Monday, June 20, 2016

Black and White

Please share widely

A derogatory picture from children’s textbook depicting “beautiful and ugly” is being circulated widely and has been the topic for a heated discussion. A few things come to mind as I look at this picture that transcends the skin color divide.

1. “Beautiful” means light-skinned and “ugly” means dark-skinned.

2. “Beautiful” means wearing jewelry and “ugly” means the lack of jewelry.

3. “Beautiful” means having blonde hair and “ugly” means having dark hair. What people from the Indian subcontinent have blonde hair? This basically means “beautiful” is Caucasian/White.

4. “Beautiful” means some fancy dress and “ugly” means wearing a sari.

5. “Beautiful” means being rich, probably upper caste and “ugly” means being poor, probably lower caste and doing menial jobs.

I am not sure if I missed any other messages. First, why do we need to teach the concept of beauty and ugliness to children, especially using living examples? A pile of garbage is ugly. The devastation after a war is ugly. But people? Children pick on these cues very early, and now, this picture reinforces so many stereotypes, blatantly showing the aspiration of people from the subcontinent to look like a White person. Long before the evils done by the film industry or the skin care industry, beauty standards were set by the colonizers. We lost our souls and pride to them long back. We just did not know it. Why should a “beautiful” woman need to look this way otherwise?

Someone asked me what should be done. This is what I said. Teach the kid. Ban the book(s). Spread the word. Write about it. Detect the publisher of the book. Wage a campaign. Stop using fairness products. Stop reading books and magazines that promote these values. Stop dressing your children like Elsa and Anna and White queens and princesses because they are eventually going to grow up with identity crisis. Be mindful of the language used in matrimonial ads and boycott ads that promote discrimination based on skin color. Stop aspiring for a light-skinned daughter/son-in-law. The possibilities are as endless as our imaginations and our intentions.


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