22 October, 2017

The Politics Of Skin: A Velvety Intervention

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Prince Dutugemunu is said to have been close to two sisters, one fair and the other dark. They had duly been re-named ‘Sudu’ (Fair One) and ‘Kalu’ (Dark One). The dark one had spurned him and in the end the prince had fallen for the sister. When Kalu finally overcame her pride and expressed her feelings, it had been too late. The Prince, legend has it, had simply said ‘manda Kalu pin nokale?’ (why did you not acquire enough merit?).

This has been variously interpreted. There’s one which holds that ‘Kalu’ had first spurned the prince and by the time she had finally decided that she loved him, his heart had found residence with her sister. The other is all about color and the claim is that the prince was essentially saying ‘why couldn’t you have been a bit fairer?’

Here’s another story. It’s not about a prince and not about the skin color of a girl. Not about love either. A young boy is fascinated by the trials and tribulations of an older girl in the village. The thrills are inversely proportionate to the sorrows that visit her. It’s the reason that concerns us.

One day, he narrates, the said girl who was actually his cousin had been walking ahead of him along a niyara. His mother was between the girl and the boy. The girl had made an observation. Maybe she thought the boy wouldn’t hear, but he did. The boy had a pet name: Sookiri. Sookiri on account of color (he was fair) and not disposition (whether he was sweet or not we are not told). The girls’s observation: Sookiri is fair, but he’s not as pretty as his brother. Sookiri’s brother was the darker of the two. That comment was the source of his mirth at the cousin’s misfortune.

The girl touches on something that is suppressed in the politics of color. Beauty is made of many things, colour is just one of them. If it is all about attracting someone then the following brag by Voltaire should provide food for thought: ‘give me five minutes to talk away my face and I would bed the Queen of England’. The more we engage with a person the less we see the person’s skin, or even that person’s shape or size or perfumes or other accessories. None of these things, by themselves, are able to sustain a relationship.

And yet we cannot get enough of color. We see colour but we cannot ascertain texture as quickly and sometimes it’s impossible since consent is required by social norm. But then again texture aside, we can with the naked eye obtain the nature of the skin, whether it is healthy or otherwise. It’s easy on a face, which can have all kinds of ‘blemishes’ although there have been and probably will always be ‘hot’ serial killers.

We don’t ask ourselves, do we, when we see someone ‘pretty’, ‘could this person be wicked?’ We don’t second guess what’s beneath the skin. We are conditioned to equate ‘pretty’ with ‘good’ or worse, ‘fair’ with ‘good’.

Skin color lends to distinction of various kinds. It is political. Violently political even, if we consider the various and lengthy histories of apartheid. Here it’s more subtle and the violence leaves scars not on skin but mind.

Maybe there’s nothing which is as symptomatic of this malady is the fact that we don’t have much of a vocabulary in either Sinhala or Tamil to describe skin apart from the color aspect.

It is in this context that a recent advertising campaign constitutes an interesting and important intervention in the politics of skin. Velvet, a personal care brand, has proposed a fresh set of one-word skin descriptives in both Sinhala and Tamil.

Interestingly this campaign, which was unfolded in the print media, goes beyond the usual ‘black is beautiful’ (an important ideological statement) discourse. ‘Beauty beyond color’ is the title of a petition that did the rounds recently and was part

Nandita Das, the Indian actress who signed the petition observed in an interview conducted around the time that obsessions with fair skin is not unrelated to concerted campaigns by the cosmetic industry to market ‘whitening’ products. If one checks all the ads of the cosmetic industry here in Sri Lanka you’ll find it’s all birthed in the womb of white-promotion.

Of India’s white-obsession, Nandita says the following:

‘The cosmetics business thrives because the aspirations exist. The two feed off each other. All the beauty magazines are designed to make you feel ugly and want to change your features and skin color. During my field work in Orissa’s Kandhamal district, when it was called Phulbani, I went to areas where there was no electricity and people did not even have food to eat, and I saw women using fairness creams that were well past their expiry date. These had obviously been dumped here. So this obsession with fairness cuts across class. The cosmetics companies only capitalize on it.’

