Hating Brown Skin
(and Body-Positive Feminism)
“I want to bleach my skin” this is what I said to my white friends four years ago on my first year of college. At that time I couldn’t remember a point in my life when I didn’t hate my skin colour. I hated being brown. I hated the shade of my skin, I despised how black my hair was. There was nothing I could do, I just thought my life could have been so much more better and beautiful if I had pale skin. There were so many things you could do with pale skin and I couldn’t do any of them, mainly fashionable choices where in my mind back then, but of course I have learned that it applied to financial life too.
But this is not just something that affects people of colour when they live in a country as a minority. In our own countries we are effected by Colourism, however this is highly influenced by colonialism. When I was Five years old, my grandmother who was very pale would give me baths and try herbal cleansers to wash the brownness off me. She scrubbed so hard at my elbows and my knees which were the darkest parts of me, as if they were dirty and disgusting, as if they shouldn’t have existed at the first place. I felt gross and wrong. And I envied my cousins who had pale skin, so much so that I just wanted to be them. They were so praised for their beauty and I was constantly washed and cleaned.
Hearing the words “I wanted to wash the brown off my body” by Alok Vaid-Menon one of the founders of DarkMatter (A south-Asian spoken word collective) it reminded me of my own problems with my skin once again. However Colourism doesn’t just effect cis women of colour, folks of all genders and orientation are effected by it. We’re fighting the same system which is telling us; our skin is unacceptable.
All we have ever seen on media is white beautiful bodies in power, and people of colour serving them. Rarely seeing people of colour in power. And very rarely a movie which includes people of colour in a non-stereotypical character.
Most people of colour in media are very light skinned and whitewashed.
I remember in year one playing in the school yard when one kid told me “you look like an African person” – why was that an insult? It definitely made me very upset because I was being told I didn’t belong to the same place as them. And that’s how we are made to feel when we are oppressed as the minority. Feelings of not belonging just because of minor differences. In school kids who were very pale and had lighter hair used to be the most popular, everyone wanted to be friends with them, or be them.
Our Middle Eastern culture is so highly influenced by western mainstream media and Bollywood, which both praise white beauty. Whiteness has always been better, and more beautiful in my eyes, but it caused me so much pain and I was saved by Body-Positive Feminism.
BP feminism seems to be underestimated by a lot of people as a materialistic type of feminism. But it’s a very important window for minorities and teenagers. It’s the starts of realising the roots of objectification and racism. It also plays a big role in bringing conversation of race into feminism, since we have opened a dialogue about white feminism.
Barbra Ntumy an activist and politics student recently in a panel discussion by ArtsFems (UAL’s intersectional feminist society) pointed out “you can’t be a feminist and racist at the same time”, an honest and true point which needs to be brought up more. The aim of Feminism is to create equality between genders. This does not mean life for men is great and not influenced by inhumane politics and racism, however they still have more power in society which self identified women and non cis-gender folk do not possess of. BP feminism plays a very big role in helping us realise the un-equality on the surface of patriarchy, a system which holds cis-men in power over cis-women, queer folk, trans folk and children. We seem to fail to realise the negative effects of hating our bodies and culture on how we’re making a change. If we have no faith in our selves and our people, we will not be able to fight the system that hates us.
The hatred of our skin colour goes further than the dislike of the darker colour. Colonialism has tricked societies into thinking being white is better, as those are the people who have claimed power. Therefore our grandmothers wished we were a dash lighter so we had a better chance in life. But we shouldn’t be the one changing, because all colours are beautiful. These days I only wish I had even darker skin. Brown is beautiful.