Do you speak to your kids about skin colour?

Do you speak to your kids about skin colour? Cover Image

What happens when a 7-year-old is told by his peer that he’s too dark? A mother recounts a personal experience.

As I helped my son get ready for school this morning, I noticed that his palms had a flaky white tone; something that results when one allows the soap to foam more than needed during a bath. I gently rebuked him for it and advised him not to waste water or soap thus.

“But, I want my skin to be light. I like light skin not dark”, R quipped, in almost a matter-of-fact tone.

My mind was numb over how to respond; myriad thoughts fogged the brain. How and when did the colour bias make its way into a child’s mind? I wondered and asked him. He replied that his friend at school had divulged about how having a fairer skin tone makes someone stronger than the rest.

I looked up into R’s earnest eyes. I wanted to hold him and soothe him yet I saw that he didn’t seem to be wounded by the racist remark. At this tender age, he took his friend’s words at face value and only wanted to rectify Nature’s ways in a manner he thought possible. Even though there was no apparent malice behind the other child’s statement, that a skin tone had to be dragged into a child’s world made me wonder how these ideas were implanted in the first place.

With all the honesty I could muster, I firmly stated that the skin colour had nothing to do with how a person turns out to be. Strength, poise, dignity, attitude, are all attributes one had to cultivate and nurture from within and the colour of the outer skin has no roleplay in this, whatsoever. R nodded his head solemnly. I wasn’t sure he understood completely. There was so much more to add and share, but that would have to wait for the time being. I had to rush.The bus was here. We hugged, said our goodbyes and I lingered a bit longer as the bus rolled away into the street.

I mulled over the episode. I sighed. Not much had changed in the social conditioning yet I couldn’t believe that such a discussion could creep in at such a young age. Who could be at fault here? The parents? Relatives? Media? Other kids? The society?

It’s probably a mix of all of the above. Years of being slaves to the whites who are synonymous with wealth, culture, power, and for some reason beauty, we have unwittingly bent our knees to this rather foolish ideology of needing to discard the dark shades, albeit literally. If the common man and underdogs have a reason to fall prey, I wonder about the compulsions of the influential and the successful who endorse fairness products and have even undergone cosmetic overhauls to go from brown to white.

Images from my own past came back to me. As a young girl, I’d want to keep the back of my hands facing out because they were lighter in colour. I remember comparing my complexion with that of my mother and sister who are fairer than me and wishing I were not so dark. I recall clearly, from my early teens, that nasty remark from a playmate who called me a “coal”. He thought he was being funny. The irony? His skin shade was several times darker than mine! I remember my mother telling me that I was beautiful and reminding me to focus on my talents. Still, those were impressionable years and there was an unmet desire to fit into the society’s standards of acceptance.

As I grew up, I began to acknowledge my skills with the quiet realization that they had no relevance or relation to my skin pigmentation. I also learned to shove these demons to the far end of the mind whenever they threatened to corrode my confidence. Just as I thought I was fairly successful at accepting myself, I entered the matrimony arena; a place where the colour of the skin matters more than the person’s personal and professional achievements. The unabashed ask of an educated professional yet homely, good-looking and above all a fair-skinned girl for the 95% of the grooms listed was simply disturbing to put it very mildly.

For a condition inflicted largely by the society, it’s rather unfair that the individual victims have to undertake the journey towards healing, rather alone. For, even though you might have the support of the immediate family and friends circle, it takes a good deal of effort to build your own resistance and inner strength. Today, I’m no longer impaired by my skin tone. The mirror no longer reflects just a dusky skinned person. I know that I’m worth far more than the outer layer. But, this hasn’t come easily.

Moreover, today’s incident made me realize that my journey hasn’t ended. Even though R might potentially have it easier because all is still well with the dark and handsome theory, I believe the colours of change need to be ushered in. It’s an opportunity for me and several others like me to re-set the agenda where the next generation is taught to reject such hand-me-downs thoughts and seek a better world for themselves.


This was first published on the author’s personal blog, My musings.

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