It is probably true of Sri Lanka as well. This is why Velvet’s campaign is important. Velvet is not even talking about color. Velvet, in this campaign at least, is going beyond colour, essentially saying ‘take care of your skin and be proud of your skin; you are Sri Lankan, don’t try to be who you are not’. Sure, the campaign does not venture as far as to state that beauty has little to do with color, texture or skin-health, but we can applaud Velvet for taking the initiative to open a debate on the subject.

The terms proposed are obviously unfamiliar. They can impact only if they gather currency. They have to get ‘picked up’ in all media, especially television, radio and of social media. It’s hard, terribly hard to oust the eye from the privileged position of appraisal. However, until such time that we get there, we will continue to discriminate, continue to scar and continue to succumb to the nonsensical notions of human worth that have knowingly or unknowingly inscribed themselves on our thinking.

One hopes that this is not a campaign that plays on the politically correct. That would be a pity. Velvet, however, has put itself in a position that in all commercials it has to affirm the ideology that has been spelled out in this campaign. Painted into a corner, one might say, but then again it’s a decent and civilized corner to inhabit, all things considered.

We are still quite a distance away from that happy day when cosmetic-peddlers will not bombard us with beauty-definitions and ‘ugliness’-removers. One day, perhaps, the truths that all of us as individuals affirm, i.e. the truths of love and wisdom being the superior cosmetics, will become that is collectively affirmed and therefore the prime informer of cosmetic-marketing. Until such time, though, it is good to have a discussion that puts color in its place and moves on to talk about other things related to skin.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    4

    Don’t the Sinhalese claim Aryan blood and hence fairer than their northern brothers? Isn’t it inherent then in that thinking “fairer” is better?
    Why not work to correct that?

    • 5
      1

      Silly accusation. Sinhala and Tamils are both of the same gene pool. North Indians value light coloured skin even in Bollywood. So without attacking Sinhalese examine your own biases.

      This is true of Indian tamils too. Some are dark as coal and charcoal and not considered pretty.

      Some Jaffna Upper Class mixed Tamils of Malayali gene stock are lighter skinned and do not have curly hair like Sinhala and Tamils generally. They are considered prettier and sort after.

      Why the hell don’t you examine marital columns for your Tamils too? So some tamils and sinhalese are fairer but both are not as fair as Kashmiris or Punjabis or Pathans.

      So North Indians all look down on small, short, curly haired Dark as hell South Indians. Look at Bollywood. How many darkies make it big amongst female stars? Do not blame Sinhalese because this is the curse of Colonialism. SF is very dark skinned but his wife is fairer skinned and looks Kandyan. Some Kandyans look almost white with blue eyes and very lansi skin. Why? Hospitality to British.

      • 0
        0

        Deeepika,

        Please comments below by Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera with regard to my points!

    • 5
      2

      Malinda Seneviratne

      “Prince Dutugemunu is said to have been close to two sisters, one fair and the other dark.”

      For a moment I thought you are writing another Mahawamsa incest story. Its alright.

  • 7
    0

    Good write-up by Malinda on a subject few are willing to tackle , our obsession with fairness, and by extension, Aryan-ness.
    This idea that dark-skinned people are ugly is insidiously spread by the ad industry , the fashion industry and the Mahavamsa.
    It is a pity that people who are good-looking but dark feel inferior.
    There is an epidemic of local girls walking around with hair dyed blond or brown. They look as incongruous as white elephants. What is wrong with our beautiful curly black hair?
    I have heard Sri Lankans remarking that Africans are ugly. But when Somali women turn up on Western fashion platforms, they are suddenly beautiful!
    Looking at the Colombo Fashion Week proceedings, most of the models seem to be European. Are there no Sri Lankan models capable of modeling swimwear? I have seen plenty of local ladies who would do quite well. Or is it something cultural, not wanting to expose their bodies in public?
    Apart from Velvet’s campaign, Barefoot also must be commended for using dark models who do not try to disguise their Sri Lankan beauty with tinted hair, whitened skin and whatnot.

