The colour of my skin...

I grew up in a very loving Indian family where daughters were loved as much, if not more than sons. My parents NEVER discriminated between my brother and me and gave us the same opportunities. In fact, I think I got more opportunities than him and got away with a lot more than he ever did. 

But the one thing from my childhood that stands out for me - and never goes away - is the amount of colourism I faced growing up. India, as many of you may know, has an obsession with white skin. We have thousands of products for skin whitening - the most famous being Fair & Lovely. All of us "dusky" women at some point have either politely been recommended to use it or have, much worse, used it to lighten our skin colour. 

In my life, my uncle was the one who made my dark colour a big deal. You see his daughters were all fair, blonde hair. I, on the other hand, was dark. I was called kaalu - translated from Hindi it means Black. I was called Kaalu all my life growing up. In fact, even now if I call him, he'll address me as Kaalu. Kaalu is my identity for him.  

Being the youngest son, my dad could do nothing to change this. And my mom tells me that every time she would hear him call me Kaalu, she'd get mad but she couldn't do anything. They tried to address it with the family early on but faced a fair amount of pushback, so they let it be. 

To me, Kaalu was a tag that meant I was less than. It meant I would not go in the sun for fear of becoming more kaali (dark). It meant I would be chastised for swimming because swimming would make me kaali (dark). It meant trying different homemade skin-lightening recipes not to be kaali (dark). It took over 35 years for me to come to love my skin colour. Actually, it's only in the recent few years that I have fallen in love with my skin colour. What it also did was make me very empathetic. I, for whatever reason, started relating/feeling/understanding women who had my skin colour better than I could relate/connect with women with lighter skin colour. And again, only recently have I realized how deep this unconscious bias is in me. Whether it's good or bad - I don't know but I do know that it's something I need to address. 

I tell this story because I feel we need to interrogate our childhood experiences and see how they play out in our adulthood. How they affect our leadership. How they affect us now. I am a firm believer that unless we address our past, we can't move forward. These unconscious biases will continue to pop up, whether we like it or not.