Brown in a world where (it sometimes feels) there is only room for white.

I appreciate that the title makes this post sound like it is about to narrate the world’s biggest sob story, but you know what, it’s my sob story, and I will tell it how I want. Before we begin and for the purposes of clarity, I would like to point out that a) this post will be discussing skin tones and NOT ethnicity and b) when I say “black” and “white”, I mean dark and light-skinned; broad and inaccurate terms that have unfortunately been deemed acceptable to use nowadays when describing skin colour.

I am taking a deep breath as I write this because, as a dark-skinned person, there is huge room for bias in this account, but given that this is a topic I care deeply about, I want to do it justice both for me and for everyone reading it so here goes nothing, well no actually, here goes a lot of things;

For as long as I can remember, I have had an issue with the colour of my skin and it has taken me a very long time, thanks to people, culture, self-esteem issues and the stupid make-up industry, to make my peace with it.

To brief you a little; I come from a culture where being fair-skinned or “white” is a very sought after quality. The love for this attribute has been passed down generation to generation until people now not only believe that it is acceptable to prefer light skin over dark, but somewhere along the line, they have also convinced themselves that they don’t do this at all and that any claims of otherwise are hallucinations on the part of the dark skinned person.

I find this notion so ludicrous, that I’m willing to bet that it is from situations such as this that the term ‘salt on wound’ originates. I have experienced an array of situations where my skin colour was the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. Some incidents were serious, others not so serious but most were detrimental to how I felt when I looked in the mirror growing up.

In childhood, I remember playing outdoors with a bunch of children, minding my own business as you do, when the father of those children called them back indoors lest they become black like “that one” if they play in the sun for much longer.’ As a child, this made me feel embarrassed about being “black” as an adult however, I am hurt and indignant that a child was judged on something they 1) had no control over 2) wasn’t even bad in the first place.

At school, I had every African ethnicity forcibly attached to me, whether I liked it or not, because ignorance had reached levels whereby it was believed that dark people belonged exclusively to African backgrounds and any other possibility was a mere rumour. Because children are vulnerable to suggestion, I grew up believing that being called Sudanese was the ultimate insult until my mother challenged; why is that bad? Are Sudanese people not humans like you me and everybody else?

During my teenage years, I don’t think anyone owned more whitening creams than I. Anybody out there remember Fair & Lovely? I had enough tubes of that cream to open my own store. I wanted to be “white” so bad, that I pleaded with my mother to buy me an endless supply. I don’t know about white, but looking back, I think it actually made my complexion look grey; less radiant and more corpse-like. When I wasn’t abusing my skin with chemicals, I was avoiding the sun like the plague. Naturally, the adult me now has severe vitamin D deficiency, all in the name of being more white; more beautiful.

In life, I now laugh at how stupid people were for believing that being light skinned meant you were more beautiful and thank God that times have changed. Then slowly but surely, that laugh changes into a hesitant smile when someone tells you that  you are beautiful despite having dark skin and expects you to embrace their words as complimentary. The hesitant smile soon turns into a pained expression when the first description you hear being given to a man about a potential spouse is that she is ‘pretty and white’ like the two traits are love birds eternally destined to be together. The pained expression becomes a frown when a patronising male friend, needlessly trying to boost your morale, reassures you that he prefers brown girls as his snow-white girlfriend hangs off his arm, thus negating that declaration.

But, the frown only changes to tears when they tell you that this light skin nonsense is a figment of your imagination which you are using to feel sorry for yourself, that you alone are responsible for the damage it has inflicted on your confidence and how you see your beauty inside and out.

And although these tears have broken me down at times, they have also empowered me enough to know that I am beautiful because I am the funniest person on the planet. If that delusion isn’t beautiful then what is? Pray tell.

Beauty will never be justified by how you look on the outside alone, so if you’re waiting to get validation on how beautiful you are based on height, skin-colour, ethnicity and anything else which you have no control over, you are in danger of denying your soul the nourishment it deserves.

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15 comments

  1. I tagged your blog post in one of my own–I really enjoyed this post and wrote something similar. I hope that’s okay 🙌🏻

  2. Beauty comes in all colours and it’s your personality that shines from the inside which makes up your true beauty. I’ve learnt that as I got older and I love this post with my whole life. This generation is too stuck in the old views of ‘white is beautiful’ and it needed saying, and I’m so glad you addressed it. You did it beautifully.

  3. Oh tammmm I HATE it when people say that! I know exactly what you mean and it is a very despicable quality in the people I’ve grown up around too, the whiter you are the prettier you are, it is so so so stupid! And absolutely ridiculous. I am not very dark, but I’m not white either, it’s like a light brown thing and although sometimes I used to think it would’ve been better had i been whiter, it would not have been better at all. I can be who I am not giving a shiz to the world and it’s insecurities because I can show that colour does not matter! I can be successful and pretty and have a great life with amazing people around and the white pretty girl could be having the worst time because she got the looks but not the brains or the personality. So, I’m glad of the way I was made because it helps me break the stereotype and leads me to be a stronger and more acceptable person.
    Hope all that made sense because I think I wrote too much 😛

    1. Makes perfect sense, I am happy to read that it isn’t just me and it isn’t all in my head phew!! We are who God made us girl, and if it’s good enough for me it better be good enough for everyone else 😏

  4. you wrote a brutally honest post! In India also we have same fascination for white skin, ‘fair n lovely’ is most sought after cream . The measurement of beauty starts with skin colour and I am ashamed to say we are a racist breed and this society where we grew up, even people doing blah blah about inner beauty have been looking for fairer skinned girls or boys,, I am happy that things are changing , awareness is getting into mind of people but too slow,.. I am glad that you found your inner peace and you could actually talk about it now 🙂 lots of love to you and a big Hug !!

    1. Thank you! I tried to avoid using the R- word but that is what it is essentially, isn’t it? Racism 😩 May Allah guide us all inshallah.

  5. I’m so sad that this is something a lot of people still have to deal with, and I’m so sorry that it happened to you! Everyone is beautiful in their own way, and skin colour has absolutely nothing to do with that.

    One day, I’m sure this ignorance will be looked back on by future humans who are disgusted with this century!

  6. This post was so strong and deeply moving. I feel like this is something that needs to be taught to people, that’s the only way they’d get it! Being an Indian, I’m very familiar with all that you’ve said, as this happens very frequently here.
    None of that now. I’m so glad you’ve risen above it, such a fine example to countless others!

    1. I am so glad my words resonated with you… honestly, I dunno how long more this “white= beautiful” will be around. But I am ok with who I am. And that, is all that matters.

      1. Yes, I agree. That notion is ridiculous, and society needs to do away with it, as soon as possible.
        🙂

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