  • 3
    0

    Actually, this is a very interesting and controversial topic. Glad someone raised it. Not sure where these inherent biases arose but they are part and parcel of all South Asian societies and is very widely prevalent in India. On a recent trip back to my motherland, I was shocked to see “skin whitening” cream in a small town close to Polonnaruwa as well. And who can forget the racist insults Mangala Samaraweera made at Sri Lanka’s best known world class female Athlete back when he was a powerful member of CBK’s inner cabinet. I was flabbergasted that he would insult someone over a romance/sexual harassment issue using Parliamentary privilege. We all look Dravidian and part African. Our bulbous noses, eyes and our lips are thicker than any Aryan and yet we are in denial of our origins. Aiyo Aiyo kaata kiyannada?

    • 1
      2

      Mr Ratwatte,

      I am sure as a Kandyan you have inherited valuable Aryan traits. If you look more like a Low country fella, that maybe because you have been over exposed to Sun and UV rays. But nothing could take away from you, your proud Kandyan heritage and aryan blood. Even the Sun and UV rays cannot affect your aryan blood.

      Only thing you should keep in mind is never to get a blood transfusion even if it means certain death.

      • 5
        2

        Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera

        “I am sure as a Kandyan you have inherited valuable Aryan traits.”

        Is it to do with Kandyan hospitality?

        Never mind what are the inherited valuable Aryan traits?

      • 2
        0

        There is no Aryan blood in me. I don’t give a, $!#/. I did an ancestry DNA test and science says most of my genes are South Asian. I do love your humor calling yourself a fictional name. I don’t care and I’ll only be judged based on what bad and good I did and do and not by some karmic twist of birth. Keep trolling dude

        • 0
          1

          Mister,

          Don’t come to “dude” me. I might be old enough to be your Grand Father’s generation. And more importantly I am a Veteran of the armed forces of Sri Lanka.

          I was also a contributor to the now defunct Lankanewspapers.com. Everyone there knows me for who I am and a well respected writer there. Anyone who served in the forces during the 84-89 period will also attest to that.

          You say you are a Ratwatte and says that you have no Aryan blood. Wonder who is writing under a fictional name.

          • 2
            1

            Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera

            “And more importantly I am a Veteran of the armed forces of Sri Lanka.”

            So what?

            You were recruited, trained, employed, …. for the killing business which we know can be a job for Alugosuwa or contract killer.

            As a person who was in the armed forces you should be writing about the torture camps, killing with impunity, missing persons, and a record of all people who were made to disappear during 1987 – 1989 period, as you would have had first hand information.

            If you believe you are old enough to be Mano’s grandfather you must be about 110 years old. At this young age what the hell are you doing in this forum talking about imaginary racial features which scientifically proved to be nonexistent.

            You say you are an Aryan, did you travel by horse driven chariot during your army career and did you carry your Arrows in Quiver while the armed forces were committing one of the worse atrocities in the recent history of this island.

            By the way being an Aryan Army man what did you do to stop the Hindian IPKF invading and occupying this land? Were you hiding behind your grandmother/granddaughter or VP’s fat bum?

            You should start an Aryan talking shop, potential members include KNO Dharmadasa, K M de Silva, Champika Ranawaka, Wimal Sangili Karuppan Weerawansa, …………… and few others.

            • 1
              0

              NV,
              Calm down.
              You are being taken for a ride by the Lt.(Rtd).Haven’t you heard of black humour?
              Obviously he can’t be real, having only got as far as lieutenant in his purported career. Also, he claims to be a Radala called Perera!

              • 1
                0

                old codger

                “Calm down.”

                Yes, I know he is trying to poke fun at Mano.

                My comments are not usually aimed at the writers who raise issues that they do not seem to grasp.

                But others have the same kind of weird ideas about the country, nation, people, war and peace, history, bravery, glory, ….. but do not type their opinions here. My comments are actually aimed at the latter.

                Many stupid people expect some sort of special status/undue recognition/reward/priority for certain categories of people either by virtue of their past inherited cast status, myth, … affiliation to some stupid institution or just for killing people.

                They can wear the hat if it fits them.

                Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera has been around for some time. He is alright.

