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My MLK Day Wish For India

In Mental Bliss on January 19, 2014 at 3:12 pm



Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day in my home country. In honor of this, I would like to reflect on something I find horrific about my mother country of India—the fixation on skin color.

In 1954, racially segregated schools in the U.S. were finally declared unconstitutional. One of the major contributing factors to this ruling was the Clark Doll Experiment. The Clark Doll Experiment was a controlled study conducted by psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark.  In his tests, Dr. Clark put a white doll and black doll in front of a black child ranging in age from 6-9. He asked each child questions regarding which doll was “bad” and which was “good”. Overwhelmingly more children identified the white doll as “good” and the black doll as “bad” as well as the doll that looked more like themselves. On an objective level, quite telling, on an emotional level, extremely heart-breaking . This experiment was repeated in the U.S. in 2005 on a smaller scale with similar results.

When I watch ads on Indian television that blatantly identify lighter skin as more attractive and desirable than darker skin, the Clark Test immediately comes to mind. If Indian children were subjected to the Clark Test, what would the result be? Would they also think that the lighter doll was “good” and the darker doll was “bad”? Based on the media messages I have seen, I do think they would also identify the darker doll as “bad”.  How ridiculously sad is this? How backwards is the relation of personal self-worth and attractiveness to skin color? Why is this ideal so widely accepted by people who seem progressive in many other ways? Why is this damaging message embraced and encouraged by well-known and respected celebrities?

Recently, Jennifer Lawrence told Barbara Walters that it should be “illegal” to call someone fat on TV. She referenced this in relation to the frequently negative effect the media has on the self-image of girls. Along the same vein, I think it should also be illegal to sell the idea that ANY skin-tone is “bad”. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about skin care and beauty—facials, microderms, sunscreen, moisturizer, bronzer—do it all! However, stop propagating the message that light is good and dark is bad—isn’t it old, outdated, and stupid? Aren’t we better than this?

Being the country my parents come from, I sincerely hope that one day Indians will decide to demand that this stupid ideal go. Demand it from the media, demand it from celebrities, demand it from corporations, and demand it from society. This flawed ideology is something I am deeply ashamed of and offended by—I am also shocked that it is something that is still embraced by young people as well as old. People are not defined by the amount of melanin they were born with. Beauty is multi-faceted and it is downright evil to make someone believe they are ugly because of the color of their skin. Please grow beyond this India! In a country where girls have to work extra hard for equal rights and access to resources and education, a social construct as ridiculous and detrimental to self-esteem as this really needs to be eradicated.


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