I’m rummaging through my bag of memories looking for instances when my skin color was used to define me. I’ve had a relative tell me that I wouldn’t get married because I am dark and it would have been better to be born a boy. My father who is as dark as I am, taught me to identify my potential and pursue them regardless of perceived and physical boundaries. Among these memories are voices that expressed  – ‘She isn’t good-looking’ about a dark-skinned person and I’ve wondered if they would say the same about others just like her.

Memories are fickle,  subjective and as time winks past us, these carriers of our past take their own shape and form, conjuring a story in our minds that must have happened or may have happened. As I look back at the myriad experiences that are now memories, I try to recollect a particular moment when my skin color was used to define me. The more I introspect, I realise that there was more than color that was used to define – the clothes I wore, the friends I hung out with, the music I listened to and if I could talk about popular movies.

Identifying my personal experiences in the light of the collective experiences of dark-skinned men and women in India reflects the perspectives on dark skin that govern our society and how deeply the idea is imbibed in the Indian psyche.

Dark is beautiful! The words, ‘dark’ and ‘beautiful’ are put together even though there are invisible gossamer threads trying to pull them apart. These two words don’t match. Don’t sound right. Never occurred together in Indian history. What makes it true is the definitive word ‘is’. It doesn’t say dark was beautiful or will be beautiful after a facial. It says dark is beautiful! It means dark and beautiful can coexist in the here and now. By no means does it nullify the fact that people with other skin tones, between dark and light is beautiful. To say dark is beautiful is to target that debilitating idea, much like the invisible gossamer threads pulling dark and beautiful apart – that idea that says dark isn’t beautiful, that if you are dark you cannot get married, that a good-looking person can only be fair, that anyone who is dark is a Madrasi.

I’m reminded of a time when my fiance and I walked into a shoe store in Delhi. The salespersons avoided eye contact with us and didn’t communicate with us as they did with the other customers. We sat down and waited for two minutes. One. Two. They noticed us but averted their attention to the other customers. When we called out to them, they pretended that they didn’t hear us.  It seemed as though they were waiting for us to leave.

Was it because they saw something in us they didn’t like? Could they see through our failures? Were we less educated? Did we hold odd jobs? They couldn’t have seen through those things at the time. They refused to service us because of what they saw on the outside. They saw my fiance’s long black beard, his inconspicuous brown face,my big round eyes and brown skin.

I’ve come to realise that the true measure of a man or a woman isn’t the color of his or her skin or anything that is visible on the surface. Strangely, what we see and analyze doesn’t make a person. A person is more than a body. True worth is what lies in the deeper recesses of the heart – unseen – but truly there, much like an iceberg. What we see on the outside is but a tiny bit of the immense strength, resilience, compassion and potential a person carries within.

So embrace your unique bearing, truly believe that what you are made of is more than excess melanin. You are beautiful not because of your color. You are beautiful because you are a mother who is compassionate towards her children, you carry yourself with grace and a smile,  you speak out against injustice and you have hopes and dreams of a today and a future where color will not define a person.

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