    • 2
      1

      Mano: “………… And who can forget the racist insults Mangala Samaraweera made at Sri Lanka’s best known world class female Athlete back when he was a powerful member of CBK’s inner cabinet. …..”

      Susanthika was insulted by S B Dissanayake.

  • 0
    1

    Appropriate to remind that school History text books (grade 5) refer to Dutugemunu’s father as KavanTissa (kahavan=gold colored).
    The real name being Kakkavanna, i.e.crow colored.

    Insidious revisionist history?

    “the king Kakavanna consecrated her as queen. Therefore she received the epithet Vihära.”
    Mahavamsa: Chapter 22
    http://mahavamsa.org/mahavamsa/original-version/22-birth-prince-gamani/

    • 1
      1

      sbarrkum

      Dutugemunu’s father as KavanTissa (kahavan=gold colored). The real name being Kakkavanna, i.e.crow colored.

      Dumb marakkayas explaining sinhala names. We did not come to explain your arabic name.

  • 1
    6

    Malinda,

    I am a Kandyan Radhala and I’m fair, in fact very fair and very proud of it too. The Kandyans are the few Fair people in SL and there are several reasons for that.

    The first and foremost reason is that we are of pure Aryan heritage. The second reason is the climate. The Hill country is naturally cool therefore we don’t get barbecued in the sun. And finally, the Kandyans mostly live in Big houses (Walawwa style) with cathedral style ceilings. Therefore, we are not exposed much to the UV rays unlike those in the Salty areas of Sri Lanka.

    The folks mainly from the Low country comes from different castes some of which are not genetically fair (except for Govigama people).

    Secondly, the low country folks mainly those who reside along the Coastline are burnt and toasted by the Sun. Which of course makes them Jet Black.

    These Karawa low caste Southern peasants also live in thatched houses which makes them highly exposed to UV.

    These are the reasons that make the upcountry folks white and low country people Tar coloured.

    The theory that upcountry folks are white because of British hanky-panky is a Fallacy. I being a white man, if I venture out on a field all day under the southern sky, I would become dark too. If my ancestors are British, how is it possible that I become dark instead of Tan?

    This is just loose talk by low country Karawa people to avenge their jealousy on upper castes.

    • 1
      1

      What would Izeth Hussein say? He thinks that only Tamil Vellalas are racists. poor fellow. What about the Muslims. They have dark and fair Muslims too. It is based on caste of a different sort.

      There are fair Tamils in the North. No doubt that the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English had some explaining to do.

    • 0
      0

      @Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera

      It’s good to know someone is as comfortable in their myths as you seem to be !

    • 1
      0

      @Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera

      I am fairer than you (at least, some parts of me are) – so therefore those parts of me that are fairer than you must be more Aryan than the other parts

      You make a very valid argument – My unexposed-to-the-sun parts are very much Walawwa-type Kandyan Aryan whereas the top of my head is probably low-country UV-Exposed type

    • 2
      0

      First of all there are no Kandyan Pereras. The Pereras are Portuguese mixed Karawa Sinhalese from down South who went and settled in Kandy very recently. Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera should check his DNA, I am sure, down his line of ancestry there must be a Parangi (Portuguese) Sudda.

      The last four kings of Kandy were from the Dravida Nayaka (or Vaduga) dynasty (originally Telugu) brought to Sri Lanka from Madurai (Tamil Nadu). They ruled Kandy for more than two centuries. Most of the Sinhalese Aristocrat families of Kandy are either pure Vaduga or Vaduga mixed. They were mostly dark skinned. Many other Sinhalese kings of Anuradapura were also known as ‘Maha Kalu Sinhalaya’ (dark skinned Sinhalese). However, after the Europeans (British) occupied Kandy, some of the Kandyans became light skinned.

      • 1
        0

        Silva

        “Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera should check his DNA,”

        Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera should check his head first as he seems to believe he is around 110 years old.

        • 1
          0

          “Everyone there knows me for who I am and a well-respected writer there.”

          That explains why the Lankanewspapers.com. became defunct, everyone there must have been worst nuts than this fellow. Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera needs urgent institutionalized treatment from a mental hospital. He is not only fully immersed in Myth but also hallucinating. Anyways, a good entertainment for the CT members.

