Let’s be real. You can give me chocolates, you can make me some chocolate cake, but you can’t call me chocolate.
I am not food.
My skin is not made of cocoa. I am simply darker than you are.
Those were the exact words I was tempted to blurt out when a close male friend of mine called me “Brownie.” I held myself back because I did not want to risk our friendship and ignite an argument.
To start, I was not pretty and fair-toned like the other girls. On top of that, I didn’t want to be seen as bitter too.
So I calmed myself down, and said, “Aww. How did you know I love brownies? That’s the perfect nickname for me!”
I calmed myself down only because I was taught that South Asian women are to be calm and collected, as a result of uncles and aunties blasting unending speeches into my ears during my childhood about how ‘Western’ people are not nice at all because of their outspokenness and that we should be proud of our culture as it requires women to be soft spoken.
At first, I did not understand the weight of that approval, of allowing a friend to address me by my skin color by calling me “Brownie.” That is, until a few days ago, when my little sister showed me a drawing she’d created of herself on her small whiteboard. She had colored her face with a black marker and drawn tears with a blue one and a sad smile with a deep shade of brown.
In one simple drawing, my little sister had captured the anguish of thousands of Desi women trapped in a mesh of an age old hypocrisy that reminds us constantly that dark is ugly.
From fairness cream advertisements to mothers secretly mixing turmeric powder in their daughter’s milk, to aunties looking for light skinned girls for their sons to marry. From being bullied at school to having your friends call you Brownie.
You name it, and a dark-skinned Desi girl will tell you she has faced it.
What is most alarming is that this mentality is still prevalent in our societies, even though we have reached an age where Gay marriage has become legal in some parts of the world and there are countries where people are electing female government representatives and world leaders alike. Although I am happy for the world’s progress, my heart hurts when my baby sister comes to me and says nobody likes her because she is dark skinned.
It does not give me any reason to remain calm anymore when young kids are taught that being light-skinned is a prerequisite to being beautiful.
Which brings me back to the day my friend called me Brownie.
I wasn’t shocked, but I should have been. I should have been enraged as soon as that comment was made. Now I know, and you know, too, that such comments are not acceptable. That a problem does exist in our society and we have to address it as best as we can to make sure it does not permeate into the next generation. It will take time to cleanse this mentality off of our society but while patience is key, so is perseverance and determination.
A day will come when aunties will finally erase “fair-skinned” from their daughter-in-law qualifications list, and young girls will stop gulping turmeric-mixed milk down their throats to lighten their skin tone.
Till then, I eagerly wait.