The first time that I encountered colour was in class 6, when in school, a teacher chose only my fair-skinned classmates for the Annual Day performance. That was when I stared into the mirror and looked at myself for quite some time to understand that the colour of my skin influences people and their decisions. Little did I realise, that this initiation into our national obsession for “white” or fair and open disdain of dark skin, was simply just the beginning of the unraveling of Indian society’s stereotypical and deep-rooted associations of skin colour to caste and class! An obsession that had over the years spawned a multi-million dollar industry that sold “white”-washing products to the teeming masses wanting to be white and successful, just like the actresses in the commercial! The skin colour bias has unknowingly been normalised to such an extent that we never batted an eyelid or even took note when bad guy villains in most Hindi potboilers were dark skinned. The book, Colour Matters?: The Truth That No One Wants to See, takes the conversation further and provides us with more insights on how colour become so integral to our identities and our life-worlds.
Colour Matters?: The Truth That No One Wants to See
Author: Anuranjita Kumar
Matrimonials often guided by beauty ideals spouted by the media, want fair brides/grooms. Thankfully in 2014, the Advertising Standards Council of India banned advertisements that depicted dark people as being inferior. However, we still see all such products being advertised using different words: words like “skin toning, even- toning and brightening”. Funnily, the lightening and brightening products didn’t stop at the face, we also had, “freshness and fairness” being provided to intimate parts of a woman to feel more beautiful. Therefore, vaginal washes had brightening aspects attached to it as well!
It was only in the last few years when such unhealthy attitudes towards dark skin was called out by different people through campaigns such as the Colour me Right, Unfair & Lovely, actor Nandita Das’s Dark is Beautiful and more recently UNESCO’s India’s Got Colour. Despite such campaigns that helped start conversations, there was no great impact on ingrained attitudes towards colour bias. Hence, when I read Anuranjita Kumar’s Colour Matters?:The Truth No One Wants To See, I was in for a surprise. For how often would you encounter a global HR leader, someone who has straddled the corporate world for decades come out openly about the pervasive sense of colourism that exists across multi-national companies across the world? Not often, if at all! Colour Matters?: The Truth That No One Wants to See dives deep into this form of oppression with global examples from all around her.
Colour Matters?:The Truth That No One Wants to See chronicles all such instances in a manner that is at times self-reflective and at times dons the role of coaxing the reader to think why the colour of the skin dictates how we behave/misbehave in life. It is a story, that we as colour conscious Indians often do not want to ponder about because we have internally normalised certain concepts of colour. Anuranjita’s book focuses on issues of such complexities of discrimination that people across the world face on a day today basis.
From examples of employees who wish to distance themselves from their roots, to sharing of experiences of people who quit their jobs because of unsettling experiences since they were dark skinned, to incidents where cross-cultural perceptions were put to the task, Colour Matters?:The Truth That No One Wants to See is peppered with all such rich instances from real life. Kumar speaks of prejudices but she stresses more on what can be done to resist them and to overcome such misguided beliefs. Suffice to say that Kumar’s book can really assist any HR and change management teams dealing with translational teams.
Issues Surrounding Colour
Using different philosphical aspects ranging from Burkean conservatism to progressive dilemma to other concepts such as affinity bias and brown behaviour, Kumar explores the whole gamut of how colourism works in the real world. The core strength of Colour Matters?:The Truth That No One Wants to See are the real life stories of people across the world who have faced such colour related dilemmas that have in some people broken their spirit, in others lifted them and in some helped them transform some people out of their bigoted beliefs into real lasting friendships.
Kumar in Colour Matters?:The Truth That No One Wants to See , often dwells and stresses on our core truth that in the end, “we are all human” and therefore should be above colour. She speaks of privilege and cites cases, real life examples and quandaries that people in the corporate world functioning transnationally face and also includes some other not so well known stories from the world that speaks volumes on how colourism as a concept has permeated cultures and time frames! And not all are great happy stories.
Sample the one on the kind of discrimnation that a black couple faced when they adopted a white child or the one where James, Kumar’s colleague from France, faced racial discrimination in India, when he was attacked by some miscreants all because they suspected him of being a Nigerian drug dealer! Kumar also uses the complex tapestry of colour and the intersectionality of race to share previously unheard aspects of the corporate world where the world combines into different hues of people and their colour – be it black, brown, white or yellow!
Conclusion: Circumventing Colourism
In a unique style, almost like adding a learning from every story, Kumar ends every chapter with her own sense of how each one of us can look beyond colour, race and differences and how individuals and teams can go beyond their preconceived notions of certain behaviours and biases. Written in a simple and lucid style, Colour Matters?:The Truth That No One Wants to See for most part appears to share learnings and also experiences in an exploratory manner, as if the author herself is also decoding the complex world as seen through the lens of colour.
Using her transnational experience as a leader in Human Resources, she builds a strong narrative on the whole concept of the “colour conundrum” and shares ways on how one can go ahead and beyond colour and be kind, be considerate and above all be human.
Varsha Pillai has over 16 years of experience in the communication space, a bulk of which was spent as a TV news journalist at reputed news organizations like CNN-IBN and ANI-Reuters. A research addict, she has been an NFAI (National Film Archives of India) research fellow in 2009 and a NUFFIC Fellow (Netherlands Fellowship) in 2017.Last year she was one of the 10 young leaders selected globally to attend the Winterschool for Thinktankers in Geneva in Jan-Feb 2019 under the On Think Tanks and Think Tank Initiative Fellowship. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.