I have always been baffled by racism and have never understood how the colour of somebody’s skin, hair or eyes makes the slightest bit of difference to anything. But since arriving in India, for the first time in my life my skin has become something that determines how I am treated and perceived. White skin is an obsession here which has been without a doubt my biggest challenge whilst travelling in India.
After learning more about India during colonial times, I was confused as to why everyone in India didn’t hate us. We bulldozed in, raped, pillaged and overruled the country ruining many people’s lives. After spending more time here though I have also seen the good that The British left behind; railways, the tea industry, hospitals, civic administration etc. The British are generally thought of very fondly here so I thought that maybe brand Britain played a part in the obsession too, maybe it wasn’t just down to colour.
Indians are socially completely different to westerners. Males don’t tend to show females affection in public but male friends show one another huge amounts of affection which I mostly find nice. It’s just when men are cuddled up holding hands but simultaneously looking at me and feeling their bits. That, I just find confusing. Indians are also much better at sharing than us, whether it be their personal space, food or home; we have been kindly accommodated so many times. I think because of this social confidence, they rarely feel uncomfortable so maybe they don’t understand when they make others feel uncomfortable? As I have been writing this a guy has been staring at me continuously for around 20 minutes, he hasn’t looked away once. I often wonder how their eyes don’t see enough. On several occasions I have had people inches away from my face, not smiling just staring intensely and when I have expressed that I am uncomfortable or distressed there is no reaction, just refusal to leave me alone (I even burst out crying once which they found hilarious).
Even though I have felt completely safe during my time in India and have tried to accept that this behaviour is simply curiosity, I have often felt uncomfortable and intimidated especially as a woman. Particularly when people take photos up close without asking, it’s like a human safari and has become my Indian pet hate. I just find it such inhuman behaviour, a reaction you would expect if a Martian with 12 heads landed on earth. For a long time I thought maybe I was dressing inappropriately or doing something to cause all this attention, I have now learnt it is just my skin colour and there is absolutely nothing at all I can do about that.
Many third world countries adopt a ‘white price’ policy which I don’t really object to. In the west we earn more so I am happy to pay more. Double, even triple what an Indian pays but when I get charged 20 times the price it’s hard for me to accept that this is not discrimination. For example the Indian museum in Kolkata charges 5p for Indians, £2.50 for tourists.
Whilst in Bubheneswar we came down with a sickness bug so decided to pass the time by watching Indian t.v. This decision unexpectedly shed light on why I may get this kind of attention. Bear in mind a huge amount of people have satellite television, even the most unexpected shanty villages sometimes have a satellite dish. Whilst watching, I couldn’t help but notice that 90% of all adverts were for a brand called ‘fair & lovely’ which is a skin whitening cream. After watching t.v for about 2 hours I had yet to see an Indian person as I knew them. Every model, actress and even extras had paler skin than me. If the population is watching this and thinking that this how they should look, then to me this is frightening. Obviously in the U.K I am used to being bombarded with unrealistic advertisements, size zero models and faces full of Botox. I have been heavily influenced by the beautifully tanned and toned st tropez models which is why I used to fake tan every Thursday for about four years. But I think we have come a long way in terms of projecting a more realistic ratio of ethical groups within our country. Imagine turning the t.v on at home and not seeing one white person, how would that make us feel?
These images are just a handful of advertising examples, I am yet to see a dark skinned Indian on any billboard/ store POS or campaign