“Don’t go out in the sun, you are so dark already, no one is going to marry you,” “you are so pretty and fair, you look like a foreigner,” “don’t wear that, doesn’t suit your complexion,” “straighten your hair, don’t want to look crazy.”
Reading that, are you triggered with anger or are you getting warlike flashbacks? If it is the latter, you are probably from the South Asian community.
August 24, 2020, the day when Queen B, Beyoncé, released the music video of Brown Skin Girl. The video stars black men and women and the South Asian model, Sheerah Ravindren, who is of Tamil origin. In a recent interview with Yahoo Lifestyle, she said that “loving blackness taught me to love my brownness”. Lyrics such as “your skin just like pearls, the best thing in the world” and the visuals in the music video vividly paint the beauty of dark-skinned black and brown men and women.
Fast forward to September 6, a song from the Bollywood film Khaali Peeli was released called “Beyoncé Sharma Jayegi” (Beyoncé will be shy). The title and song scream blatant colourism and anti-black attitudes in Bollywood. Specifically, the lyrics, “Ho tujhe dekh ke goriya, Beyoncé sharma jayegi” which loosely translates to “after seeing you white girl, Beyoncé will be shy/ashamed”. With over 12 million views on Youtube, the comment section is worthwhile. It is more entertaining than the song. Maqbool Khan, the director of the film, in response to the online backlash said that the word “goriya” (“white/fair girl”- often used as a compliment) was not to be taken seriously. The lyricist of the song also said that he used it as a “synonym for woman”. As someone who speaks about three Indian languages, I can assure you that it is not remotely a synonym in any of those languages, including Hindi which the song is in. Bollywood thinks the definition of a woman is a light-skinned female.
I am outraged but not surprised. Colourism and anti-black attitudes run deep in the South Asian community and have been boastfully showcased in Bollywood for years. Although there are other regional South Asian film fraternities, Bollywood has been the most dominant in terms of profits and outreach. If Sheerah Ravindren were to debut in Bollywood, it would be more difficult than being cast in Beyonce’s music video.
In Bollywood, the obsession with skin lightening creams is another hazard
It is rare to find a well-known Bollywood actor who has not endorsed a fairness cream, even Priyanka Chopra Jonas is on the list.
It doesn’t end there. Remember Indian Matchmaking on Netflix? Try taking a shot of alcohol every time the matchmaker, Sima Taparia says, “thin, fair, pretty girl”, you will be drunk in ten minutes.
Naturally, I was not shocked to hear “kala rang” (“black colour”- associated as an insult) or “goriya”(“fair/white girl”) in a song because my ears are used to it in daily life. It shouldn’t be that way. It never was that way. In ancient India, when Maharajas (Indian emperors) ruled the Indian subcontinent, dark-skin was considered a vibrant and beautiful aspect. Then, the British came. I think our entire community has a sense of PTSD. That's why we are continually putting each other down, because we were taught that being black, having thick curly hair, or having any features other than Eurocentric means you're ugly.
This outlook is so deep-rooted that we become oblivious. It is nothing out of the ordinary at a South Asian wedding to see women of all ages crowded in the salon getting their hair straightened for such “special occasions”. Also, not to forget the make-up, most people look like pale vampires at weddings. A community that proudly calls itself brown to the world is strangely obsessed with light skin as a beauty standard.
The world has been shouting Black Lives Matter. This goes for everyone - don’t only hear it but listen. Listen to Beyoncé. Listen to Martin Luther King. Listen to Angela Davis. Listen to Nelson Mandela. Listen. Comprehend. Understand. Black civil rights activists made history so we could migrate to the US and UK. You can’t cheer for Obama or Kamala Harris one day and the next be “uncomfortable” that your son or daughter is dating a black person, or simply feel stressed that no one is going to marry your daughter because she turned out darker than the rest of the family.
Dear Beyoncé, we are truly sorry
We failed you but we want to thank you and are truly grateful for the representation. It is hypocritical of us to love black culture on screen but not accept it in real life. Many of us are mortified but change, though gradual is appearing in our conversations. Not taking into account slyly changing the spelling from ‘Beyoncé’ to ‘Beyonse’ in a song title. Some of us are extra embarrassing when it comes to accountability.
Also, I hope Kamala Auntie’s popularity will help take this conversation further. We cannot celebrate her Indian background and turn a blind eye to her Jamaican heritage. It is time we examine our beliefs and attitudes and as you, Queen B, rightly suggest to acknowledge our privilege.