Dark, and proud of it.
I am humbled and honoured by all the Facebook Likes, retweets, and reposting of this blog, especially because it took me a long time to actually come up and write about, and it's something that's close to heart. I am also proud of all the women and men who wrote to me expressing the discrimination they have experienced as a darker-skinned person, or someone who has been discriminated by the colour of our skin.
You know the mosaic I made from photos online in the first post? I couldn't believe how hard it was to look for photos of dark-skinned Indian women online - Google would show me hundreds and hundreds of results of women, in the words of my friend Dewi, "the shade of Aishwarya Rai". That's why you get a photo of me plonked on top of this post instead.
Or flip through VOGUE India, flip through Singaporean and Malaysian magazines, Indians get barely any representation, even less so darker Indians. Don't even get me started on how impossible it is to get foundation my colour. Are there even Bollywood actresses who are dark? God knows.
It's time we rise above this, and be visually-impaired. Being blind to skin colour is a quality to be celebrated and taught to our children, and our children's children. Your skin colour does not make you any better, or any less human than anybody else.
Rise, Dark Girls, Rise.
I am an Indian but being dark skinned affected me more because of my dialect group, Malayalee. That's cause apparently, Malayalees are believed to be fairer in complexion and people have often given me the weird stare followed by a skeptical query like "Really?".
Well, I do contradict the whole stereotype bullshit about Malayalees being only fair. Clearly, they have not heard about the dark Malayalee in town. I have learnt to accept myself for who I am. Although, it did take a long time, thanks to the insensitive environment I was growing up in.
I am dark skinned, always have been, and growing up in Singapore with racist morons didn't help my esteem at all. Just like you mentioned, I remember my primary school teachers letting the black/keling joke/comment slip by [What the hell were they thinking?]. I totally agree that Singapore can be a racist country (And I cannot wait for you to write that story soon! ;)) I am proud of myself for surviving all that crap during my younger days. It definitely made me that much stronger. Nevertheless, it is unhealthy for kids to be treated that way with all that hate.
Singapore definitely is a racist country. It’s not so bad that we have to fear for our lives but it’s there. I’ve had the regular garden-variety idiots who have told me that because I’m black [I’m a caramel type of brown], I’m dirty. Then there was Apu Neneh. So classy. When I was in Primary 6, my art teacher actually critiqued one classmate’s art work and said, “Aiyah. Looks like indian shit.” Yes, this was the type of educators we had. No wonder people in our generation grew up pretty screwed up in the head.
You know how it is with Indians as well.
I was fair as a baby and toddler. When i started primary school and swimming classes, it meant i spent a great deal of time in the sun and started getting darker. My grams, who was a wonderful woman, got worried that i was getting dark and asked my mum to get me the stupid “Fair and Lovely” cream. I wore it and my skin suffered. I have no hard evidence but i believe its the reason i have pigment patches on my skin today.
That said, I think things are somewhat better. In our community anyway. Nowadays most Indians realise skin colour is not a good representative of beauty. We still have a long-ass way to go though where skin colour and racism are concerned, though. Except, now I’d call it xenophobia, not racism.
I’ve had this thought since secondary school, but could not find the words to articulate it without sounding angry (or fear being judged by what I had to say).
I think I inherited my father’s genes (altho’ he is Chinese) – i tan easily and when out in the sun for hours, can come out looking baked. I could not have the nice orangey tan my girl friend had and often felt left out and was made the butt of jokes in class (even by my teacher). I love the outdoors but that would leave me dark by day’s end… and all the jokes that came after only made me feel like an ugly duckling (jokes even came with racial undertones).
Now that i’m older, i think my skin colour has settled into the “teh-susu” tone. I still feel for dark girls who are made fun of. And to date, skin colour for me is still a personal topic. I don’t make fun of girls with dark skin because I was there before. But now, more than ever (esp with your entry), being dark skinned I feel, is nothing to be ashamed of. I have seen girls looking beautiful and regal with the colour they have.
Thank you for writing this.
Nadia Daeng, PR Guru Extrordinaire
I don't like the how society insinuates being fairer is better & dark is bad. So many of these ad campaigns talk about "the beauty of having fairer & lighter skin" but what the hell does beauty mean? Isn't it subjective? Someone I used to work with claimed "oh, I don't want white skin. I want translucent skin." Yeah - ok, whatever.
Everytime I see these ads on TV or in magazines, I flip to the next one cos' I just don't want to put up with hearing any of it. Don't use "safety of skin health & fighting skin cancer" as an excuse. If someone is naturally tanned, that's fucking awesome. People pay good money to not look pastey white.
Jules Greenleaf, Malaysia
I have tanned skin tone and it likes to play jokes on me. I can't go out in the sun without getting at least a shade darker and it always bugs me. Growing up in an almost all Chinese primary was probably one of the worst experiences of my life. I was teased mercilessly by the vicious, with teachers joining in on the 'fun'. But I fought back. Physically and mentally. It gave me an intense satisfaction when I bettered them in almost everything. I also traveled with father on business trips and whenever I visited those beautiful countries, no one ever said I was 'ugly' or that I would look beautiful if only I had lighter skin. EVERYONE wanted my skin colour and some would go to the extent of dragging me to the nearest store to buy tanning foundation matching my skin tone. I was happy being away from my country and my people.
In secondary school, I moved around a lot so that means I get a new wave of back hand teasing and loud whispers when I go to a new school. Again, those travels overseas saved my sanity at least. Every guy I met overseas wanted to date me but not many men in my hometown would want to be seen with me. My skin tone is caramel and peanut butterish brown and men still wanted me to get fairer so I'd look beautiful.
The past is so hard to forget and the worst part is when your extended family used to treat you like shit because you're not white like them. When I was a child, I never questioned why I always ate last. Now, my mouth shoots off whenever some uneducated fool talks about 'the only way to look beautiful is to become fair' crap.
I love my skin tone now, yet getting darker is out of the freaking question. I'd still lather on a bucketful of sun block whenever I'm outside. Haha!
Men are not spared either...
Jeremy Gopalan, Deputy Editor at Men's Folio
Jeremy is a Chindian - a Chinese-Indian mix who went to Chinese schools all his life still experienced racism. "They called me orh kui - black ghost in hokkien!"