Let’s walk away from racism and colourism

In a world getting increasingly divided by strife, prejudices, conflict and violence, one of the strongest and most relevant points, particularly relevant to our country, that RI President Holger Knaack made at the virtual convention pertained to racism. Addressing the district governors and club presidents, he made no bones about the fact that he expects Rotarians across the world to show zero tolerance to racism. He reiterated that “promoting respect and celebrating diversity” were among the central tenets of Rotary and urged Rotary clubs to ensure “a fair balance in membership. Look out for minority groups who are not represented. Remember, Rotarians are not speechless and we must raise our voice against racism of any kind,” he said in response to a question on how Rotary would tackle systemic racism.

When we talk about prejudice and racism, one of the worst kinds is related to colour. While it took the merciless strangulation to death of the black George Floyd by a white male cop in the United States for the long simmering issue of prejudice and discrimination against blacks in America to explode, we in India are no better when it comes to our dislike for darker skin. Oh yes, we promote colourism to no end, going by the colossal demand for skin lightening creams and lotions in India. It took violent and persistent protests across the US, and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on various social media platforms, for Unilever to finally wake up to the fact that its huge money spinner, the Fair and Lovely face cream, only promotes discrimination against dark-complexioned people. And it decided to change its name to Glow and Lovely.

For decades now so many of us have been protesting against such so-called beauty products only deepening and widening the discrimination against dusky women.  The advertising was obnoxious enough; if you, as a woman, aren’t able to find a husband, a job, particularly as an air hostess, or lack confidence, use this cream, and see the magic after 10 or 15 days. As though this doesn’t raise your heckles, matrimonial ads are even more irritating with their quest for a “fair-complexioned” bride, and Indian movies have done little to fight
this prejudice.

In Bollywood films of yore, the dark wife was always shunned by the husband, and in numerous film songs and dialogues, the village beauty is always referred to as a “gori”. I remember yesteryears top star Meena Kumari chiding Krishna in that exasperating song “Krishna, o kaale Krishna/Tune yeh kya kiya/Mujhse badla liya/Rang deke mujhe apna” (Oh Krishna, why have you taken revenge on me by giving me your colour!) And the poor comedian Mehmood was made to croon: Hum kale hei toh kya hua dilwale hei (I may be black but I have a great heart). As though this is not enough, in Indian movies, the domestic help is several shades darker to the heroine, who in multiple cases, must have gone through painful bleaching and other skin lightening processes to get there in the first place.

Generations of prejudice will not go away quickly; as your President tells you, go out there and ensure that you as Rotarians raise your voice strong and hard against such utterly rubbish stereotypes of beauty.

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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