second and I fear the day I am going to vanish and all there is left of me is my skin.

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  1. This. This. This.
    In India, I’m always “fair.” And somehow, my supposed skin color is always conflated with my being American. (Foreigner = light skin = rich = good…n’est pas ?) This all occurs despite my dual identity as Indian-American. I proudly describe myself as brown, even though my mother bristles at the word. “You’re not brown, you’re a light tan!”

    THANK YOU for continuing and adding to the conversation about colorism and its impact on colonized countries in the Global South.

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