The Day I Turned Brown
I did not decide I was brown. I did not even acknowledge the fact that I was brown until i was in kindergarten. I will never forget that moment because it was the first time I ever realized I was something different than those around me. I was reaching for a bike and at the same time, a blonde girl that must have been the same age as me, reached for the same bike. Our hands touched and she immediately pulled hers back and said “eww, don’t touch me you’re brown.”
Because I was so young, her words really didn’t offend me. However, I was extremely confused. I remember later that day, during lunch, looking at my skin color and my friend’s skin color. I was obviously much darker than all of them.
Much like Dike and Ifemelu in the book “Americanah,” I did not realize the color of my skin separated me from those around me until people pointed out. Like Dike, as a child I did not really understand what to make of it. As a teenager, I used to make jokes about it. I grew up with so many people making jokes about me being brown or a terrorist because I am middle eastern that I started to make those jokes myself. I had accepted how people identify me and went along with it, just like Dike did.
Frantz Fanon explains this phenomenon in her article “The Fact of Blackness.” Fanon explains how black people do not identify themselves as black people; instead they are given that identity by others from the color of their skin. People have a need to categorize everything so since black people have black skin they are all categorized into the category “black” which is how racism and discrimination begins.
In one of Ifemelu’s blogs, she writes, “But race is not biology; race is sociology. Race is not genotype; race is phenotype. Race matters because of racism. And racism is absurd because it’s about how you look. Not about the blood you have. It’s about the shade of your skin and the shape of your nose and the kink of your hair. Booker” Race is socially constructed, which is why Ifemelu didn’t know she was black until she came to America because in Lagos everyone is black.
Looking back to my kindergarten self, I knew I was middle eastern, I knew my parents were muslim, I knew I was different. However, I did not know people knew I was different once they looked at me. Fanon and Adichie are explaining this phenomenon of black identity. People feel they are black, brown, or white because that is the category people around them have put them in. They don’t have a choice, people can’t see them as a color they are not. So after that day, I always knew when people saw me they automatically categorized me as brown and linked assumptions they knew of other brown people along with it. I grew up thinking I must follow these assumptions just like Dike did when he thought he never needed sunscreen or that he should start playing basketball.