If only life were as easy as Jimmy Kimmel’s “Meet My Best Unfriend” Facebook Challenge:
“You are dark but photogenic.” – Unfriend
“Your sister is lighter skinned than you, no?” – Unfriend
“You’d have been a great looking guy. Tall, dark and handsome.” – Seriously? Unfriend
“Karuppi” – Unfriend AND Report Abuse
“We’ve written wheat-ish as your complexion on the marriage bureau form” – UNFRIEND… wait… what? I can’t really unfriend my parents now, can I?
I've been called it all.
From being verbally assaulted by random strangers to compliments packaged badly by well meaning friends and family.
I’ve heard it all.
From arguments on colonialism and the perpetuation of their ideologies to how racism is worldwide.
After years of playing the shepherd or the Orient king bearing gold in school and church nativity plays, after too many years of hoping that I’d get picked to be an angel instead, I guess I figured out, even as a child, that sports might be my way out.
I believe I was fortunate to have studied in a school where the teacher’s discrimination started and ended at choosing the angels in the nativity play. I believe I was fortunate to have close friends who couldn't think along the lines of skin colour, at least not in derogatory terms. I believe I was fortunate enough to be averagely good in sports and couldn't find time for much else.
I also believe I was extremely fortunate to have parents who made light of my skin colour apprehensions if any and edged me on to give my best in whatever I did. My parents taught me to take life with a pinch of salt. “Be a cheerful child!” my father tells me to this day, despite me being a grown woman.
Life changed as I grew. I wasn't so safe anymore from rude, brash comments and discrimination. I grew more resilient and learnt the art of ‘ignoring’.
I grew up seldom allowing the opinion and biases of others get in the way of my own expectations.
And then on occasion I’d decide to put up a fight at the cost of being called ridiculous and irrational. During final year at college, for our hostel’s nativity play, we fought it out and said 'include dark angels’. And there we were, a bunch of us who had seldom got an opportunity before, all dressed up as angels.
I doubt we inspired our warden and staff to continue opening up all roles to girls of all skin tones. And I doubt we even enjoyed it amidst all the glares and sarcasm. But I think we did something about our situation on that dark, freezing cold December night
On a good day I’d like to think that we were not just being overly-sensitive kids. Instead I’d like to think that that night we inspired our juniors to not be limited by people’s biases.
On a not so good day, I am reminded of all my lost opportunities and the times I have chosen to keep quiet. Times I have been over-looked ever so subtly that to call it unfair would seem criminal.
If I had ever cared to count, I’m certain that in my lifetime, I’d have heard ‘you’re so talented!’ so many more times than ‘you’re beautiful!’ And many times, being called talented was not for actual talent itself but rather as a compensation for my misfortune of dark skin.
Marriage seemed to be a daunting task for even my otherwise level-headed parents. But they were spared the agony of having to hear people ask them “exactly how wheat-ish is she?” (True story! -happened to a cousin).
My husband makes me feel beautiful every day. Not because my self-worth depends on it or because he feels the need to pay penance for all the bad things people have said/say about my dark skin.
But he genuinely, honestly, sees me as beautiful just as my parents and so many of my friends and family do.
I’m glad I did not let skin colour define me. And I’m glad that we have finally come to a time when people are not disregarding this as an issue too trivial for discussion, but are instead speaking up about the unseen and untold damages it causes in children and adults.
I look forward to a time when the word ‘beautiful’ is all encompassing – all skin tones, body types, inside and out.
In the meanwhile you can count on me to celebrate my shade of beautiful!
Rebekah lives and works in Chennai. She enjoys baking, paper crafting and blogs at goldfieldandsunshine.