Coming from a brown family and having dark skin has always been a nightmare for me. My own family members and relatives called me names like gorilla, chimpanzee, ‘kallu’ (a subcontinental alternative of the dark skin slang) and even referred to me as a black pig from the wilds. And for obvious reasons, in my early days I sort of hated myself for how I looked. But this didn’t last for long since I started questioning the idea of colorism, which is very prevalent in our society.
The other day, a family member of mine called me a black chimpanzee and started laughing as it was supposed to be a joke. Not getting mad at that very person, I tried re–educating her about how this is wrong, but instead of understanding, she got mad at me while playing the victim card. The biggest irony of this very incident was that she herself has a dark skin tone. So, the question remains, who are these people actually being rude to? Themselves?
Racism around the world mostly exists among people of different races. For example, if we see the recent BLM movement, we get to see how a specific group of people are being oppressed because of their race. This isn’t a new thing, but a historical problem that has been going on for centuries. The reason behind it is a specific group of people trying to make themselves superior to another group of people. It’s simple as that, and this is what basic knowledge about basic racism teaches us.
But what makes brown people hate themselves for how they look? Like, come on. They belong from the same race, they belong from the same society, they belong to the same community, yet someone’s skin being lighter makes them superior! How does that even make sense? In other cases of racism, it is one group of people that oppresses another group of people. But here, the oppressor itself is the oppressed. No matter how ridiculous it sounds, this is the situation not just in Bangladesh but in the entire sub-continent.
What is the root of this? Have we ever thought about what generated such ideas in our mind? Few of us do, but most do not. In the history of Bengal and the entire subcontinent, skin tone has never been an issue until the eighteenth century. Suddenly, what made us feel so inferior about the brown skin we have possessed for ages?
The clear and simple answer to it is colonization. It is historically seen that when a race gets enslaved for long, they start losing their culture and sense of pride. It is a form of Stockholm syndrome.
If we go back to the twelfth century, the Hindu deities were made from black stone. Sanskrit poet Jaydev referred to Radha as, “Shyamalam, chandra-virhit raatri sadrisham (as dark as the night without moon!)” in his Geet Govindam. All the Prakrit scriptures of Jainism depicted Mahavira as shyamal varni (darkish toned), and Pali scriptures of Buddhism described Gautam Buddha as Tirudharnam (a dark-complexioned person).
Even in Valmiki Ramayan and Tamil Ramayan, Ravan was described as fair-skinned and Ram as dark-skinned: “Dashananam gaur varnita iti Ram shyamalam (Dashanana or Ravana was fair-skinned, and Ram was dark-skinned)”. In the ancient scriptures, it is seen that most of the positive characters had a darker skin where the evil possessed lighter skin.
But in today’s age, if we see any animation or Hindu sculpture, they are given a fair skin. Even Krishna whose name stands for the word black is given the colour blue everywhere, including in children’s cartoons, suggesting that being dark skinned is a problem even if you are a god whose name means ‘dark skinned’.
But guess who is the only god with a darker skin? It’s Kali who is the goddess of death, violence, and the doomsday. Cause white people don’t do destruction, duh. It’s just black ones who are in on it, even if it’s a goddess!
Not only did the scriptures get twisted, the movie industry also promoted such ideas from the very start. If we look into Bollywood, only a few actors and actresses with a darker skin tone made it into the industry with leading roles. Mostly, they are brought in with the negative role or side character. Even in the south industry, actors with darker skin get less work, and actresses still need milkish whiteness.
Systematically, throughout the colonized period such ideas have been implanted by the colonizers. Until this day, we are suffering from this complex which makes hated by ourselves. It was part of the very colonization plan for which we saw several ‘danga’s amongst us, even at a time when we were getting exploited by a third party. As the successor of the ‘divide and rule’ project, colorism exists in this region even after almost eighty years since the British colonizers left.
The colonizers didn’t just ‘whitewash’ our minds, they also whitewashed themselves so that even in their subconscious mind they have a superiority complex. Jesus who was born in Israel in a middle eastern Jewish locality must have been a brown person with dark hair. That’s not merely what I’m saying; it’s what historians claim.
If we look at the portrayal of Jesus around us, however, we see a white European man with blonde hair. Even the face of Christmas, who is widely known as Santa Claus, is also a white old man. Ultimately, every positive character around us is portrayed as white; and if they weren’t originally white, then they are turned into a white person by the colonizers.
The effect of such whitewashing has created colorism and racial abuse among a race that has been racially exploited and oppressed for a long time. In everyday life, skin tone is being used as a tool of creating a type of class difference that never existed; it and also doesn’t make sense, at least not in twenty-first century.
From personal life to familial and social life, such systematic racism exists in this part of the world. From birth, a dark-skinned baby is seen as a symbol of bad luck; with time, they grow up and face verbal and emotional abuse and that too by the people who are supposed to be ‘family’. In a later stage of life, in a subcontinent where marriage is a matter of concern, they face a lot of coloristic abuse and a very low number of people show interest to tie nods with them. Women are the primary victims of colorism, though men face it also. And if somehow a dark man manages to get married, especially if with someone who has fair skin, then society turns this into a gold-digging joke as if marrying someone with dark skin is a sin.
In professional life and job places, dark skinned people are judged and discriminated against. The other day I listened to this guy who was asked not tp come for the tuitions he had been doing after the recent rape case exploded around the country. And the reason behind it was given that he, as a dark man, did not seem safe.
Another thing which is widely seen in the subcontinent is how they treat people visiting from other countries. Guests are considered special here and the foreign ones are given extra care in everything. But that is only when that person is white. The local people here refer white visitors as ‘foreigner’ and black vistors aa ‘ni*ro’. It also creates a negative difference in their treatment. And the worst part is, they aren’t even aware of why they do it and how it is a wrong thing to do.
After being exploited by British colonization for almost two hundred years, we have been enslaved to such an extent that we practice racism and colorism in our daily life as if it is something very normal to do. But it wasn’t supposed to be like that. After being colonized and gaining freedom from it, it was our necessity to make sure that we break down the social class policy that had made one specific group of people superior because of their color. But instead, we continue to normalize that toxic practice. People like us who talk about decolonization, we should be the ones stopping such colorism. We should have a hand in eradicating racism around the world and break the leash of enslavement because freedom cannot be achieved while our minds are caged.
Fardeen Hassan, student
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