..the only thing they could roast about a dark-skinned actress was of course her dark skin. They could identify me only with that.
A few days back, Tannishtha Chatterjee, an actor went on a comedy show to promote her newly released film. The format of the show was that of a roast. What is a roast? A roast is a form of comedy where jokes are cracked at the expense of the person being roasted. However, what is that fine line which distinguishes a roast from bullying? What is that fine line in any kind of humor which distinguishes funny from not funny. Tannishtha Chatterjee’s experience of the roast was an unpleasant one. All the ‘jokes’ cracked targeted her dark skin color. She chose to leave the show mid way and wrote about her experience in the form of a Facebook post. The post is a powerful one. But, most importantly it raises some pertinent questions about color bias, prejudice and humour.
This is so deep rooted and linked to our perceptions of caste, class and skin tone. Upper caste=Fair skin =touchable. Lower caste=dark skin=untouchable.
Why is someone’s dark skin funny? Why is being fair skinned a reason for admiration and being dark skinned an excuse for mockery? How do we understand this? Is there any form of reasoning which can validate this? Or, is it simply a prejudice? A prejudice which has been the cause for years and years of discrimination, exploitation and oppression of certain communities. This world has seen and still continues to live through racism. We, as a country with a common historical past continue to live under the shadows of white supremacy and a caste system where the ‘shade card’ keeps getting lighter as the hierarchical ladder progresses.
When I told the organisers what I felt, they said , “But we told you it is a roast!”
Is everything justified in the name of humor? Is it okay to be racist, classist, casteist, sexist, homophobic, ableist if you are being funny? Also, who decided whether something is funny or not? The debate polarised between freedom of expression versus being politically correct has been on for quite some time now. However, what about the impact that these ‘jokes’ which perpetuate prejudices? Each time a dark skinned person is subjected to a joke about being dark skinned and there is laughter which surrounds it, are we not normalising the discrimination? Are we not internalising the prejudice of a skin color being inferior?
And that it is not a question about apologizing to me, but propagating this idea and continuing with this mindset in the name of comedy is what is hugely problematic, especially because it is a popular show on a nationalized Chanel.
The TV Channel on which the comedy show is aired came out with an apology. However, Tannishtha Chatterjee very articulately put forward how the issue was not just limited to her personal experience, rather a larger problem which we need to tackle. It is reflective of a mindset which permeates our social fabric till date.The mindset has co-opted itself into various forms. Forms which cater to the ‘profitable’ market. Forms which determine our social relationships. Forms which even define our aspirations for a good life.The popular culture, beauty products, matrimonial sections, discriminatory hiring practices are all manifestations we cannot possibly turn a blind eye to.
This week we are running a campaign #DarkSkinNotAJoke to sustain the conversation Tannishtha Chatterjee’s post has initiated. We intend to go beyond a reaction to what is acceptable and unacceptable and draw connections to the where these prejudices stem from and also through these conversations envision humour which makes us uncomfortable too, but for the right reasons. Humor which subverts unequal power relations instead of validating them. Humour at your expense, where you laugh along and are not just laughed at.
The italicised text are statements quoted from Tannishtha Chatterjee’s Facebook status.