I have read the scores of articles on colorism and fairness creams but it wasn’t until I got to Kolkata that I saw an ad that proclaimed, “Pollution gone. Fairness on.” First of all—ouch. I’ve never thought that my brown skin was polluted. And second of all, how misleading! Telling people that underneath your “dirty” exterior, there is a bright and beautiful complexion waiting to be unearthed.
This national obsession with fair skin is everywhere—from photoshopped newspapers adverts to the light-skinned celebrities that represent Indians in regional and Bollywood films. After Nina Davuluri won the Miss America pageant in 2014, there were comments made about how she never could have won such a pageant in India for she was too dark to be a serious contestant.
It’s funny—before leaving the U.S., I was telling a friend how relieved I felt to be going to a racially homogenous country where I no longer would have to be reminded of race every waking moment. He promised me that I would find other challenges and identities to navigate and it certainly seems so—between color, gender, and caste, I am more than likely to find myself being othered. To locals, I am part of the “them” category, rather than the “us.” It’s pretty different from living in the U.S. where I consider all Indian-Americans to be my “in group” so to speak.
I have become quite aware of colorism during daily walks in Kolkata—being South Indian means that there is an extra level of bias—especially considering that skin color can closely correspond with caste. [I was actually asked my caste yesterday but didn’t realize what was happening and kept proceeding to ask the shopkeeper about tenants in his building]
To learn a bit more about how the issue manifests globally–check out this fantastic TED talk.