August 6, 2011

The girl with the golden hair...

Being Caucasian in India is fascinating.

Today, I went shopping for a sari that I could wear to my field placement some days. My hair was really curly today and I had it down because the Saravana Store was air conditioned. In Saravana Stores attendants are in ABUNDANCE. While, I browsed saris I had three female attendants trailing me. Just hovering. I had my back turned facing the long rack of saris and I felt a hand fluff my blonde hair. As one of the attendants walked past she had reached out and touched my hair. I didn’t really mind.

They asked me whether I knew Tamil before talking about me as they hovered. They made motions to my hair and whispered to each other –“gold color.” I have gold color hair. Not yellow color hair. Gold color.

We went shopping for shoes, too, at another Saravana Store. (Saravana is a HUGELY popular store in India, especially T. Nagar with no less than 6 or 7 tiers.) While, I was trying on a pair of shoes to wear to an Indian Wedding a group of women came to up to us. They remarked to our Indian friend, Shakti, that I looked like the heroine from Titanic. Rose? I look like Rose from Titanic? It was probably because my hair was curly and pulled back in a loose ponytail, I had those crazy wisps all around my face.

The women I spend time with at my field placement all comment about the way that I look. They are women that stay at a short stay home and most of them don’t speak English. They comment on my golden hair, too. One woman asked me if I wear contact lenses and I do – because I need corrective lenses, but that’s not why they asked me. She thought I was wearing colored lenses, because my eyes were blue and that’s such a strange color.

The girls in our hall love our fair skin, which sometimes makes me uncomfortable when they praise our fair skin and degrade their brown skin. I think their skin is beautiful. Skin is skin. Why wouldn’t you like the skin you’re in? They always advise to wear lots of sunscreen to keep our skin so fair. I have to wear a lot of sunscreen or I’ll burn and be miserable.

Advertisements for skin lighteners are on all the TV screens here in India. Skin lighteners are SO bad for your skin and can cause cancer. The popular brands are Fair and Lovely for women and Fair and Handsome for men. As if being fair makes you a lovely person!? History has showed us that that is clearly not the case as Caucasians have showed themselves in ugly, oppressive ways towards individuals of different skin colors.  

Fair and Lovely commercials depict a man initially refusing to take a woman as his wife because she is too dark. Then she uses Fair and Lovely for 7 days and then hoards of men are trailing her in the streets. Imagine. We have commercials in the United States that take us from pale to bronze. Attaching any sense of worth to skin, eye, or hair color troubles my heart so much.

I try to be so understanding of the stares that I get and all the questions about my complexion. I know that I’m an anomaly here in a sea of black hair, brown eyes, and brown skin.  

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