“Black, brown, yellow, Mexican, Puerto Rican, we’re all the same. All us people of colour must stick together.”, said Jamanbhai to Demetrius in the 1991 film Mississippi Masala. This dialogue profoundly sums up the context enveloped in the next few paras. Indeed, colours are a crucial signifier of races, but in India, they exist far and beyond that. Colour circumscribes countless conflicts within people of even the same country. The biggest irony is that if beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder then why are we supposed to follow a definite attribute of beauty standard to be considered as an ideal. John Berger in Ways of Seeing (1972) talks about European oil painting which had a convention of not painting a woman's hair on her body. Hair was associated with sexual passion which had to be minimised from a woman’s part so that the spectator would feel that he has a monopoly over such passion. The imagery around us has been turned into a disguise that has effectively concealed the reality into a homogenized hierarchy of appearance. This single generalised code of beauty has to be duly abided because, in the end, the range within these brackets is solely lauded by the society. And eventually, we all succumb to the societal ways, completely blindfolding our ways of seeing.
Mississippi Masala smoothly portrays how white and black is not the end, and there is an entire range of colour which has a preferential position in the hierarchy of acceptance and appearance that needs to be fixed. Mina, the protagonist in the movie, becomes a subject of gossip among Indian aunties when one of them says, "Can you imagine turning down Harry Patel for a black man?" referring to a wealthy Indian man who is considered a match of aspiration. The dialogue can lead us to wander around a few hypothetical instances like how our reactions would differ if an Indian-origin person enters into a wedlock with a person of African-origin and if the former marries an American-origin person? This would be something in extremes of a coalesce of mandatory colour parameters that churn throughout the selection process of an ideal bride/groom in our country.
Our colonial history cannot be forever blamed for the obsession of Indians with white skin tone. Over the years, if this leaning has perpetuated amongst us, then the message underlying media text or imagery also needs to be ardently paid heed to. Millennials jumped into meme sphere with #JusticeForChutki when Chhota Bheem duped Chutki for princess Indumati, but nobody questioned why a boy who was constantly envious of Chhota Bheem had to be named ‘Kalia’ and shown with darker skin tone? When at the same time, our social media was also consumed with hashtags for the justice of George Floyd.
Globally we are taken by the solidarity of our nation-states when it comes to community and colour, Indian, Chinese, Africans, Americans, and so on. We build within our community or tend to align with those who fall above us in the ladder of skin colour hierarchy. Our non-impermeability has limited our approach to sympathy and sorry. In India, raising #BlackLivesMatters would have an impact if and only if this could replicate into questioning the given perspective and looking back at us when countless minuscule times we aspired to be a shade lighter.
(The author is a journalism student. Views expressed are personal.)
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