Discussion around thanksgiving with my family was about racism. My husband brought up the topic because, he felt he had been discriminated on by a cab driver. Kids shared stuff too and when it was my turn, I was thinking hard. Strange, in my 21 years of living in the United States I could not think of any instance I had been discriminated against. Then it dawned on me that compared to the discrimination I had faced growing up in India anything I may have faced here was peanuts. I have shared this story with my children and my husband and I would like to share it with anyone who cares to read.
When I was a child I was a very outdoor child. I came home from school at 4, changed into home clothes and ran out to play. That’s what we did those days. Played outside till the sun went down. I loved the sun. There was this ledge protruding out of my home in bright sunlight and I often sat there to do my homework or just read. So much time spent in the sun I was dark skinned. And of course we never knew about sunscreen those days. I was not one of those girls that stayed indoors or wore hats to protect their skin as many little Indian girls were told to do. My parents were very broadminded and encouraged me to be a boisterous as I wished. I was a happy child, lots of friends and did not lack anything or so I thought. Then in the 4th grade I auditioned for a lead role in a Shakespeare play. I was good at dramatics and gave an excellent audition that got a loud applause. I checked out my competition : a few other girls who stumbled and dithered over the role. The part was mine. I could feel it. Eager as I was to learn the results I stood by the stairwell and listened as the drama teachers discussed etc. 3 of them thought I should get it while 1 of them said No! Her argument was that I was not fair skinned and would not look good in that role. The others reluctantly agreed. I was shocked! In retrospect it’s not such a big deal but to an 8 year old who never thought twice about the color of her skin it was a shock. In my sheltered perfect life I had not realized that I was anything but beautiful. My family told me I was beautiful and I believe I was. I didn’t tell anyone at home about the incident. I just dropped out of drama club and kept the reasons to myself. I got into the debating club and the singing club. There, I was told by a fair female very plainly that I would sing in the chorus but I was not glam ( fair) enough to get lead singing roles. I ignored the female and still sang because I loved singing. I did end up with a solo part twice and won prizes. As I grew older, well meaning people ( not my family) would tell me to apply this cream called ‘ fair & lovely’ to lighten my skin. The more I heard that the more I rebelled. I joined NCC ( National Cadet Corps) which involved marching/running outside in the sun for hours in a drab brown, starched unflattering uniform. I was a friendly teen, had my share of crushes and had guys crush on me like every other girl but I always thought guys who crushed on me was because I was a nice person. I had a lot of fraternal guy friends too and those friendships were fun! Then as I grew older I realized there were some professions I could not enter. That was OK since I had set my heart on studying Nutrition. But even there I had limitations. Although I graduated top of my class at both the Home Science College and CMC Vellore I could not get into health clubs where they wanted the fair skinned glamorous dietitians ( probably one of the reasons I now enjoy spending time at the gym lol) I worked in hospitals which was perfect for me anyway.
Then I went to the Middle East and worked with a catering company where I was the only female dietitian and had to share office space with 7 other male dietitians and a break room with about 25 men. Of yeah, there were all respectful, treated me like a lady, kid sister save the few who tried to hit on me but I knew how to handle that! All in all regular guys who treated me well. But I had to listen to then talk since it was a coed break room. Indian guys who would say things like “ All Pilipino women are beautiful because they are all white” This just confirmed what I knew about many Indian guys, the obsession with fair skin. Never mind the features, or the pretty eyes or the beautiful hair, fair skin superseded all that. If you think I am exaggerating, check out the matrimonial ads in Indian newspapers… Fair, tall are the 2 requirements. If you don’t find the word tall, you will find the word fair. It’s probably changed now but in my days yeah! OK I am not generalizing, I know a lot of Indian men who were/are not like that and dark skinned women being considered beautiful too is in but in those days it wasn’t the usual. So yeah, I can go on about stories but let’s just say all this made me develop my inside and my character. I was often considered an overachiever and I think subconsciously I was doing that to make up for what I thought I lacked in looks. When people appreciated me, if guys said I was cute, I thought it was my inside qualities that attracted them. Not a bad way to feel at all and I am glad for that. I had a happy, normal growing up, just some discrimination which turned out for the better as you can see.
