Brown Girl in The Ring

Who remembers the song “Brown girl in the ring” by Boney M? I sang it through my childhood, but cannot even imagine the reaction to the record playing in a public place today, especially since the next few lines describe her as a “sugar in a plum”!! “Plum, Plum!!” I had to write in the extra plums just so it all felt complete, such was the charm of the song through the 80’s, even though it made the little girl stand out. 

Whether the West Indian song segregated the brown girl or made her feel special, the thought never crossed my mind. Today it does. Race and racism are front and centre when it comes to education for my children today. There was a time I felt it was too early for my lovely brown children to be exposed to the biases they might encounter in the majority Caucasian demographic they are born in. I have decided, it is actually the right time as they enter their early teens, to be aware and proud of who they are, their heritage and equally have the ability to take a stand and call out racism if they see it. They can only call it out when they know what it looks like! 

Meghan Markle did England no favours when she called both the British media and the Royal family racist on Oprah’s show recently. The jury’s still out on who the real bully was in this situation and there are so many contenders. Both the British tabloids and the internet are abuzz with debate. The Western world continues to struggle with assimilation and it will be a long while before things get to where they should be.

Whether it be the American film academy or the BAFTA’s, film and television are trying hard to bring in changes that are long overdue. I watched the racy series “Bridgerton” on Netflix a few weeks ago! Who would have thought black and brown actors could portray posh English gentry from the 1800s? With no real story line to speak of, the series is lockdown’s box office hit because it completely kills colour. You stop seeing it. The Duke of Hastings is strong, stubborn and sexy. The Duchess is petite, wilful and a steely force of nature. You will have to watch it to know what race they are. The same worked with the West End musical “Hamilton” where almost all actors portraying the American war of Independence were of colour, bringing depth and a genre of foot-tapping rap music to the forefront, that make both George’s (Washington and the King of England) far more interesting! Again, you can guess which one of them was of which colour! The bottom line is, no one cares! And that’s how it should be.

In India today, colourism is the age-old form of racism and it is a race against time to get rid of it! There are glimmers of hope as both men and women stand up strong against this bias within the county today, but so much more needs to be done. Both education and industry in India need to play the largest role in demolishing the racially prejudiced nature of some of the most basic biases that have existed in the country. A space that could lead that change is matrimonial advertisements in newspapers. 

Looking for a fair, beautiful, slim, homely and convent educated girl, 22-25 years, for a handsome, well settled boy with a managerial job!

Why should a newspaper of any repute let this be part of their Sunday pages? It’s diabolical.

Rarely do parents paint their sons in the same colours of skin tone, behaviour and education. Adjectives that are racial and derogatory at a time when women describe themselves as professionals and entrepreneurs with multiple educational qualifications should have no place in our world.

Matrimonial adverts for men are not much better: 

Looking for a fair and handsome, well-educated boy in a corporate job with an MBA, for a well settled professional girl in New Delhi only!

How does someone know if a man’s fair skin and MBA will make their daughter happy? It is actually funny that parents are willing to send their children to various Western shores for the best education but feel that a spouse must be within city limits. For that matter, parents that encourage their sons and daughters to use fairness products to meet these exacting standards, need to take a step back and see the damage they are peddling for generations to come.

As Indians, why is it difficult to admit that we are brown people? I am happy to say that again. We are brown people. Why are we obsessed with a lighter skin tone? Having done some very basic research via the ever-reliable internet here are some facts I have found:

Colourism or skin-color stratification is a process that privileges light-skinned people over dark in areas such as income, education, housing, and the marriage market (Hunter, 2007). 

Overall, combined influences of the caste system, colonialism, and globalization have made fair/light skin-color a social capital that enables upward social mobility in India (Parameswaran & Cardoza, 2009b).

And therein lies the problem. The minute stronger and darker forces like income, social mobility and caste come into play, change is difficult to come by. Generationally, as a population, Indians have taken their time to shake off the biases that colonialism and the caste system have left behind. It will take a lot of hollering from the rooftops from people in the media, advertising and even politics to bring shame to colourism. There are no simple solutions when it comes to problems that are so well entrenched into social structures but we have to start somewhere.  

Anyone interested in moving this debate further? “Show me the motion… tra la la la la”

The Railway Woman