“When my sister and I were young, my paternal grandmother would play games while feeding us. She would close her eyes, hold out a morsel of food, and alternately cry out to the “pigeon” or the “crow” to come and stealthily eat the food. If she opened her eyes and caught us in the act, she would win.
It was one of the fondest memories of my childhood until I realized that our nicknames were based on colorism; my (relatively) fair younger sister was the pigeon while I, being the darker one, was always the crow.
I didn’t even think of this as shadeism/ colorism for years, because I’d internalized this discrimination as a fact of life; realization belatedly dawned upon me when I was took a Gender Studies class in college.
I hate myself for resenting my grandmother since she’s no more, but sometimes all I can remember is her shadeism and it hurts. Even after all these years. Sometimes affectionate discrimination from those who love us can hurt more than mean spirited taunts from passing strangers.
That being said, this seemingly innocuous experience, and innumerable others, have helped me grow and mature as a person. Shuttling between Bangalore and Berkeley over the past four years, I was always amused to see all the ‘whitening’ products in India and their ‘tanning’ and/or ‘bronzing’ counterparts in America. To be honest, for a while, I welcomed being exotified for my colour, reveling in America’s praise and envy because in India, my skin only evokes condescension and unwelcome advice.
Gradually, I’ve come to see that the grass really IS greener on the other side. We all want what we can’t have. And there’s no surer recipe for unhappiness.
I still use Fair and Lovely daily (don’t judge me!!!) but now it’s only for its moisturizing properties; nothing else works quite as well for my combination facial skin. I wear sunscreen daily, but only to protect my skin from harm, not to ‘prevent tanning (as though it’s a disease!).’ I embrace my love for the sun and spend hours at the beach whenever I can. Mentally, it’s still a struggle; I wince when I see photos of me with fairer friends and unflattering lighting, I tend to use Instagram filters that make me look lighter (and therefore better, amirite? WRONG), and I meekly listen to the ‘home remedies’ prescribed by sympathetic, well meaning desi aunties.
But now I know better than to base my self worth on the amount of melanin in my skin.
Neither should you.”