Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My skin colour around the world

This past year in India I have been told more than once that I am 'fair'. I wouldn't have thought so much of it except that I know what 'fair' means in India. It means that it's more important than your educational or professional qualifications, more important than your ethic, more important than everytime you failed but had the inner steel to get back up for another blow. It means that you are somehow better and more deserving. Especially if you are a girl. That wouldn't be so bad except it also means that the struggles and dreams of the other darker people around you are worth less. That someone who is even lighter skinned than you is better than you just because of that. That who you are doesn't really matter. Even when you know that everyone is better than you in some way, that some people live lives that would have extinguished you a long time ago. It means that a lot of good, honest, decent people - the kind that humanity continues to survive because of - are told in so many ways that they would be better if only they were more 'fair'. That that's more important than being good, honest, and decent.

I had spent all my life hearing I was 'fair' in the Middle East and in India, and suddenly in America, I was not 'fair' anymore. America relegated me to a new position on the colour spectrum, somewhere in the middle. I was now olive-skinned. I was exotic. I was brown sugar. Brown, brown, brown. Then bronzers came into fashion. You were beautiful if you were brown. 'Fair' is losery, 'fair' is pasty. Ew. You got more sexual attention (often times unwanted) if you were brown, but that also meant that that's all you got. After ten years of Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce and Shakira, I accepted it. It took me 10 years, but now I was brown, and I was proud.

It's not like I did that all on my own. I got a lot of input over the years. It made me realise that the way I saw myself was a lot different from how other people saw me. That I couldn't do anything about it. That I was imprisoned in my skin. I specifically remember a very white coworker coming up to me at work once and telling me that the skin colour of my Yahoo! Avatar was too light. He didn't mean it in a bad way, but I was surprised. I had set it to a light brown. I thought it over and changed it to a darker brown shade, even though, all ego set aside, I was sure that's not how I looked. I didn't like how it made me feel. I felt like I was being forced to change my basic understanding of my own skin even though I was the one in control of the computer mouse.

I don't think too much of skin colour anymore. I find it irrelevant. I usually base how attractive I find another person on how healthy and open they seem. I think I am colourblind, even when it comes to myself. It took a lot for me to get to this point. Maybe that's why I react badly when I am now included in various 'Fair & Lovely' references or asked with movie star wonder and fascination if I'm Kashmiri. That kind of attention makes me cringe. This has happened too many times. And it's always unwanted. I am more than my skin colour. My beauty is because of my ferocity and my vulnerabilities. Everyone's beauty is because of that. I have lived and contributed to other people's lives. I have meant something to people along the way. Other people have meant something to me. Those people were good, honest, and decent. They were more than their skin colour. I am more than mine. And I'll be damned if I let anyone change the way I look at myself again.


Anonymous said...

Here's something similar and equally funny and sad:

South Indians, especially down, down south are dark skinned. One of my friend's friend works for ToI in Tamil Nadu. This friend's friend's friend, also a journalist with ToI in the same state, covers the political beat.

ToI has an unwritten photo policy that photos of dark-skinned people should automatically go to the reject pile.

Imagine her frustration, trying to to find some "fair" politician in a sea of dark-skinned people at any political rally to add some "photo value" to her story!

Khadija Ejaz said...

I'm not surprised that I'm not surprised.