    • 1
      0

      Rtd

      How come you claim you are kandian raddhala. Your last name perera itself disputes it.When Portuguese agent called your ancestors pala paraya in Portuguese accent your ancestors took it as perera .that was how your last name become perera. same as Fernando and Rodrigo. when porthuguese guy called palayan do. took it as Fernando. when agent called raddha guu. took it as Rodrigo as per the legends.

      • 0
        0

        Ranjith,

        My Maternal Grand Father is from the Molligoda family. Our last name Perera was taken for business reasons and not our walawwa name. Two of my brothers changed their names back to our original ancestral name. I too am thinking about it. My son has already taken the original name.

        • 0
          0

          RTD Shamal PERERA

          that is ok. do you know though my caste is karawa my exwife from your raddhala caste. samarakoon from pilimathalawa

    • 1
      0

      RTD.Shamal Perera

      I am from caste called Karawa. I know I am not a Aryan nor Darvadian. Our ancestors migrated from north eastern part of Africa around 125,000 or more years ago. As per archaeological findings every caves that contained ruins of early humans include salt pieces. That means my ancestors had dealings with those early humans. otherwise salts can not be there in those caves. yes our ancestors drank salt mixed water or karadiya. as they drank salty water or karadiya or karadow. it was said to be name as karadow bonno. or karawo. I am proud of my ancestry. I know my distance cousins are still living in Timor,Papua new guinea and part of Borneo island. Their skin are dark. can find some with fair skin as well. no matter. no issue. I am proud of them.

  • 4
    0

    Colour of the skin is very important in India.

    The other day a leading Indian politician said that it was the dark skinned girls who need dowry – implying where the insidious dowry system lies.

    The present CM of Goa is Manohar Parrikar – he was the Defense Minister till recently. In an unguarded moment he referred to “African Negros” – later apologized. At one stage African University teachers were banned from assessing Goa Universities postgraduate thesis.

    African students in India are discriminated. African students are regularly beaten up but the government claims that these were not race related. Ten days back BJP heavy weight Tarun Vijay said patronizingly “If we were racists, we wouldn’t be living with South-Indians”.

    No need to mention colour bar elsewhere – too numerous.

  • 2
    1

    Malinda Seneviratne:

    Your article is Garbage In (the content of the article)- Garbage (comments)out type article. In order to discuss “fair skin” and “dark Skin” you were beating around the bush and discussed a lot but nothing usful.

    If you read enough, do you remember “kalu ethano” somewhere in a song. What is important there is not the skin colour but the SEX APPEAL.

    I have seen black women who are very very beautiful. There the skin colour did not matter and it was the sex appeal important what my eyes lookd for. Similarly, here in the west, tanned skin color is valued highly by women. They try to have orgasm just by looking at it. Thier artifical skin is not even natural that os Asian women.

    I know, the skin colour is dark near the Equator because humans have to absorb and radiate sun. So, their skin colour chemical composition is different from those White “kerapothu Lansies” if I can say. As you go to the pole people have “fiar Skin” colour but that skin almopst always is ugly and some times freckled. with respect to the altitude, as one goes up the mountain or increases the altitude UV radiation increases and the skin burns and colour gets darker in order to face the environment.

    My personal preferance is the skin of the Indian women and golden colour skin.

    Aryans were living in the temperate climate and Dravideans were living close to the equator.

    • 2
      0

      Jimmy oh Jimmy,
      “Similarly, here in the west, tanned skin color is valued highly by women. They try to have orgasm just by looking at it. Thier artifical skin is not even natural that os Asian women. “

      Orgasm???? Artificial skin???? What ARE you talking about? Please go back to explaining Abhidhamma.

      • 0
        0

        old codger:

        Which newspaper you are writing to.

        You look not informed at all.

      • 0
        1

        old codger

        “Orgasm???? Artificial skin???? What ARE you talking about? Please go back to explaining Abhidhamma.”

        He is jimsofty the dimwit he reserves the right to be very stupid.

