Surviving Discrimination – The AJ Franklin Story

“Though She Is Dark, She Is a Nice Girl”
By AJ Franklin | A Dark is Beautiful campaigner


Growing up, I was teased by classmates for being a crow, urged by relatives to apply fairness creams and finally, when it came to marriage, I was told in advance that people would expect lots of dowry from my family because I’m dark. 

According to most of my relatives, we had to enlist me in a matrimonial services provider, so we went to a suitable one and I filled in a host of forms. On each form, after the basics, there was a slot for skin colour. I went ahead and ticked the box that said “dark complexioned.” 

The person in charge read the form and made a funny face at me, as though I had made a stupid mistake. She pointed at the skin colour box and said, “Please change that to ‘wheat complexioned.’” 

I asked why, and she rolled her eyes at me and said in Tamil that it was standard procedure for any girl of my “karuppu” skin to tick “wheat complexioned” to boost my chances of “catching” a groom.

Holding back both anger and laughter, I asked the million-dollar question, “What will they say when they see me in person?” She replied, “Just get a facial bleach done before they come to see you, or tell them you tanned over the summer.”

I smiled politely, told her I’d rather not lie, and re-ticked “dark.” She shook her head ever so disapprovingly. And that was just a regular Tuesday for the unmarried dark girl.

I laughed my head off and told my parents and so called well-wishers that I’d rather be single than marry someone who looks at my skin, and not my character
, for a lifetime of being husband and wife. I was quickly labeled “stubborn” and “picky” and preparations were well on their way, under my nose. I told my parents that the most I could do was to humour them by actually agreeing to meet these prospective grooms and their parents.

So the grooms arrived with their parents in tow, looked me up and down and asked ever so candidly about dowry and skin colour, stating how unfortunate it was for my parents to have not one, but two, dark girls. Most were willing to “accept” me for a fat dowry. I said a polite “no” and turned all of them away.

Then I met the man who would shock our society by marrying me whilst being much fairer than I; that too without a single rupee of dowry, much to his parents’ dismay. Post wedding, I had it tough from Day 1. All his relatives were confused as to why my husband had married me. They asked him questions like these, mostly while I was also present:

“Did you do something wrong with her before marriage?”
“Didn’t you find a fairer girl?”
“Is she pressuring you to marry her?”
“Couldn’t you have waited for God to send you a better girl?”
 “Aren’t you worried that your children will be born dark?”

His parents acted like they had to say something in my defense, but usually ended up saying, “Though she is dark, she is a nice girl.” 

I thought that the dark skin abuse would stop when I conceived. Oh, was I mistaken! Free advice was given by all on what to eat/not to eat to give birth to a fair child. 

Each time I picked up black grapes, tea, jamun or strong coffee, my in-laws made me put it down saying that black-coloured foods will darken my growing fetus! 

I was forced to add saffron to my milk to whiten my baby. My poor husband was torn between me and his dear parents. We had such bad fights. I cried, refused to eat, and shunned visits because I was so depressed.

My in-laws prayed that if it were a girl, she should take after her father and be of “nalla colour” and if it was a boy, it would not matter, but it would be nice if he, too would be fair.

Soon as my daughter arrived, I was shown such love, because “SHE WAS BORN WHITE.” It was all celebrations for my in-laws because their granddaughter was like her father— fair, and not like her dark mother.

Sadly, my in-laws are still are going on and on about my skin colour. I took a stand and stopped talking to them after a long fight on the subject. They crossed a line when they said that I somehow darkened my daughter’s skin after I took her home. 

I am sure that these people sound inhuman to you, but they are meek, middle-class, religious, simple southern folk.

All around our society is this vile bias against dark skin. Till now, this has been a bias that no one speaks about very openly. It has been brushed aside or laughed at, and for the dark person, taken in stride as a “flaw” one has to live with.

Why can’t most people just accept my dark skin? I personally feel that it is because this idea of “fair and lovely” had been drilled into children’s heads from birth by parents, teachers and the ads that very cleverly brainwash them from the day they begin to watch TV.

