Black wives matter

By Bhushan Salunke
Priyanka Chopra with husband Nick Jonas
The Devil’s Advocate, serving you a cocktail of humour, wit and sarcasm

The recent police brutality incident in Minneapolis, USA, in which a black person was killed by a white policeman, in the line of duty, has led to looting/destruction of property and the spread of “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) protests around the world, despite the COVID-19 risks to the protesters and others.

It was just four years ago that the US citizens had overwhelming elected a black president for two terms. For eight years, under Obama, US citizens enjoyed cordial racial relations with no incidents of police brutalities. How quickly things have changed but it is heartening to note the large participation of white people in the BLM protest marches, including the white Hollywood celebrities, who are ever willing to support social changes.

As a consequence, there is a flurry of knee-jerk reactions: historical statutes of white people are being brought down, movies depicting blacks have been withdrawn (e.g. Gone with the Wind), actors who played black characters are being censored etc. There is even talk about defunding police departments in the US. Would replacing the entire white police force with black cops or women cops solve the problem? Could this measure reduce the crimes on the streets?

Apparently, it is not just whites being racists towards blacks. Infosys, the Indian software company, is facing yet another charge of racism as one of its former employees, Davina Linguist, a black American, has filed a lawsuit against the company, in Texas. Last October, an anonymous whistle blower’s letter had alleged racism and misogynistic charges against the company’s CEO Salil Parekh. The complaint alleges bias towards South Asians by the company. “Infosys employs approximately 20,000 employees in the United States, roughly 90% of whom are South Asian and Indian, even though only 1-2% of the US population is South Asian.”

Priyanka has admitted to having used fairness cream to lighten her dark skin because her family members would call her ‘kaali’. If you compare her early photos in which she was dusky to her current glowing fair skin tone, she has done well

“Celebrities” are under tremendous pressure, from their millions of followers, to comment on every issue which occurs in the world. They take time off their busy schedule walking the red carpet or attending cocktail parties to share their pearls of wisdom with their sheep-like followers, via social media.

Bollywood is part of the staple diet for most Indians. Bollywood celebrities have millions of followers who hang on to every word they spew. Priyanka Chopra, one of the Bollywood celebrities, is an amazing story. Graduating from the School of Beauty contest, she was campus-recruited by Bollywood for her natural acting abilities. Besides her outstanding acting abilities, she is a humanitarian and philanthropist and is vocal about social issues. She was a designated UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and has danced with black kids on her UNICEF tour of Africa.

The world and her followers were itching to know what she felt about MLM and George Floyd. So, Priyanka jumped on Instagram and said, “End this race war here in the US, and around the world. Wherever you live, whatever your circumstances, no one deserves to die, especially at the hands of another because of their skin colour.” Such words of wisdom, indeed.

But her sagacious commentary brought out the internet trolls in droves, who attempted to pull her down from her white marble pedestal. Who let the trolls out?

The trolls called her a hypocrite for having endorsed a skin fairness cream years ago and now supporting the cause of black people. Why do trolls go back in time, dig into the past, to accuse her? Sound familiar? Priyanka has admitted to having used fairness cream to lighten her dark skin because her family members would call her ‘kaali’. If you compare her early photos in which she was dusky to her current glowing fair skin tone, she has done well. This is the case with other Bollywood female actors such as Bipasha Basu, Kajol, Rekha, Sri Devi, Hema Malini, Shilpa Shetty, Deepika Padukone… The list of actors who have jumped into a bleach bathtub to turn their skin fair, is endless.

The trolls hit Priyanka beneath the belt. “She is so obsessed with whiteness that she even married a white boy. How did she get a plum role in the US TV drama Quantico if people were so racist?” Ouch!

Priyanka should have just looked over her shoulder, in her own backyard, in India, before commenting on police brutality in US. India has a bad rap when it comes to police brutality. Police brutality, a colonial legacy, is part and parcel of policing style in India.

Police lathi charge migrant workers

The “Campaign Against Torture in India” while releasing “India: Annual Report on Torture 2018” stated that in that year, a total of 1,966 custodial deaths were reported to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) including 147 deaths in police custody and 1,819 deaths in judicial custody. Torture of prisoners is commonplace in jails.

Another form of police brutality is the classic “fake encounters” in which criminals are shot dead in a staged set up. Surprisingly, such incidents are popular and supported by the general public. Police who carry out fake encounters, called “encounter specialists”, are celebrated with medals and financial rewards. There are several Bollywood movies lionising such acts.

The recent police brutality on migrant workers and public in general, while enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown in India is shocking. People were mercilessly beaten for breaking lockdown rules. A footage showing migrant workers crouched on the side of the road while they were sprayed with chemicals, to disinfect them, went viral.

So, Priyanka did not have to travel too far from home to express her views on police brutality when it was happening right under her fair nose.

Activism and social justice movements can be started quite easily these days, while sitting in the comfort of home, thanks to the internet. India could be ready for a BLM-type movement, to revolt against the discrimination that exists against dark-skinned people in India.

India is largely divided, geographically, into two groups: fair-skinned North Indians and dark-skinned South Indians. There are countless jokes and discriminatory attitudes directed at dark-skinned people. Without diving too deep into this topic, suffice to say that fair skin is a national obsession and Bollywood and the advertisement industry reflect this well and are largely responsible for perpetuating it. Fairness is so valued and required in Bollywood that you will not find a dark-skinned actor (especially women) dominating the silver screen. The great King Khan endorses Fair & Handsome, a skin lightening cream, to turn men into white knights in shining armour.

Global spending on skin lightening is projected to triple to US$31.2 billion by 2024, according to a report released by the research firm Global Industry Analysts, encompassing not just cosmetic creams but invasive procedures such as skin bleaching, chemical peels, laser treatments, steroid cocktails, “whitening” pills and intravenous injections—all with varying effectiveness, skin health risks and heavy financial commitments.

Priyanka Chopra featured in fairness product ad

A number of reasons could be attributed to the obsession with fairness; the Indian caste system with its social hierarchies based on skin colour; colonialism by white rulers entrenching the thought that white signifies power and black means slavery; globalisation which is spreading the Western beauty ideals of fair skin etc.

It is more than a bias; it is a cultural obsession in India and one that is becoming dangerous, socially. The dark skin stigma is so pervading in India, the naturally dark skin people dislike or hate being dark. Even Lord Krishna had lamented, “Radha kyun gori, main kyun kala”? (Why is Radha fair and I’m dark?). The fair skin correlates with beauty, personal success, a perfect life, a better job, a happier marriage, and beautiful and fair children, in the Indian psyche.

Matrimonial ads on websites and newspapers demand for “a beautiful, slim, fair and convent-educated girl”. Potential brides spend a lot of money, in the months before the wedding, attempting to look fair and lovely. It is so normalised that people go in for “complete makeover treatments” as a part of wedding preparations—men as well as women.

A study by a women’s health charity in India found that childless couples often insisted on and paid more for surrogates who were beautiful and fair, even though the surrogate does not contribute genetically to the baby.

India’s traditional Ayurveda medical system teaches that pregnant women can improve their foetus’s complexion by drinking saffron-laced milk and eating oranges, fennel seeds and coconut pieces.

Look up at any billboard, TV or magazine advertisement in India and you will find fair and handsome people smiling back at you, with “Westernised” looks to boot. The only thing missing are the blue eyes. LMAO

It is a black day when skin colour becomes ground for ridicule. Let us be fair and not discriminate. Make black the new black. No more white washing our black deeds of discrimination. Let us keep it black and white.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author

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