I held the light grey and white stone in my hand, it’s rough to the touch, brittle. It’s shaped like a bar of soap, and I’m supposed to use it on my arms and legs, they tell me. I roll it around my hand and I hear the voices say…
“It will scrub off the dark skin and make you lighter”
“It will help with the dark hair and thin it out”
I use it, until the skin on my arm is raw, red and it hurts. I’m only 7-years old and I don’t understand why I need to do this
“What’s wrong with my skin color? “
But something is, because every time I visited my family in India I dealt with this, the constant nitpicking around my appearance, around how dark I am, how much hair I have. As I grew my understanding of these moments also grew. I found forgiveness for those family members who caused me to question my own skin, because they were raised questioning theirs. I fought against the comments around “becoming fairer” and noted how toxic and traumatic it was.
Skin bleaching/ skin whitening creams are still one of the most popular beauty products sold all over the world. My experience is not novel, this is not a unique story of woe, I am not the only dark skinned girl, women, individual, told that her “color” was less then, that her worth would increase if she was lighter. The battle against colorism is worldwide for men and women. It is constantly promoted by celebrities, media, art and literature, even those who themselves have experienced the same prejudice. As I work with clients of color, I hear my story countless times, how their skin isn’t good enough. The internal hatred that at times never heals, when looking in the mirror even with the full awareness that dark skin is beautiful, one still can’t see past the biased standards. Aamer Rahman, did a stand-up routine about reverse racism in which he noted how beauty standards of today were based on centuries old colonialism of black and brown civilizations. A war we are still fighting, and standards we are still upholding.
Throughout my life, I watched how my skin tone and of those around me especially within my South Asian community would cause division, envy, ignorance, and assumptions. Skin tones defined placement, intelligence, stature. The lighter you were the more praise, the smarter, more successful you were or going to be. I saw how it weaved its way into what I found to be attractive, and even now I see how it plays a role in the way my children view the “good” and “bad” in the world.
The use of colorism as an aspect of our identity cause us to question our existence, in this society. How we treat each other is directly impacted by these social constructs and biases. Having immersed myself in the lived experiences of others and how being the “dark girl” played a significant role in their life, only opened me up to share my experience and my own insecurities to those who held a mirror to their own. I was horrified by the fact that not only did the experiences make me a victim of these biases but also a perpetrator of them. We all suffer from the stereotypes, biases and unhealthy standard regulated by the current society. Advocating for these standards to change and having difficult dialogues around our own perpetuation of these same standards are the only ways in which these standards will truly change.
Has there been progress? Of course, but progress does not alleviate the need for further education and change, it only shows how much more there needs to be done. When the film “Dark Girls” came out in 2011, it was a fresh unapologetic view into how deep colorism impacts communities of color. 10 -years later, we must continue these dialogues and break down the impact on future generations. Tackling the impacts of colorism, takes self-work, self-care and awareness. Learning to love the skin you’re in shouldn’t be hard.