Thursday, March 21, 2024

The Chains of Colorism


Photo by Alexander Suhorucov:

I just watched a counterpoint debate featuring a dancer Kalamandalam Sathyabhama, and I went back to the clip where the controversy erupted. It is astonishing to learn that even in this so-called progressive time, how vile some of her remarks were. She says, "Some of the performers' complexions are dark as a crow, and even their own mothers would not want to look at them." "People have different opinions. If an artist thinks a black-skinned person can perform Mohiniyattam, it is their opinion. But for me, the performer should be fair-skinned.”

It's disheartening to see individuals in positions of influence perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce old-fashioned notions of beauty based on skin color.

I guess what she doesn't understand is the deep wound she is inflicting on someone else, not just the person she referred to but probably many kids who do not fall in the 'fair-skinned' category. By equating dark skin with unattractiveness and implying that it detracts from one's artistic abilities, she not only undermines the talent and dedication of countless performers but also inflicts deep emotional wounds on those who do not conform to her narrow standards of beauty.

Listening to her words, dripping with contempt for those whose skin did not meet her arbitrary standards of beauty, I couldn't help but feel a pang of familiarity. As someone who has personally experienced the repercussions of colorism, I understand the lasting effects it can have on one's self-esteem and sense of worth. Growing up where fair skin was prized, I'm all too familiar with the hurtful comments and comparisons that clouded my childhood.  My mother, with her extremely fair complexion, was the epitome of beauty in the eyes of our community. People often remarked on our striking resemblance, except for one glaring difference – my skin color. From a young age, I was aware of the disappointment and pity on their faces when they realized I didn't inherit my mother's fair skin. The comments were relentless, "Ayyo, ammade color kittiyillallo" (so sad she didn't inherit her mother's color), they would sigh, their words like daggers to my fragile sense of self-worth. "Chinnakkuttide mol karutha kutti aayallo" (the girl is dark-skinned), they would whisper, clearly showing their disappointment in every syllable. There were also comparisons with my fair cousins so much so that  I have always felt  unattractive and unlovable.  It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the seeds of self-doubt were planted, but societal prejudice played a big role. It took a long time to start overcoming those feelings, even if only partly.

So, to Kalamandalam Sathyabhama and all those who believe in the toxic myth of colorism, I say this:  true beauty lies not in the shade of one's skin but in the depth of one's character and the resilience of one's spirit. We must challenge these biased ideas and strive towards a more inclusive and equitable society where every individual is valued and celebrated, regardless of their skin color. 

And to those who feel judged by societal beauty standards: Do not allow others to dictate your worth based on the melanin in your skin. It is not your skin color that defines you but rather the strength and resilience that lie within. You are capable of rising above the narrow confines of societal expectations.

By making diverse voices heard, showing representation in every way, and creating a culture where all kinds of beauty are accepted and valued, we can start to undo the damage caused by colorism. This will lead to a better future for everyone.

No comments: