What Happened to Priyanka Happens to Every Brown Girl With a Gora Boy

Social Commentary

What Happened to Priyanka Happens to Every Brown Girl With a Gora Boy

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Here’s the thing about being a celebrity. Someone, somewhere, is always going to be upset with your existence, even if you are the epitome of goodness… Say a feminist Avenger superhero who saves children by day and runs a night shelter for ageing dogs. Someone, somewhere will publicly slander you with accusations of mistreating the dogs, or the children, or both; they’d question your feminism and your membership of the Avengers club with little evidence. And they’d do it days after your wedding.

A few days following the #NickYanka wedding that caps this year of celebrity “get-togethers”, NY Mag’s The Cut published a racist, misogynistic piece of garbage (which they’ve since taken down and apologised for) on how Priyanka married Nick Jonas to further her career in Hollywood. And being garbage, it rightfully got trashed by Indians in the media and on Twitter. But every such screed – and the unequivocal banding together that it results in – also makes me wonder: How far is the rest of India from “forgiving” its other girls whose significant others are men more “gora” than them?

As a Marwari who grew up in north India, I am no stranger to the fascination with white skin – a stricture especially applied to bahus, the skin colour of the groom being immaterial. Perhaps brides who shone through their ghunghats were my ancestors’ attempt at creating the primeval lamp, but what role this could have in the post-electricity 21st century, I’ve always failed to comprehend.

Because to me, even while growing up, dark was beautiful. I had a beautiful mother: tall, with attractive features, and dark skin. And, not but. I’d see her wedding photos and think, “You got pretty lucky, dad”,  totally judging my father’s ’80s Amol Palekar-esque moustache. But at the time they married, his extended family couldn’t wrap their heads around it. How did our fair, tall, doctor boy fall for this dark girl? Why, our eligible bachelor could’ve even got a girl the colour of a naphthalene ball!

What I’m saying is, we’re racist and we’re sexist, and darker women are the ones facing this double whammy of discrimination, because a woman must be fair skinned to be considered of value.

And so, I saw my mother, going the extra mile to make the family like her, overcompensating for her skin colour for all the years to come.

But the Dark Ages (pun intended) have now ended, right? The unfair pressure on women to be the “fairer sex” is now restricted to conversations among dadi-nani, matrimonial ads, and fairness creams. Look how many “wheatish” actresses there are! And of course, it’s our great grandparents coming forward in time to write hateful comments on the family pictures of Arpita Khan (who fits neither of society’s two pillars of beauty – colour and body size). None of us supposedly liberal, “woke” folk could ever judge anyone on the colour of their skin, no sir.

But even if no one in our circles gets on podium to announce, “Dark is ugly”, our obsession with fair skin still shows, albeit in subtler ways. Our attitude toward mixed-race couples, for instance.  

A while back, I was hanging out with a bunch of my colleagues after work. One of the guys was a Caucasian dude who’d freelance with us sometimes. He was chatting with me and well, chatting me up. It was innocent, I didn’t mind it but I also wasn’t interested. But when I went back to my other colleagues, the narrative was that I was hitting on him, because “these Indian girls are so fascinated by white boys.”

They, in their postcolonial hangovers, couldn’t imagine a scenario where a white guy could be attracted to a poor little brown girl like me. It’s similar to the attitude betrayed by The Cut article, which exhorted Jonas, the poor little white boy, to escape the clutches of the brown sorceress who had probably cast a spell on him. Before The Cut made a meal of it, many of us in India had the exact same thought. After all, the idea that Jonas could be in love with her, is too radical no?     

But what if I’d been speaking to a black guy instead? In an alternate universe (the movie Fashion) Priyanka Chopra sleeps with a black man. And rather than furthering her career, (like The Cut would have it), it leads to her downfall. This mirrors exactly the kind of racism present in the article, just at the opposite end of the black and white spectrum.

And so, I saw my mother, going the extra mile to make the family like her, overcompensating for her skin colour for all the years to come.

To those who are thinking from the Fashion example, “Oh, but it’s a man at the receiving end here,” I’m obviously not saying racism only targets women. What I’m saying is, we’re racist and we’re sexist, and darker women are the ones facing this double whammy of discrimination, because a woman must be fair skinned to be considered of value. Women internalise this and spend their lives overcompensating for it. My mother certainly did.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really happy that when Priyanka faced this, the Indian media, (Times of India included!) went up in arms to call it out. That they defended both her achievements and the fact that this stunning brown woman could’ve had anyone in the world; Nick Jonas wasn’t doing her no favors. But I sincerely hope that the popular coverage of this outrage trickles down to those of us who have neither her laurels nor her Ralph Laurens. That this moment is not just of finger pointing at how “our star” is treated overseas, but also of self-reflection. How do we treat each other in our own country?

For how else will we feel beautiful in our own skin?

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