Our family has members with a very wide range of skin tones. We have very dark relatives to very fair ones, and all shades of brown in between.
My husband and I fall into the brown range, while our son was considered ‘fair’ when he was born. Apart from the occasional mention, skin colour was never an issue that was seriously discussed or thought of in our household, till a certain incident that happened.
It was my son’s fourth birthday. The party was on in full swing, and my son was happily receiving presents and hugs from his enthusiastic friends, aunties and uncles. All was good till my husband’s cousin brother (who had come all the way from Chennai) hugged the birthday boy. “Eeeeeeeee,” screamed my son and wriggled out of his grasp. The atmosphere turned a bit awkward, and a few nervous laughs later, the party resumed.
After the guests had left, I put my tired son to bed and casually asked him, “Why did you run away from Uncle Ravi?” He replied instantly, “He’s black….and dirty. I don’t like it.”
I was taken back. From where did a four-year-old get the idea that someone’s skin colour is dirty? “Hey, never say that!” I chided him. But I noticed that he had already drifted off to sleep.
That statement got me thinking, ‘Did he pick it up from school somewhere? Who told him that dark was dirty? Did we unknowingly give our child a message sometime that dark skin meant not beautiful?
My husband and in-laws brought up the topic the next day. They hoped Ravi didn’t feel too bad because it was evident my son had no problem with the other relatives and particularly screamed only when hugged by his much browner uncle. We pondered if it was right for us to clearly tell our child not to behave like this in the future but we also wondered what could have caused it in the first place.
A few days later, I was watching the television with my child, when an advertisement for a fairness cream came on screen. “Mama, you also put that cream, your skin will become glowing like that aunty,” my son said seriously. Then it struck me. We were subtly conditioning our children to be racial all the time.
- Fairness cream ads are still splashed all over the hoardings and TV screens even today that tell us to become ‘fair’ and ‘lovely.’
- Most cartoon characters show light-skinned protagonists and dark villains, so children naturally tend to feel that light skin is superior.
- Our society casually talks about ‘how fair the baby is!’ or ‘How a bride’s skin is glowing!’ It’s these little things that children pick up
- Dark-skinned babies or adults are rarely the face of a brand or rarely feature in advertisements
So how can we unteach our little kids to be inclusive and non racial? The society will take some time to stop its obsession with light skin, but we can start at home for our kids.
Firstly, my husband and I consciously decided to talk to our child that it is a person’s actions, and not skin colour or race, that determines how good s/he is.
Secondly, we decided to buy books that celebrate accepting people as they are. One such book is, ‘Brown like dosas, samosas and chikki’ by Rebecca Manari that talks about being confident about who you are. Thirdly, we decided that we will discourage labelling people and took this as a parenting lesson for ourselves.
We don’t know whether our lessons will have an impact strong enough for our son to place them above what the society thinks at large. But we believe even a small change will make a difference, specially if that change begins at home. Till then, we are waiting for a dark children’s hero. Any suggestions?
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