Growing Up Dark-Skinned in a Color-Conscious India

Growing Up Dark-Skinned

On the outside, India might be a country of homogeneously brown people, but on the inside, people fall within a broad color range – from dark brown to almost white.

Unfortunately, this diversity in skin color has created a hierarchy of beauty – a hierarchy that tells you that the light-skinned people are the epitome of beauty, while the dark-skinned people fall at the bottom.

I was unaware of this until I was in the sixth grade when I found out that my dark skin could put me in a tough spot and stunt my self-esteem.

My light-skinned classmates ridiculed the color of my skin. One of them called me “black paint.” I pretended I didn’t hear him and walked away.

In the ninth grade, when I was at a friend’s house along with some other friends, one of them refused to drink coffee when offered and instead pointed at me and said, “I don’t want to drink coffee because I don’t want to look like her.”

I didn’t understand what it meant until another friend replied to him, “You don’t get dark by drinking coffee.”

And then as the conversation went back to coffee and the odd logic of 14-year-olds, I sat there quiet and embarrassed among my group of friends, wishing I were invisible or just some place else.

I hated going out in the sun. I hated going out at all.

I remember once my mother had asked me to get milk from the near-by milk booth, and while I was walking back home from there, I noticed two young men looking at me. One of them whistled and the other blurted “But she’s not pretty!”

At 15 years of age, a stranger calling me “not pretty” aloud was as new and shocking to me as being sexually harassed on the street for the first time.

I hated wearing white and black. I hated taking pictures in a room that wasn’t well-lit because I knew that while the faces of all my fair-skinned friends would show up in the picture, mine wouldn’t. And the idea of being embarrassed in front of your friends was life-threatening.

I was not just a dark-skinned child in the classroom, but an “other” since I belonged to the southern state of Tamil Nadu and not to the northern cities that I had lived in through the years.

To my North Indian classmates and acquaintances, a “stereotypical” Tamilian was something like this: a dark-skinned, Tamil-speaking person who eats only idlis and dosas, and who speaks English and Hindi with a heavy Tamil accent.

Luckily, I didn’t have a Tamil accent while speaking Hindi or English, so I was spared from any ridicule in that department.

Growing up in three cities where Hindi was spoken, I got used to Hindi. In a way, it became my first language, the language I am most comfortable in. English followed. But Tamil was nowhere in sight.

My skin color, the stereotyped Tamil culture, and people making fun of Tamil accents, pulled me away from anything Tamil. So much so that I could understand what my parents said to me in Tamil, but I couldn’t reply to them in the same language.

I didn’t know how to speak Tamil, and I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to celebrate any Tamil festival, or watch Tamil movies, or listen to Tamil songs. To feel good about myself, sometimes I looked down upon my parents when they expressed their Tamil identity.

During most of my teenage years, I put on a mask, trying to hide where I came from.

I told people I didn’t know anything about the culture I belonged to so that they could think I was just like them. At every chance I could, I tried withdrawing my affiliation with my culture.

Because I was brought up in places where I experienced the culture of my friends more than that of my parents, I felt the culture I saw around me was somehow cooler and better than the one I belonged to.

I now know that it wasn’t cooler or any better, but just different. I didn’t know it then…read more.

Feature image sourced from Everyday Feminism.

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16 thoughts on “Growing Up Dark-Skinned in a Color-Conscious India

  1. Love the article. I somehow feel darker women can make it up using their personality and education. Being bullied for being dark skinned isn’t only in India. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been called blacky,dirty or ugly in elementary school by my chinese peers. Somehow that insults, hurts made me more resilient and I wanted to marry a lighter skinned somehow. This is how the quest for fair skinned women begins. Just saying from a guys perspective. I go out with dark skinned brown girls and also fair skinned brown girls. Somehow whenever I spent time with fair skinned girls, it makes me feel they are soothing the insults and hurts that happened decades ago…. Just saying from a guys perspective.

  2. ok but this girl is not even that dark. even the person who made shadeism does not appear very dark. Where are the voices of dark, karupu girls in the discussion of colourism/shadeism? why are these medium-toned girls taking up all the space on colourism/shadeism??

