Saturday, July 3, 2010

Do the Right Thing

The movie review set me thinking. While I've never found myself face-to-face with a hideous alien; after a lifetime of living in India, I do know a thing or two about having very narrow standards when it comes to judging on appearances - especially the fair-and-lovely benchmark.  It isn't really racism: colour of skin isn't that much of an indicator of race in this very diverse country. Besides, we don't really discriminate on colour in an overtly physical way. It's rather understated, and ultimately is merely about what we consider attractive.

Casteism, if anything, would probably be the closest thing to racism that we can boast of - there seems to be much hair-splitting on that subject, though. Now, throw as much rhetoric as you can, and you would still fail to describe the horrors of casteism. Any conscionable blogger would write about it, particularly in view of the ongoing debate. But it is a war waged mostly in India's villages, and is not something I have direct experience of. In any case, no one has yet accused me of being a conscionable blogger.

Colourism, on the other hand, I've seen all around me; and even indulge in, whenever time permits (remind me to write a post on how jam-packed modern-day schedules are, and how it doesn't really leave us with enough time for the finer things in life). But hack that I am, I think I'll hitch a free ride by using a word that instantly brings to mind the worst of discrimination, all over the world. Right then, that's "racism" we settled on, yes?

Oh, and don't worry. I'm not about to bore you to tears by frothing up with righteous anger. Frothing up takes energy. Besides, I'm not really against racism. Being as human as the next man, I need to be able to despise - freely and without guilt. Is there a simpler way to judge and condemn than by colour of skin? Admittedly, there are more sophisticated means of identifying subjects to discriminate against, but for sheer ease-of-use, nothing else comes close.

Take a look at the IMDB Top Films. How many in that list are all sweetness and sunshine? At the time of writing, you have to scroll all the way down to #29 to find the first one - the nauseating "It's a Wonderful Life" - and then to #45, to find the second, "Amelie." What would we blog about, what would we film? Where would we get our little rises if there are no faces to grind our boots with?

Further, as a friend pointed out, racism is part of our identity. We grow up with it. We pass it down, from generation to generation, with love and care, careful to preserve every ounce of it. It is our rightful inheritance. And is there another nation that guards its cultural heritage more zealously?

All people are equal? What rubbish! If we can discriminate based on looks, intelligence, wit, talent, language, religion, etc, then why not colour? What's the difference? Why the half-hearted attempts at political correctness; why make me stand in front of the vice-principal's room for an hour, merely for calling a classmate a crow? (And he had started it, by tripping me on the staircase.)

The only gripe I have here is that we seem to be practising this whole racism thing upside down. We were occupied by the British for 200 years - and, judging by the cast of "Lagaan," the colonisers were white: not black, not brown, not grey, not yellow, not blue. White*. Also, it's the predominantly-white societies that we look to, with hawk-like eyes, for any hint of racism; and when we do get our evidence, what a good job we do with the whingeing - which is fair enough; after all, it isn't the Moors who treated us like second-class citizens in our own country.

So why is it that we simper at anyone with a lighter shade of skin than ours, while treating darker skin with something approaching disdain? An Iranian tourist - she of pearly white skin - told me how well, how magnificently, she was treated while on her visit here of a few weeks. Isn't that just wrong?

So, here's what I propose. We drop everything we're doing right now, and make our way to the nearest chemist, or wherever it is that we can get our hands on one of those fairness creams that have a  money-back guarantee. From what I can remember of the ads, they come with some sort of a strip that lets you measure "improvement" in skin tone; presumably, it has all possible shades of skin colour: from pot-with-no-self-awareness black, to sambar brown, to pasty white.

Whenever we come across a tourist, we hold the strip up against their foreheads, and if they happen to be two shades lighter than the median we've marked out, we condemn them to the cool treatment; our covert stare will have an element of distaste. Those two shades darker, on the other hand, we stare at with admiration; we fawn at them; we'd want them to pat us affectionately on the head, while not forgetting to fleece them, if we can.

On the local front, things are, admittedly, not quite so black and white; and I'm not writer enough to summarise it in a few lines. A couple of things that come to mind is asking specifically for dark-skinned partners in marriage ads; further, those of us of darker skin will not dilly dally in describing our colour. No more "wheatish" or other obfuscations. We go ahead and declare proudly: "brown" or "black."

Let the ones with the lighter skin come up with shame-faced  euphemisms: "tooth-paste-ish," "an unbecoming coconut-chutney coloured," "semiya-payasam skinned." Kids tripped on stairs will accuse the offender of being a... polar bear? (That isn't very good, is it? I'm open to suggestions.) Of course, since only dark skin shall turn us on from now on, at the next IPL, there will only be black cheerleaders (assuming we'll still be importing them). When chaps like him come back to India, we will impress them with our growing racist maturity, by asking, in a tone willing to believe the very worst, "What are the white people like?"

All I'm campaigning for is enlightened, logical racism. Is that too much to ask for?

*A quick Google search astonished me with the info that white folk come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and political views; apparently, not all of them have tried to colonise India, either. There are some who prefer racing and reindeer; there are others who absolutely detest motor racing, and would rather make chocolate, cuckoo clocks or all-conquering tennis champs. A chap named Napoleon had his differences of opinion with other white folk, notably the ones across the French Channel. And yes, some white Aussies have been known to refer to other white folk, separated by the Tasman Sea, as sheep shaggers. I acknowledge all this, but am still sticking to my guns; the time-honoured pejorative, "They all look the same," being my underlying philosophical premise.


Susan Deborah said...

No, you aren't asking for too much. But all that you are asking has been asked for by many but still there comes posts which still ask.

Apart from the post what I liked were the lovely local images you sprinkled all over your post like "sambar," "semiya payasam," etc.

And whites have their own shades of variation too. The Brits and Irish are whites to us but they dislike each other and can easily demarcate. So much so for colour. And talk about the shades of dark. these days it's dusky, mind you!

P. S: Today's word verification: FEISTY

Joy always,

Rohan said...

Ah well, we're making progress then. "Dusky" conjures up images of exotic beauty. "Wheatish," on the other hand...

BettyBlue said...

You want to know prejudice deeper than skin colour? Grow a vagina.

Rohan said...


I used to be fairly sure #1 belonged to religion. Over the years, though, links as the one in the second paragraph have convinced me otherwise.

Neha said...

in all fairness, umm, do you like fawning at white or dusky? :D we'l debate the colour debate later! .. tho good choice of subject, but then, why just white? why not the pink+white? the cherry plums? the pale, scaly whites? there are must visit a lipper shade book next time you hit the wellness store..

Rohan said...

Wouldn't I be dooming my political career right from the start, if I were to admit publicly to a preference to lighter skin? ;)

I'd wanted to have a look at the tone-measurement strip. How would they manage to have all possible skin tones on one strip? But I found it way too embarrassing to go to a store and actually ask for one. I tried furtively hunting on the shelves, but no luck. Thankfully, the word "presumably" came to the rescue.

missjane said...

Hmm, not sure I can compress my thoughts on this into a comments box, but on a much shallower note, I have been meaning to come back and say "Be a man!" since you first posted it.

Rohan said...

I... eh. Why have you been meaning to say that?

Ruchi Joshi said...

How the hell do you like this damn thing?! Now that I am here, let me just say are funny, Rohan Mathew! :)