While I was in the middle East, living with my parents it was hot so we had to use sunscreen and I was indoors a lot so I lightened a little. Not by choice but anyways my natural color came back I guess which was a nice honey brown still ” dark skinned ” by Indian standards. I also gained 20 lbs over 2 yrs ( went from a skinny 90 lbs to a healthier 110 lbs) thanks to my mom who force fed me a full fat drink called ” Nido” because they thought I was too skinny for any future groom. Another Indian obsession .. to have curves lol! Not a bad thing .. am all for women having curves :)! It was then that I met my husband. He was in the states and I was in the Middle East. We had a phone romance and used to talk for hrs on the phone. A regular phone with a cord, not a smart phone. There was no email those days so waiting for letters was kinda exciting. Anyways, when he proposed two months after we had started talking, I was ready. I knew this was the man for me, the one I would love to spend my life with but I had one misgiving. He had not seen me. I was apprehensive that he may not like me as much when he saw me. We exchanged pictures of course through letters but face to face no. I told him he needed to see me before deciding etc. He was in hurry and wanted to get married in 3 months and I thought we should meet before that. He thought I was nuts and told me this sentence that I will never forget. He told me even if my face got burnt he would want to marry only me. I loved him even more that day. 3 months later we met a week before the wedding and the sparks were still there. We were married and 1 week later I was in my new home in the States. 21 yrs later we still have sparks and love and I am thankful I went with my heart!
When I got here I was pleasantly shocked to see that dark skinned women were considered beautiful, even gorgeous. Naomi Campbell was a hot model those days & Haley Berry was one of the most attractive stars I had seen and both of them were considered beautiful by the general public. I remember going for a musical play ‘ the taming of the shrew’ and noticing that the lead role was played by a black woman who obviously got the role because of her lovely voice. This would never have happened easily in the India I grew up in. As I interacted with people I realized I was beautiful outwardly too and it was a bit of a surprise to me. I used to blink when total strangers… people who obviously didn’t know me ( the person I was) said or alluded to the fact that I was pretty. My husband is a one of a kind. I think I can count on my fingers the number of times he may have said or alluded to my being beautiful. He has 2 pretty daughters and if they can get a ” you look nice” out of him, that’s a big deal. It’s fine! Their mom makes up for it and we all understand and love him as he is. He’s just one of those men to whom that is not important. That doesn’t prevent me though from dressing up as pretty as I can on date night with no expectations of complements :)! I know he loves me as I do him and that’s all I need. If I need feedback on an outfit I send my cousin In India a picture and get feedback!
As for my 2 girls :I think they’re very beautiful but I’m their mom so of course I think so. But I am glad they are growing up in a country where beauty is not measured by the color of your skin and they can be anything they want to be if they set their minds to it. As much I encourage them to be beautiful on the inside which is most important, I will also tell them they are beautiful on the outside because every child /young girl needs to hear it and feel it and not feel like a lesser beautiful being because of small minded people. And as for racism which can come in many ways, I tell my girl to rise above it and not let it get to them. Instead to let it mould them to be better people. I know it did for me and I will never regret the experiences of color discrimination that I faced. It was the making of me. I am thankful for that incident in 4th grade and other experiences which made me not to be preoccupied by looks but worked to develop my inside. I am in my 40s now and I feel fit, fabulous and beautiful. More than I have in my life. I wouldn’t change a thing about me. Nothing physically that is. But my super sensitivity and other things like that, those qualities I am working on. If tomorrow my skin does get burnt I will still feel beautiful because having lived half my life believing I was only beautiful on the inside kind of grows on you and old habits are hard to break! This was supposed to be a post on racism and how it helped me become what I am but am not sure if I digressed. I wrote what was in my heart and if I offended anyone with my frank appraisal of Indian men & people on the color issue please don’t take it personally. I have plenty of Indian friends ( both male and female) who are broadminded lovely people whose company I enjoy. I am proud of all my women relatives and friends who are beautiful, accomplished, smart women regardless of the color of their skin. Everyone is different and we embrace everyone. I am also not ranting against fair skinned women who have their own insecurities and problems I’m sure and I hope they have their ways of coping too like I did growing up! I just wrote about my own experience with discrimination and it felt very cathartic. If you’ve read this, just know you may not see this again because I will probably close this post after awhile. Just another of my quirks…. not wanting everyone to know this part of me! If I am sensitive about certain things, I think reading about skeletons from my closet will help folks understand why I am that way. Even though we overcome, ghosts from your past can rise up and haunt! Ok I ‘m being a little dramatic ( another big fault) so I should probably stop!Thanks for stopping by to read my rant!