  3. chinnraasu 
    “I somehow feel darker women can make it up using their personality and
    education.”  What exactly is she making up for?  Her darkness? Her lack of confidence
    and insecurities shouldn’t have to be made up for with her personality and education.
    responses/understandings like yours that make articles like the one
    above necessary, but at the same time unbelievably narrow minded and really disappointing.

  4. lankangirl chinnraasu if a guy is short , wont you say he makes it up through his education and personality? Dark skin tone and height have the same repercussions. Chillax sunshine

  5. “At 15 years of age, a stranger calling me “not pretty” aloud was as new and shocking to me as being sexually harassed on the street for the first time.”

  6. chinnraasu lankangirl “makes it up” see, the problem is that you are imposing your standards over what the ideal tamil woman is and place fair skin over dark skin. This kind of logic is flawed and damaging to dark skinned folks, especially dark skinned women – the sexism and dark-skin hatred  is  just oozing out of your post.

  7. tamilgirl chinnraasu lankangirl LOL. I am dark skinned myself. Sexism? hatred for dark skinned women? Oozing out??? Da FUQ?

  8. chinnraasu who’s bullying her for being dark? her issues stem from a lack of confidence that is fueled by people who make/teach that there is a difference between being dark and fair.  your “guys” perspective has nothing to do with being a male, you’re using the fact that you’re a male as an excuse for having a very hugely miscalculated opinion about females.  The “quest for fair skinned women” does not begin when a male/female is “hurt” or “insulted.”  A person’s lack of confidence and lack of self-esteem starts in their own childhood, before starting their education, in their own families and homes…and being raised around people with opinions like yours are what develops the issues of having a “dark-skinned-girl-complex.”
    tamilgirl  agreed on both, the “standards” are so common, it’s hard for people to think outside of what is a “normal standard” of fair vs dark or dark vs fair.  also, totally agreed re “medium-dark”…

  9. The bad reputation in the tamil society of the female gender being born dark-skinned as seen as a burden within the family and even their own families become against their own daughter and may skit them for being dark  but this is the potential for the girl into losing self-confidence and self-esteem which could lead to darker skinned girls becoming a target of taking advantage by other tamil men and then them wanting to further progress into marrying a fair skinned girl. The deep loss in confidence and self respect could begin to loose in meaning they would go and have sex with anyone due to the tamil society creating a big chaos about darker skinned girls. Although darker skinned girls seem to have a better ”muka vedu”

  10. being a dark skinned tamil girl myself puts the individual at a difficult situation to face even within their own families with is the sad truth. when the families should boost confidence and be more positive as them selves when it comes to marriage as the rules are different to the male gender

  11. Is this Tamil culture media or India culture media? What does an article about a south indian making a racist article claiming she is Tamil have to do with this website?

  12. I remember a conversation with my mother about this. Unfortunately- deeply ingrained in Indian society.

  13. Truth begins at home. I am shocked to see how many non Tamil Looking models feature on your webpage and you are yet to rectify the error in your report, last week misidentifying Tamil as an Indic ie Aryan language.
    Colour is just a part of the issue. It goes beyond colour and into culture . I am immensely saddened to see what this webpage is subconsciously promoting, models with non Tamil features and the horrible historical lie that Tamil is not the mother of the glorious Dravidian family of languages and therby not the people of the great Indus Valley Civilization.
    If the editors of this webpage don’t take this seriously I am sorry to say they are promoting Aryan culture and thus I will have to stop patronizing this webpage.

  14. Does this hark back to 4,000 years ago when the Aryans invaded the highly sophisticated, peaceful & urban indigenous Indian civilization of the Indus Valley? Look at what has happened to the indigenous peoples of America, Australia, & New Zealand since the invasive migrants from no sun no tan Europe.

  15. Aryans never invaded…. That is all rubbish concocted by the colonialists to undermine South Asia people’s connection to their own culture. We are the Aryans and the dravidians. There is much scientific evidence that has crushed the whole “Aryan invasion theory”. Krishna and Rama were great Aryan kings and their skin was black and they were considered beautiful men. Think about that for a second and let it seep into your mind and rid you of the lies you may have been taught!

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