Sunday the 15th of September 2013 is a date Nina Davuluri will never forget, she became the first Indian American ever to be crowned as Miss America. We all know what happened immediately after that, racists bigots and plain stupid people started flooding twitter with their hate messages disapproving of the panels choice. As expected there were some users like @JAyres15 who made paradoxical comments such as “I swear I’m not racist but this is America.” while others like @pizzo_nick kept their tweets plain, simple and straight to the point with “So miss america is a terrorist”
Americans who were disgusted by such behavior swiftly came out in defense of Nina and drowned out the undesirable tweets, so much so that many of the haters either deleted or protected their accounts, a minority few like @pizzo_nick however stand by what they said. Nevertheless, support for Nina after that initial racist backlash was overwhelming. The new Miss America took it in her stride by saying that she will have to rise above all the hate.
Sadly Nina’s skin color would’ve been a major impediment that would not let her win even a local beauty pageant here in India. I am an 80’s kid who has witnessed the transition of advertising messages for skin lightening and fairness creams go from in-your-face to politically correct over the years. The manner in which the message is conveyed may have changed but the message hasn’t – The lighter your skin colour gets, the more attractive you become.
As far as the average Indian mindset is concerned ‘Foreigner’ is a term restricted to white skinned folks from Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand & America. Those from neighboring countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bhutan & Afghanistan are just that……Neighbors. The Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indonesians, Cambodians, Vietnamese & everybody else from South East Asia are their respective nationalities, they don’t conform to the aforementioned condition and hence don’t qualify as ‘Foreigners’, same applies to those from the middle east. And if your skin color is black you are African. No, we won’t bother to guess that you might be Jamaican, Puerto Rican or an African-American.
Femina Miss India is the country’s longest and oldest running beauty pageant which began in the year 1952. Trained in the classical dance forms of Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali and Odissi, Indrani Rahman was the first ever winner of the pageant that year. This year Manasi Moghe will be representing India for the Miss Universe pageant, Navneet Kaur Dhillon for Miss World & Sobhita Dhulipala for Miss Earth. What these girls have in common with their many predecessors is that they don’t come close to Nina Davuluri’s beautiful chocolate skin tone or even if due to some divine intervention they do, they magically appear lighter from the time they win the national pageant to when they represent India on the International platform.
Ask any Indian mother who has a son of marriageable age about their idea of a daughter-in-law and the first thing most will say is that she should be fair. Ask why and she will tell you that she wants really cute grand kids. Such cultural bias towards fair skin runs deep irrespective of caste, religion and financial standing. Bollywood movies, TV talk shows, advertisements & more recently the incredibly popular India Premier League routinely feature fair skinned actors, dancers & cheerleaders.
So sick is our obsession for Caucasian features that our marketers appear convinced that even infant products would have a higher appeal only if white kids are featured on kids apparel, baby food packaging and toiletries. Some brands like Gini & Jony and online retailers like Jabong.com & hushbabies.com almost exclusively feature white kids in their marketing visuals.
Indian kids are deemed fit for appearing in government advertisements related to Polio Vaccination and other child welfare initiatives. The world of glamorous photo shoots for apparels and other items elude them more than often.
So when Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America the common reaction one could get from friends and family was “What’s so special about her? She is no better looking than any average Indian girl” It is not uncommon for a kid with the darkest skin in the family to become an object of ridicule for siblings, cousins, uncles, aunties & grandparents at family functions, because everybody has got to laugh and have fun, right? These moments of torture can begin with – “How come you are darker than your parents and brother?” which may be followed by “Hey! I know why. A black cat crossed her mother’s path when she was in her stomach” and then conclude with lethal barbs like “Your parents are going to have a tough time finding you a fair husband, you may have to settle for someone who is jet black”.
Marketers and media fat cats understand this cultural obsession all too well and are busy indulging the masses with their offerings. Just when the sane folks amongst us thought that these spin masters can’t go any lower than using big celebrities to push quack remedies for acquiring an angelic glow, they slipped further in the dark abyss of human genitalia as is demonstrated in the following advertisement for Clean and Dry.
Following condemnation of the product and advertisement, Alyque Padamsee the director of the advert was quoted as saying – ‘The only reason I can offer for why people like fairness, is this: if you have two beautiful girls, one of them fair and the other dark, you see the fair girl’s features more clearly. This is because her complexion reflects more light.’, an explanation that even the great physicist, Sir C V Raman would’ve envied.