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Our relationship with colour

Women & Design // Behind the scenes

When you’re at a store and you’re looking to make a purchase, what is the first thing you notice about an object? Is it safe to say that most of the times it’s the colour?

Disclaimer & TW : If you have ever been a victim of bias based on skin colour and conversations around this trigger your mental well-being, please stop reading this article/post. I also want to mention that my intention of writing this article is to raise awareness and facilitate healing. I do not intend to point fingers or blame anyone.

When you’re at a store and you’re looking to make a purchase, what is the first thing you notice about an object? Is it safe to say that most of the time it’s the colour? For me, it is. Colour is an extensive part of our jobs as creatives. So much so that we have systems in place to chose exactly the right shade (or tint) of the right colour for a product. And because we use all of our senses to form memories, colour, in a lot of ways, becomes a key aspect of a memory. Memories that are beautiful, scenic and full of life. But also, memories that are disturbing, damaging, and dehumanizing — That is for people of color.

About a month ago, I was out running some errands and on the way back, happened to visit some family members. So, the housekeeper that works for them always brings back some jaggery (solid dark sugar made in India from sugar cane) when she visits her village. In the middle of some discussions, my mother asked her if she had brought any Jaggery. She replied saying that she did not bring any from her recent visit because it was “too DARK”. Something you need to know about this organic raw form of sugar is that it contains molasses or black treacle. This is the component that gives raw sugar its dense dark colour. It is also the reason why raw sugar is highly nutritious. When processed to create white sugar, the molasses is removed, which is why table sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever. The housekeeper went on to say that she would never use that dark jaggery in anything she cooked because the food wouldn’t be as appetizing. As innocent as her comments were, I couldn’t help but think that she wasn’t just talking about food.

As a child, I did have a lot encounters where people mentioned the colour of my skin and in a lot of these situations, their comments weren’t positive. The thing is that my father, is dark skinned and my mother, is light skinned. So, as a kid I saw a lot of concerned expressions from strangers when my mother introduced me as her child. I didn’t understand it at first because I never had a problem with my skin and my parents never made me feel like it was an issue. My issue with my skin started because of mainstream media and when my relatives started to refer to me as — you guessed it, “Blackie”. I felt safe when I was at home but, the minute I stepped out, I got unnecessary suggestions from ‘concerned’ relatives telling me not to go out in the sun or eat too much chocolate. I was 5 years old when I truly started hating myself. I was a child when I started to believe I was hideous and ugly. No matter how much my mother told me I was beautiful, I couldn’t bring myself to believe her. Colourism affected my childhood in a way that I cannot put into words!

Starting design school as a young adult, The day my father dropped me off at campus, I remember him saying, “You are going to have a culture shock. Learn to take care of yourself.” I didn’t understand what he said, I was just looking forward to learning and probably meeting some interesting people. Looking back, I wish I had taken his advice more seriously. It was in this stage of my life that I experienced the most drastic level of Colourism I had ever experienced before. It was life-changing — damaging at first but I’m grateful that these heart-breaking moments taught me how to love myself. Here are some of the comments I heard from my classmates :

“Kajol looks so good in this video, but she’s very dark. Ugh. Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t see you sitting there.”

“You have nice features for someone that’s dark skinned. Don’t get offended, it’s a compliment.”

“I’ve never dated dark girls before. I don’t think I ever will. But, I wouldn’t mind having a physical relationship with them.”

“Can people see you in the dark?”

Just in case you were wondering, all of these comments were made by cisgendered Men.

My road to recovery from all of these dehumanizing and destructive notions about my skin was not an easy one. I’m so grateful that I had wonderful friends and parents that supported me. They loved me for who I am. It was because of this support system and my journey in faith/spirituality, I healed my relationship with my body. I read a lot of books and learned a lot about what it truly means to be beautiful. Beauty has nothing to do with your physical appearance, It’s the feeling of beauty that you need to hold on to and that, is internal. Today, any comments directed at my physical body don’t stick, because what people say about you is never really about you. Their perception — their problems. Now, I truly know what it means to love myself. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and tell that 5-year-old kid that she was the most beautiful girl ever. Furthermore, I realised that it was necessary to forgive everyone that ever made me feel bad about myself. Lousie Hay says, “At any given point in time, people are doing the best that they can”. You might wonder how these unkind actions are someone’s best but, the truth is that they don’t know any better. After all, we are all victims of victims. Nobody was born with these beliefs, it was given to them. It is with love, compassion, and forgiveness that we break this cycle of victimization.

If you made it this far, I urge you to be very aware of anything you say about anyone. We don’t know what somebody is going through and it is the need of the hour that we be kind and understanding. Thank you for reading this article!


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Ashwini 🧡


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