Black is Beautiful / Fr. Dr. K. M. George

Solitary Walk – 19

15

In Kerala’s countryside we could once easily spot a delightful wild variety of Mussaenda plant. It’s first leaves are all dark green, then come white leaves, and finally the cute red flowers inside the white (My picture here shows a different variety).
Standing around the plant we children chanted in unison:

Amma karumpi,
Makalu velumpi,
Makalude makaloru
Sundarikkotha.

(അമ്മ കറുമ്പി
മകളു വെളുമ്പി
മകളുടെ മകളൊരു
സുന്ദരിക്കോത)

Roughly translated it reads:

Mother dark,
daughter fair,
daughter’s daughter damsel fairest. 😊

We learned it from our mothers and grand mothers. Sometimes we would wield a stick and strike down the wild plant leaf by leaf while singing it rhythmically. This was in imitation of some of our teachers who beat us for some reason or no reason. We were unknowingly projecting our anger onto the poor plant. (I wonder if modern man’s brutality to nature is some kind of infantile Adam’s anger against God who expelled him from paradise. Let’s ask Herr Doktor Freud !)

It was much later, while learning about European colonial empires, slave trade, apartheid and pervasive racial discrimination that I realised how racist and colour-discriminatory our innocently chanted verse was. Some people might say the standard of beauty hidden in the chant was a white British colonial heritage. But it was here with us long before the colonial era. The white European colonial domination of the dark skinned people probably strengthened our own colour-discriminatory aesthetics. Deeply ingrained in our caste system was the grand narrative of the so-called ancient Aryan-Dravidian conflict and the dominant aesthetics of fair skinned “Aryans “ imposed on all the rest of Indians. Acting in school dramas more than half a century ago I remember how heavily they coated your face with white powder, just to be in line with the standards of the prevailing white skin aesthetics.

In our times the rallying cry Black is Beautiful arose from a deeply wounded collective consciousness of people who have been brutally discriminated against for centuries now.
The horrible killing of George Floyd, our dark-skinned African-American brother, once again reminds us how demonic a racist ideology based on skin colour can become.

(Kmg, Kovidakam, Devalokam PO, Kottayam, 23 June 2020)