Why Can’t I Be Dark-Skinned In Peace?

I just want constant microaggressions from light-skinned people to go away.

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: This image is of a beautiful dark-skinned South Indian woman; where from, I don’t know due to this picture being used virtually everywhere in South Asian online communities.

I don’t like to talk about my experiences with colorism that much because I know it is rooted in anti-Blackness, and I don’t want to victimize myself in situations pertaining to anti-Blackness; however, I am dark-skinned. I always have been dark-skinned. I’ve been the relative getting teased by aunties. I’ve been the relative getting looked down on by my cousins. I’ve found (and used) Fair and Lovely far too many times in my childhood. I remember rubbing my skin with loofahs, exfoliating so hard until I turned purple when I was younger, and nobody ever consoled me for my self-harming behavior. I remember wishing to be light-skinned at 11:11 every night. I remember dreams of growing up and being light-skinned and successful. And while I’ve finally unlearned the painfully colorist and anti-Black ideas of many Indians (and especially the Indians that surrounded me and influenced my socialization), I can’t help but get so angry sometimes to the point where I need to talk about it in order to not scream. Not at my beautiful dark-brown skin color, but the way it is perceived and the way I am treated for it.

Why is my brownness only marketable when I’m exoticized?

Have you noticed? People only pay attention when it’s “you’re gorgeous for a darkskin,” or “your melanin is glowing.” This whole melanin craze does bother me a bit sometimes being that it excludes albino people, but in general, I constantly get pissed off when people only like South Indians (who are usually the darker-skinned Indians, but I mean dark-skinned people in general this time) when we’re seen as a fetish due to our skin color. We’re exotic. Unnaturally gorgeous. Abnormally attractive. As if it is so unbelievable that a dark-skinned person could be admired as beautiful. Exoticism and fetishism in general are seen as flattering to many, for some reason, but it’s so fucking offensive and disgusting to me. People won’t acknowledge dark-skinned Indian beauty exists to the point that we are so often seen as jokes in Indian popular culture (both North and South) and we are so often ridiculed in every non-Black community where I live (especially by light-skinned Arabs). I cannot be a dark-skinned Indian without being a strange, ugly Madrasi, or an unnaturally beautiful Dravidian, yet I’m expected to be content with the latter.

It’s a disgusting binary — we have to be dehumanized in some way rooted in anti-Blackness, and we’re forced to be okay with either when neither is justifiable in any way; beauty comes in all colors, yet nobody is willing to realize it.

Why does my brownness only look better only when it’s light-skinned and blue-eyed?
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: The standard for South Asian models, actors, or entertainers in the West is always light-skinned and/or with Eurocentric features, as demonstrated here by Riz Ahmed (Pakistani), Zayn Malik (white British and Pakistani), Dev Patel (North Indian), Priyanka Chopra (North Indian), Raudha Athif (Maldivian with blue eyes), and Avan Jogia (white Canadian and Pakistani). Photos are taken from Surfing Bird, Cineulagam, The Independent, Deadline, Fuse TV, and TIME Magazine.

Really! I genuinely want to know. I want to understand why most South Asian models and actors that I see are light-skinned or like Raudha Athif, a dark-skinned girl with blue eyes who was extremely fetishized as a part of the brown-girl-with-blue-eyes fetish that is wild on social media. I want to know why our features have to be Eurocentric in nature for us to be deemed attractive. I want to know why the most notable South Asian comedians in the U.S. (Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari) are both Tamil; why are we able to be comedians, but not models? Oh wait — it’s because dark-skinned South Indians are allowed to be the butt of jokes, because we’re seen as the butt of India. My brownness has to be as white as possible for me to be anything more than a punchline. The face of Indian (or really South Asian in general) in America has to be as white as possible for us to be acceptable and redeemable to white audiences, to the white-controlled modeling industry, and lastly, to ourselves. The only comfort I had when I was younger, and the only time I felt accepted for my skin color, was when I was prone to distorted anti-Black fetishism. That’s not okay for any dark-skinned child.

I’ve had whole conversations with my Ethiopian friend (because literally no other South Asian I know would talk to me about this) about how colorism works in our lives. How being light-skinned, blue-eyed, straight-haired, and overall, as close to white as possible is perceived as more classy, more intellectual, and finally, more appealing. Being as close as we can to the top of the racial hierarchy, albeit through color and physical characteristics, regardless of race, is supposed to give us the supposed characteristics of whiteness — wealth, intelligence, joy, beauty, and everything positive in the world. Yet I ask myself why we allow ourselves to live in a world and a society where whiteness is the goal and Blackness is the enemy. I have to have light-brown skin or blue eyes; it’s not enough to just be attractive in general.

I really don’t give a shit about your diversity if your diversity is as white as possible.

If the face of South Asian-America is just predominantly light-skinned North Indians/Pakistanis and mixed Desis, I really don’t care. And I never will. I’m tired of compromising my standards and pretending like I’m eager for any South Asian representation when I want diverse South Asian representation, in facial features yes, but especially in skin tone.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, I would like to understand why our interpretation of that dream is limited to only the context of race, and not color. I’d like to especially understand why many of the white/light-skinned people I know quoting that on the anniversary when their “favorite civil rights leader,” died still perceive darkness as threatening and lightness as comforting.

And while I do make jokes about Desis mixed with white and South Asian, I really do this as a coping mechanism — I know they tend to adopt Eurocentric features and thus the treatment of South Asians with Eurocentric features, and I cannot. They’re literally the face of Desis and Desi beauty in the United States. They are praised the most. They are loved the most. They are the ones seen with more humanity than me, more virtue, and more dimensions to their personality than a Madrassi like me, whose only visible opportunities in the American entertainment industry is apparently as a comedian. I have dark skin, curly hair, brown eyes, big lips, and features more closely associated with Blackness than whiteness, which is overall perceived as threat in an anti-Black society. And while I love myself and my heritage as a “Madrassi” and “Dravidian,” and while I personally prefer those with Afrocentric features than Eurocentric features in terms of my relationships with people, I cannot stand the treatment I got and continue to get — from microaggressions when I don’t show up in pictures at night outside to straightforwardly being called the n-word by other racist Asians.

I’m tired of lightskins getting fairer treatment and I’m tired of the fact that me making jokes about them as a coping mechanism is automatically shunned as wrong and offensive. I’m tired of how me personally alienating myself from light-skinned South Asians in favor of Black people in my personal friendships is seen as self-hate when it’s only self-preservation, as I have yet to meet a South Asian that hasn’t engaged in any microaggressions against my skin color. I’m tired of being attacked despite everything they have done to me, from the bleaching products they “recommend” to the microaggressions they “said out of ignorance.” I’m tired of them victimizing themselves when I exclude them from my personal experiences of brownness when they have victimized me directly and indirectly in ways they couldn’t ever understand, while simultaneously never speaking up about anti-Blackness or colorism in our community. I’m tired of them not seeing my dark-skinned body as home to a multi-dimensional person. I’m tired of them seeing me as a disgusting Dravidian despite everything I’ve been through in their hands and in the hands of a Eurocentric world at the hands of Eurocentric people.

This essay was republished on The Aerogram.

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