This post is about skin color not skin care! It’s been a while since I wrote – the blog’s a bit of a mess and ever since my first Nikon camera broke, I haven’t had quite the same love affair with my new camera …. Anyways, back to the topic.
Ever since the outcome of the US election last November, I have suddenly become aware of my brown skin. It started before the election actually, when I became aware of the incident of a black man who was shot by a cop for a busted tail light. I followed the story of his horrified girlfriend for a bit. However the truth was, while I was horrified by this and other race related incidents that followed, I do not think I truly understood what it meant to be treated as less of a human being because of your skin color. Far from it. Then incidents involving racism started mushrooming all over the country and I started to think about how I would respond if someone insulted me or one of my family members because of the color of our skin. We had a vacation involving local flight travel coming up and we hadn’t flown local in two years. So I wanted to be prepared mentally for any unpleasant encounter we might have and prepare myself not to lose my temper should such an incident occur.
So far I’ve been lucky enough not to have had any brazen issues with racism personally. Even when I first came to this country two decades ago to the Midwest, beyond a curiosity around how good my English was, or the usual questions around food, animals, and other benign things, I have always felt like I’ve been treated with respect. I’ve been asked about skin color by an African American who was a co-passenger on a flight to Dubai – “how come there are some Indians who are very light and some who are as dark as me?” I wish I could have shown him the skin color map on Wikipedia. As I’ve been formulating skin care products, I’ve had Indian friends ask me if I have a product for skin lightening and I’ve given them lectures on how this is not possible and even unhealthy. These conversations, though pretty benign, reveal how deeply we care about skin color. However, it wasn’t till I was vacationing in Belize of all places that I had a slap in the face encounter with racism.
I will admit, I am as guilty as anyone of harboring prejudices against certain types of people. I will be honest and admit it. My prejudices are not driven by race, religion or caste which is incredible since I was raised in India in a very privileged Tam Brahm household. Maybe it’s because my dad had close friends who were Muslims and Christians, or because I volunteered in the slums of Hyderabad teaching kids from the lowest strata of society how to read and write when I was at an impressionable age, or maybe because I went to a previliged school with a diverse set of students, and also maybe because I believed fairly early that my birth as who I am is a complete accident – I could just have been born in the United States as a the white son of a homeless couple as I was the daughter of lovely parents from a previliged social class in India. I do have strong prejudices against people who don’t do an honest day’s work, who can’t control their emotions, and Indian male bosses. There I said it. Anyways, coming back to Belize.
Belize has a mix of black, brown, and white population. The whites typically have political power, own restaurants etc. , the brown population indigenous to Belize as well as immigrants from nearby Guatemala and Honduras, are the working population, while the blacks typically lived in poverty and am not sure what they typically do for a living. Surprised? My husband and I were having a conversation with the owner of a place we were staying at about the history of Belize when I told him that we’d stayed at a place called Hopkins for a few days. He asked how we liked it. I replied that we’d loved it other than the fact that we were right next to a bar where people made merry into the wee hours, were loud enough to disturb my sleep through earplugs. He gave me a meaningful look and said “that’s the thing about that place”. I also remarked at how struck I was by the poverty of Hopkins as opposed to where this lodge was and asked him how it had gotten to be so divided. He responded “I shouldn’t be saying this, but they don’t like to work. It’s because of the color of their skin”. My husband and I stood shocked. It was a bit after this conversation that I realized that there are people who believe in hierarchy of humans based on skin color because their god ordained it that way. I was quite at a loss as to how to respond. How do you respond to the belief that god created people of color with only slightly more human traits than an animal, or maybe not even that? How can one begin to understand what these people of color have endured when coming from a sense of blinding, stupid, accidental previlige? Of course I am familiar with history and have read books on racism but none of that prepared me for this. The thing is this man is a self made man – he worked hard, treats his employees (brown) really well, and does not likely harbor any feelings of hatred for people with black skin. He just has accepted the human hierarchy based on skin pigmentation as a fact intended by god and not evolution to protect against the sun’s UV rays.
Prior to this, we had discussed Mayan civilization and the man had told us that the golden period was between 250-900AD. He said that he believed that the Mayans self destructed. I can’t help but wonder – it looks a lot like humans are tearing down the path of self destruction – whether from immense aggression, greed, or stupidity – it doesn’t really matter. The immense irony is that while we have made huge strides in making life supremely comfortable for most humans, truly intelligent evolution seems highly questionable.