Difference

“She is so beautiful.”

“Who, that girl?” I was surprised at Kaylie’s comment. We were at some renowned photographer’s exhibition. I wasn’t really keen but Kaylie dragged me along. Okay, she did not drag me along. She had asked me to come and I did not refuse. I wanted to be better friends with her.

“Yeah,” she replied dreamily, staring at the photo of an African-American girl with an afro. Well, she was kind of cute, but…

She went on, “Oh my God, I think I am in love with her. How can people get to be so cute?”

“She is kind of cute,” I conceded, “but she is really dark.”

“So?” Kay turned to look at me. I could tell that she was not pretending. She really did not understand.

For the first time, I didn’t know what to say. So what if the girl was dark?

“Okay,” I pointed at a picture of a Caucasian girl, “who is prettier, that girl or the other girl?”

“Are you being racist? The girl with the afro is so much better! If I was on a date with that white girl, I might have stood her up. Seriously.”

“But she is pretty! She is so fair!”

“So, what? How does a person’s complexion decide if they are pretty or not? What’s wrong with you, Bee!”

Kay turned back to the girl’s photo. “Do you think I have enough money to buy that?”

“No.”

That night I stayed awake for a long while thinking of India. Wasn’t it obvious that the fairer you are, the better you look? Why would we have so many fairness creams, if not? The commercials aired on the television said it all the time, “Dark girls are unhappy, unsuccessful and lack a boyfriend. The only way to be happy, employed and married is to be fair.” Dark skin is treated as much as a nuisance as dark circles and acne.

“That is really weird, Bee. Like, REALLY weird. How do you live in such a colourist culture and not notice it,” said Kay, when I relayed my thoughts to her the next day.

“Maybe, it’s like our lecturer told us that day about the media,” I said, sipping my coffee, “don’t ask the fish if you want to know about the water.”

“Okay, so, white people want to get tanned and black people want to get bleached. That makes sense in the grass-on-the-other-side-is-always-greener way, but brown-skinned people are right in the middle! You have the best of both worlds. Why would you want to change? And even if you do, why would you choose white rather than black? You should be treating both options equally.”

“I don’t know… Maybe, it has something to do with the English ruling us for two centuries. They always behaved like they were superior and advanced, so, after a while we believed them. And we worked to emulate them. So, we aped their language, their clothes, their food, their technology, and finally their major mark of difference, the color of their skin.”

“Hmm…interesting,” Kay remarked, stirring her drink.

“Because, in most ways they truly were more advanced, after a while we did not even care which part of them we were copying. Technology and order makes sense but language and complexion does not. How can one language ever be superior to another?”

“So, in India, English is considered a better language than your own? That’s nice!” We laughed. “But you do have a lot of dark-skinned people. Do you just think that all of them are ugly?” She asked sarcastically.

“Well, uglier…”

“Wow!”

“Yeah.”

“What about Bipasha…that Indian actress you were talking about? Isn’t she a little darker than the other actors?”

“Yes, and that is why it is a big deal that she made it in the industry. And, even though she is considered beautiful, she is not considered as beautiful as some of the other, fairer actors. Even I would say the same, had I not come to a different country, and seen things from different perspectives.”

“What about Beyonce? Would you have said that she is ugly, too?”

“No, not Beyonce.”

“Well, that’s the thing you see. Because, Beyonce is, well…Beyonce, it makes you look at her and see her eyes, nose and mouth and concede that she is beautiful. You don’t just disregard her after a single look because she is black. The other day, you were telling me how some Indian Hindu girls would not date a Muslim guy but they would make an exception for Shah Rukh Khan. When a person has risen above all superficialities through his or her work, you forget all the messages that popular culture and mass media have conveyed to you, and see him or her as one human sees another. That is when you discover that a personality is so much more than religion, and that beauty is so much more than complexion.”

I turned to her and smiled. This is why I wanted to be friends with her.

“Bee, I am so glad that I met you. You actually understand the things I say,” she put her arm around me with a broad smile, acknowledging kinship. “There is this amazing play about ménage-à-trois at the theatre, tonight. Wanna go?”

“Sure,” I smiled back, wondering what new piece of knowledge would invade my world that day.

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