When I was about eight my family visited India, and my dad being the social animal that he is, packed us into the car regularly so that we could meet every possible person in our known extended family, from first cousins to third cousins, thrice removed. In Kerala, on a July day, that means you're either driving around in the rain, or worse, on an impossibly muggy day, where every inch of skin and clothing sticks to the vinyl seats of the Ambassador, and loudly peels off when you so much as shift in your place. And as the only boy among three siblings, I was always assigned the worst seat in the car: the middle of the front seat, wedged in between my dad and the hired driver, a location entirely deprived of any air flow, where the torpor was periodically broken by the flailing elbow of the driver, as he shifted gears.
Yesterday, while chatting with a Latina colleague about the politics of skin tone in our respective communities, I was reminded of those long, long trips, and of one destination in particular. It was some relative--I can never remember the connection--and he was old, and crotchety, and as we all sat around, drinking our respective cups of tea and Horlicks, he glared at me and my sisters, and pointing to one of them, asked my parents in Malayalam: "All of you are so fair. How did this one turn out such a darkie?"
After I told my friend that story, we flipped through a new issue of India Abroad, which I had on my desk. In the matrimonial section, I'd say maybe every 5th listing mentioned "fair" skin. No one used the terms "dusky" or "wheatish." But it made me wonder: if someone doesn't say their son or daughter is fair, does that imply they're wheatish or dusky, or maybe even dark?
Maybe Sumi Raghavan can tell us. Sumi's a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Fordham University, here in New York. To periodically take her mind off her dissertation, she started "Browngirl's Beautyblog," because, as she told me, "there's a real gap in the amount of information available about beauty products for women of brown color, and as an informed consumer with a lot of experience, I thought I may have something interesting to say about it."
In her first post, on May 29, Sumi describes her skin as a "deep brown":
Here she tells us more about why she started the site:
Online, there is a wide network of Desi beauty bloggers, but surprisingly few of them are actually discussing products that are geared towards women of our skin color. Of the blogs that do speak to this issue, I've found the blogger's voice a bit difficult to relate to. I suppose that's where the rock 'n' roll references come in--as a pop culture junkie and a rock n roll fanatic, I enjoy injecting those references into my writing not only to convey my personal voice but also because it is more fun for me to write that way. I do so much professional writing that its nice to write more conversationally for a change.