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“I’m not going to spend my life being a colour.”
Michael Jackson’s 1991 anthem Black or White got it right. It’s been 26 years but we as a nation continue to judge people by their colour. From matrimonial ads seeking a ‘fair, beautiful girl’ to beauty creams linking fairness with success, it’s like we’re stuck in a regressive rut.

The sad state of our society is quite apparent in the way we think about one’s colour and appearance. And this isn’t just pertinent to small towns and rural India. People in the cities also get away with remarks like ‘don’t do this, your skin shade will become darker’, or ‘oh, you look so tanned!’

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A friend of mine experienced this subliminal racism when she was all of 14. She recalls, “I used to love going for my swimming classes and it was, in a way, sowing a feeling of empowerment within me. But it didn’t last long, as everyone started reminding me of my tanned skin more than my achievement of learning how to swim. This forced me to try different soaps and creams to revive my ‘fairer’ skin shade”.

We also hear incidents of racism in the news that continue to take place in ‘urban India’. Monika Khankhembam, a Manipuri women’s rights activist, was harassed at the New Delhi airport with racist comments. Speaking about the incident at a recent conference she said, “There is an inherent racism in the Indian society. (The passport control official) even said to me – Indian toh nahi lagte ho!” The official in question was let off the hook without prosecution.

There are many such stories, unheard, unknown, which have impacted someone at some point. Since when did skin colour become a measure of one’s personality or success? Why let a brand establish that fair is lovely?

While dozens of Bollywood biggies endorse fairness soaps and creams, actress Kangana Ranaut, who is a strong role model for many, flatly refuses to hop on the bandwagon. I absolutely love it when influential people use their own permissible medium to spread an important message. In her recent appearance on Koffee with Karan she said, “I don’t do fairness creams, so I lose out on a lot of international brands that could come my way. You let that go for something more valuable, which is my values.”

This can be a motivator for us all, to reflect on the way we think and what we say about skin colour. At the same time, we need to stand up against racist comments too, whether targeted towards us or somebody else. After all, nobody should have to feel insecure because of the way they look.

Should fairness products and/or fairness ads be banned in India? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image Credit: Conchita Fernandes

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