Dark-skinned men reveal how they have been taunted, humiliated and even rejected, all because of the colour of their skin.
“For many people, their school life is a source of the best of memories, but for me school life was full of abuses, insults and shame. Girls and boys called me names such as ‘kaliya’, ‘negro’, among others. At school, no one would sit on my bench just because I was dark,” says Ramesh Murugan, a 20-year-old independent filmmaker and animation student.
Today everyone is talking about how dark-skinned women face discrimination and how hard they must fight to combat stereotypes about their skin colour. As I found out, dark-skinned men, too, find themselves confronted with prejudice and stigma—and its source is friends, colleagues, and girls.
Perhaps because Indians idolise fair skin, it becomes an issue in matters of romance.
“I was once rejected by a girl whom I really liked because she felt that I was dark and didn’t have the good looks which other fair boys had. But after that incident, I went on to date two beautiful girls who didn’t have problems with my colour or looks. So I can’t generalize by saying that all of them discriminate, but yes, it’s true that we men too face colour discrimination,” says a civil engineer who declined to give his name.
Dark-skinned men are the butt of merciless name-calling, often made to an audience of mature and educated people. Suppose your elder brother is fair and you are dark, your friends might joke that you are adopted. Also, people might call you ‘negro’, or ‘black as asphalt’. They might say that you are invisible in the dark. Such name-calling contributes to the hostile atmosphere in which dark-skinned men find themselves in anyway.
As singer Jason Fernandes, 22, found out, colour discrimination extends even to places of worship. “Off late, on Good Friday, I was denied entry into a church in South Mumbai by the watchmen. They found me suspicious. They even took me to the policemen sitting outside and left me there. The cops understood my situation and pointed at my face, saying, “They must have seen….”
The incident left scars on Jason’s mind. He says, “I sat outside the church and wept till my people came. Nobody knows that I cried. I laughed about it when they spoke to me.”
He recalls another such incident. “Once, my family was even referred to as South African as we were walking around near the Gateway of India.” Today, though, Jason can laugh at these incidents that no longer mar his self-confidence or bother him any more.
Most of the men I spoke to accepted the fact that they have used fairness creams with hopes of becoming a few shades fairer. They were influenced by cricketers and film stars who promote these products without using them. None of these fairness cream users knew about the right way to use these products.
A few of them even stole makeup from their mom’s collection, just to look a little fairer. These experiments yielded nothing but a lot of boils on the face, skin irritation, and swelling. But they were driven to such extremes by adverse comments about their skin colour.
Many dark-skinned men have now learned to take such comments in their stride. “Such comments don’t affect me any more. I have somehow accepted being identified with African American stereotypes. In fact I crack black stereotype jokes about myself,” says Jason.
He adds, though, that some people don’t know when they cross the line. “Many times I have said to people that these jokes aren’t okay. Most people react positively. Most people these days don’t care about colour. In fact, they positively look at it as identity, at least within my circles,” says Jason.
Dark-skinned men also say that the situation is changing, although at a slow pace. “Today I rarely face that kind of situation, be it at my office, college or personal life. Colour discrimination is the biggest problem in India. It’s very stupid of people to hurt someone’s feeling on account of his colour, which he didn’t choose at all,” says Ramesh.
“Maya Angelou, Abraham Lincoln, and Nelson Mandela aren’t my inspirations. My inspiration is my friends who love me the way I am and who are very empathetic to everyone,” says Ramesh.
“I am thankful that most people around me look at my dark skin at something positive. I’ll be honest. I have a thing for light-skinned women. When I was a teenager, light-skinned girls didn’t really look at dark-skinned guys as handsome. Incidentally, I sometimes feel the same. I went through phases of liking my skin tone and then not liking it. But I have now come to accept it. So yes, my self-confidence broke down on many occasions. It used to disturb me for a few days. One of the things I did was just to accept it. In fact, sometimes, I started cracking jokes about myself. People actually liked me more for my honest ideas. I made tons of friends because of this,” says Denzil Denis, 22, a bartender.