        He can do anything with his hands, he can do anything without his brain, he can say anything without any restraint, ….. he is a speciaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal`Sinhala/Buddhist.

  • 3
    3

    Indians beat up Nigerians in Delhi. An MP defended the North Indians saying they are not racists as they had good relations with the Indians in the South who are dark. Interesting story. North Indian Aryans are absolutely racists and rapists. They have a penchant for raping white tourists.

    I have heard Sinhalese say they are fair. One look at the all Sinhala Sri Lankan cricket team over the years disproves that. They are the same colour as Murali, the only Tamil to have played for a long time.

    Anyway, the story of Dutugemunu is fascinating. There is the lion that buggers. There is the son who cuts its head off. Then there is Dutugemunu who sleeps with his sisters. Phew. What an adventurous people. The Buddha blessed them three times over too. Then, we have the lion holding its erection on the flag.

    • 0
      0

      “The Buddha blessed them three times over too.”

      The Buddha was human. When you have to go, you have to go.

      • 0
        3

        Dumb yusuf:

        You don’t know who Lord Buddha is.

        Just stay away from talking things you don’t know. I know you are a journo.

  • 3
    1

    Good topic for a no-hoper desperately looking for something to write about while (vainly) contemplating about the presidential chair.Isn’t it?

  • 0
    0

    Those cosmetics are simply garbage. those active ingredients are rarely effective and the matrix is mostly toxic compounds.

    but, women are desperate to be beautiful and be defective free. So, they pay high prices to this usless mixtures. Id you read the label most of those have almost the same composition with some mino ingredient differences which includes scents. Most of the chemicals are toxic by someway.

  • 1
    0

    Rtd. Lt. Reginald Shamal Perera, could it be that you got your fair skin from people like Robert Knox and other suddhas who found Sinhalese damsels quite attractive in days past?

    • 3
      0

      Dionysius

      “could it be that you got your fair skin from people like Robert Knox and other suddhas who found Sinhalese damsels quite attractive in days past?”

      You must be thinking about Kandyan Hospitality.

  • 1
    2

    This article is a bullshit. I do not know from where this writer got evidences on Vihara Maha Devi having daughters.If she had That should be mentioned in Mahawamsa. But Deepawamsa talk on King Kavantissa having few daughters but from concubines.they all become bikkunis .another evidences can be seen in museum in Matara on Kavantissa’s daughter. that is from another queen. she too became bikkuni. As such writer wrote this article with sheer hated towards Sinhalese Buddhists. May be under the direction of some NGOs.

    Regarding skin color, it is the natural selection. some may like fair girls. some may like dark ones. that too is natural selection.

  • 1
    2

    Like our all historians this writer too is a slave of Hindian it seems.they do not have a world beyond Hindia. They even can not imagine evolution of civilizations in isolation like south American Mayan civilization or evolution of 920 different languages in Papua new Guinea. very remote tribal land.Aryans and Darvadian concepts too is like that. Fabrications of our Hindian Slave Historians like writer himself.As such commenting on article is a foolishness.

    • 0
      1

      Bird-brain ranjith,
      Dont attack the writer because you cant answer his arguments.

    • 3
      0

      ranjith (sprrw) scatterbrain historian

      What are you blabbering today?

    • 1
      0

      @ranjith (sprrw)

      “As such commenting on article is a foolishness.

      …. and yet, here you are !

      • 0
        0

        maalumiris

        “…. and yet, here you are !”

        Be warned, his family is into sorcery.

  • 2
    1

    True there are 0.01% of Kandyans who are fair……but walk around the street of Kandy, and everybody is black. Many colonial mixtures became fair and slid right into the Aryan thing as they were scorned by the purer colonial blood….it was/is a Lankan continuum of color – Pure Burghers, getting darker, and then voila, they become highland Sinhalese. But how our Sinhala like to yarn around with colours. Even black looking Sinhalese completely forget their color and point to the 0.01% to claim blue-print. Tamils also do this I think. Shame, no.

  • 0
    0

    I am the colour of sirisena,but my bum is the colour of wimal weerawansa.

    is there some significance in this.over to you malinda for some analysis.

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