I Was 11 When I Was First Called “Blackie” And It Made Me Do Things I Should Have Done Never

Anonymous Anonymous in Your Story on 11 March, 2017

I was 11 years old when I succumbed to buying my first tube of fairness cream, after a ‘popular’ boy, (in whose good books everyone wanted to be), called out to me, “Weh (Yo) Blackie!”. I wouldn’t call myself a victim but I did join a group of un-welcomed persons, some of whom were called out to as the literal translation of coal. I felt really bad that day, it hit me right where it shouldn’t have.

I was naturally born dark brown and swimming in the scorching heat six times a week made me a shade darker. Don’t know if you know — when brown Indian skin tans it does not become a glowy golden, it becomes an alluring almond shade. I was only getting darker with each day and my parents didn’t notice, or care, or even bother because to them, a human’s colour has no significance, whatsoever. Home, however, is a place of comfort- typically a safe haven- and that is exactly what the world isn’t.

After feeling humiliated about my skin that day, I ran home to gather all my coins from my piggy bank, my notes from under my pile of clothes and joined my mother on her weekly grocery shopping trip while mentally deciding what brand of fairness cream I was going to sneakily buy. The induced false perceptions about me, based on the colour of my skin, had already made me a weak fighter in an environment where adolescent peer pressure had just started to build up. I still feel ashamed I got trapped into the vicious circle of sly racism in our society.

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In the supermarket my mother caught me holding the tube of fairness cream and expected a good deal of answers from me. She questioned how and why I even thought about picking up a fairness cream.

After a discussion, in the middle of the aisle, where my justifications included ‘I’m not liked for being dark’, ‘my friends are all fair’, ‘someone called me a name’ and the worst, ‘I don’t want to be ugly’ my mother had had enough. I almost felt her hand across my face. But she didn’t.

She couldn’t. She pulled back and composed herself whilst listening to my complaints, which, I only realised later on was proof of my low confidence and broken self-esteem. And then she did the best thing, like she already knew the outcome — she let me buy the cream with a condition to use it for three weeks only.

Instantly I agreed, thinking that at least being fair for a short while would help.
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The product did live up to its fairness guarantee and two weeks and some days into comparing my skin on the mini colour chart, a feminist family friend came visiting. My mother told her about our little agreement and our family friend couldn’t help but lash out at me for my foolishness.

She questioned, “You think the colour of your skin will be a game-changer? And if it is, the outcome will be shallow and not worth you! Wake-up!”.

I remember laying in my bed that night and wondering that if I’m not fair enough, “Will my intellect still be valued? Will the questions I raise be considered? Will I turn heads in my direction when I grow up? What connects my fairness and people’s perceptions of who I am? Am I considered to be purer, cleaner, smarter and more sophisticated, if I’m fairer? {I think…wait a minute} How do these characteristics even relate to the colour of your skin in today’s world? Wait, have I been viewing fair people as better people? Yes! The adverts show it! Everyday people make me realise it. No. Only our society makes me feel it. Does the world consist of our society only? No.”

By morning I had my answers. The first thing I did was throw the tube in the bin and tell my mother about my realisation. She said she was waiting for me to come to my senses one of these days. Why didn’t she stop me in the first place then? Because I was already broken. Her explanations or words of encouragement wouldn’t go far and one day or another, I would find myself in the same pit feeling ‘ugly’.

So I had to teach myself to love myself; my real, dark, self.
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If a boy of 11 years old can intentionally insult on the basis of colour then perhaps his values are far too traditional and some 200 years obsolete — ones that he learns at home. Research shows that children naturally form racial biases between ages 3-5 but only express them much later, depending on environmental factors. Hence if they are not stopped at the right time, a child may continue to use physical prejudices against people even later on. Thus, we need to consciously teach our children to love, to love every human regardless of colour, caste or creed. Like my mother did and I can’t thank her enough.

I was a vulnerable adolescent, who grew up watching the adverts on Indian TV, all of which showed that those using fairness creams had better clothes, more friends, appreciative lovers and prospects of finding good jobs as compared to their darker counterparts.

It seemed to me that those that used fairness creams or were naturally fair had it all, everything. And that is where the problem started. At a tender age I believed that I couldn’t have it all, since I was not equipped with the ‘right complexion’ and hence I was certainly not good enough to be the best at anything. Watching the adverts really influenced me to purchase the tube. I guess that’s the marketing strategy- to dwell on the darker skinned people who seem to have nothing working out for them, also making them feel that their dark skin is their biggest barrier. What’s more shameful is that educated people endorse, act and model for skin lightening creams. The social issue of racism was cleared in the United States in 1868 with the Equal Protection Clause but even a hundred and forty-seven years later, why are famous stars in India, still being paid to convince us to change our shade?

If fairer skin has ever turned tables for you, you’re working on the wrong ones.

A teammate with fierce potential quit swimming for the fear of becoming dark due to tanning. The question; Is having fair skin so important that we’re willing to give up our real, future prospects of success to gain the pretend, advertised benefits?

Society says yes! Society condemns those of darker brown shades, be it their own blood.
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To society, it does not matter if you are dark and scoring 98%, or are part of a national sports team, or volunteering an hour everyday, because the fact that you’re dark means that you’re just not as good. Fairness is considered to be a quality that is equal to smartness, vigour or humility. I was told to stop swimming or playing in the heat multiple times by visiting elderly relatives, as they reasoned, “Your skin will become too dark”. And their problem with dark skin was related to not being able to find a fair, handsome and rich groom, because let’s face it, all Indians have a couple of old timers in the family, who still believe everything in a woman’s life boils down to her marriage and her partner, but never her. Being fairer may quicken the pace for an Indian to gain a partner for marriage, only whilst losing out on gaining a partner for life.

The mentality of choosing a partner based on beauty dictated by fairness is shallow, cheap and disgusting. It needs to be thrown out.

I grew up as a 2nd generation Non-Resident Indian in a progressive Indian community outside of India and was still subjected to the brutality of the narrow-minded mentality that ‘fairness is superiority’, (the workings of the infamous class and caste system that the older emigrated generation was still stuck on). The extent of discrimination darker shaded people in India receive is appalling. They’re regarded as dirty, useless and a bigger burden if you’re a darker woman, whose father is extremely worried about your dowry, because your to-be husband requires more material to compensate for your darker shade. Alas!

The objectification of women continues here too, as a darker shade woman is considered to be a ‘faulty good’ that needs to be ‘handed over’ with a higher ‘guarantee’. And as we fight for Women’s Security, Women’s Equality, To-Be-Women’s Mortality- add Women’s Impartiality to that list too, please!

If you’re battling society’s ‘requirements’ on complexion, accept that you are dark and it will in no way affect the life that you decide to make for yourself. I did it and I flinch thinking about it because the fact is that I live in a world that’s been changed by Oprah as well as Mother Teresa, a world that laughs with Mindy Kaling as well as Melissa Mc.Carthy and one in which we sing to Beyonce as well as Usha Uthup. So, if you are one of one-thousand shades of black, white or brown, it does not matter anymore. It cannot matter!

This post was submitted by Sharmee Shah.

Author's Note:

I aim to give hope to other girls in a similar situation, one that I was sunk in for a long time.