It’s time stop teaching our children that that the princess in the story is “as fair as can be.”
It’s time to say that fair isn’t the only kind of lovely.
It’s time to embrace the dark child.
It’s time to view people as human beings, and not a shade of colour.
Dark is not bad, dark is not unlucky, dark is not ugly.
Stand up and say it: “Dark is beautiful.”

Not Fair!

By Kavita Emmanuel | Founder Director, WOW

Each year on Independence Day I get to recite our National Pledge: ‘India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters. I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it…”

Are we really proud of our varied heritage? Do we accept each other as fellow citizens on the same level barring differences over caste, creed, and particularly, colour? Is skin colour bias an issue in our country?

The answer is obviously ‘yes’! And I would not be completely wrong to assume that skin colour bias is more pronounced among the educated and the most forward sections of society.

I often wonder where we inherited such blatant ‘wanted: fair brides’ sort of racism. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of the Indian people have darker skin tones. That the Dravidians are dark skinned people is an obvious fact. How they got to buy into the notion that “fair alone” is beautiful is unsolvable. Why haven’t we opened our eyes to see beauty that is evident in our own people?

Many trivialize the issue saying that in a country that is battling graver issues like poverty, terrorism, crime and abuse, an issue like skin colour bias is of no importance. But why should we wait till we eradicate these graver issues to address an issue that exposes our primitive prejudices? I often wonder if the issue of skin colour is deeper that what we think it is.

As a mature society, 65 years into “Free” India, we should have moved on to much greater heights of showing the world how people from such varied cultures and skin colours can actually live together as one nation in harmony.

Let’s face it, says the author, ‘skin colour bias’ is an issue in our country
(All Photos by Zippora Madhukar Photography) 

People often ask me what prompted me to initiate this campaign. If you take a look at those widely circulated fairness shade cards, I am an ‘inch’ above what people might call ‘dark’ (Yes, they have invented a measuring scale for skin tones!) I belong to the category of lighter brown-skinned people.

I have to admit I haven’t been the victim of any life-changing discrimination from my fairer counterparts. But I have often felt the pressure to preserve or save the colour of my skin from the sun so I don’t get darker. I still hear comments like, “You were a fair baby, but now you have become so dark. Have you been roaming in the sun?”

However, the reasons that propelled me to initiate the campaign were the real life stories of my friends and women I have counseled. I know girls who have been rejected by potential marriage partners, subtly denied jobs and abused by husbands and in-laws because of their skin colour. I have seen children face rude remarks and given nick-names for being dark skinned. I have felt like crying alongside a mom who couldn’t hold back her tears as she talked about how people differentiate between her two children and show preference for the fairer one.

One story that stands out is of a friend who was willing to marry a man in a wheel chair. She chose to see the person beyond the handicap he suffered. To her surprise his family rejected her because, as they say, “she lacked colour.” I know girls who carry the scars of rejection for years and find it difficult to believe that they are of value.

I was not born a Dark is Beautiful campaigner. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the Change that you want to see.” Any change that I want to see has to begin with me. Campaigns bring awareness. Campaigns are not to judge people. I chose to become a campaigner against skin colour bias because I want to create a world free of skin colour bias for our children.

The Dark is Beautiful campaign is an awareness initiative that is trying to wake people up to the reality of beauty in all skin tones. John Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” For us today, a thing of beauty is work forever! It’s the ‘get fairer’, ‘get slimmer’, ‘get younger’ kind of syndrome that is driving people crazy – leaving them feeling tired, unloved and unlovely.

What makes a person truly beautiful is more than just what is seen on the outside. We need to let values like kindness, acceptance, helpfulness, tolerance, integrity and honesty regain their rightful status in our world.

Let’s together pave the way for a new wave of Independence that helps people truly celebrate who they are no matter what their skin colour!

Be Colour Blind & End Prejudice

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