She scanned through the magazine
for girls who looked like her
with deeper hues,
flat nose, and thick hair.
The day she turned fifteen
she scrubbed herself with bleach
while screaming for God,
whispering over and over again
"the darker the skin,
the deeper the struggle"
releasing a sigh
that made her soul shake.”
― Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Questions for Ada
After the European Championship final last month, racism was highlighted yet again, what is it about the colour of your skin that defines you as a person rather than your dharma and your amazing traits and abilities? It's a shame the colour of your skin means more to some people than your personality.
Just the other day I was watching an old Indian commercial about "Fair & Lovely" cream, apparently by applying the cream you see a difference in 7 days. What a whole wad of woolly whoop! Coming from the Indian background the colour of your skin is very important, especially if you are a girl. Parents pray hard that she grows up to have a fairest of fair skin. Being blessed with an olive skin tone and spending most of my time out in the garden playing in the sun, I got all the abuse from extended family members, being told all sorts "kali (black)", "you are dark skinned and no one will marry you", "Stop spending so much time in the sun, you will go even darker", "the prospects of her getting married are dim because of her skin tone", "you will have to settle for what you get and not have demands on what your ideal partner should be", among others.
I recall my mum telling me that she was so concerned with what people were saying that she asked a saint once about my future due to the skin of my colour. The answer she got was "Colour doesn't matter, it is the destiny that matters. She will be fine." I want to meet this dude and thank him for giving my mum the assurance with his words of wisdom.
In the teenage years, the transition from a child to an adult, you know you are not in the league of the popular girls who had fair skin, but you try every means to make yourself look the part. In the mid-nineties I discovered Jolen's bleach, this product was used by others in our household, its task was to turn the skin fair. I tried it and I don't know what was worse - using it and turning all the facial hair blond and look ridiculous or not having used it at all. However, I carried on using this concoction for a majority part of my teens, to try to be accepted by society.
At the age of 19 I left Kenya for the United Kingdom for further studies and at the same time a relative had started matchmaking so that when I finished my studies I would have a potential prospect for marriage. Fortunate for me, my first rejection was by the boy's sister and one of the reasons was being several shades darker than they were looking for in a bride. A year later one of the ladies present at the time of being rejected spotted me at a high street in Hounslow and was gobsmacked at the transformation as I had lost all my tan and my skin looked several shades lighter. The joys of being in the UK, half the time there was no sun, so there was no natural tanning salon for me apart from the summertime.
Fast forward to 6 years after my education and working in the corporate world began, turning up at meetings and having video calls. I was always stared at - I know I am brown but please, you are making me uncomfortable. Until one day I had the first shock of my life, when a colleague said to me, "Kiran, I am so jealous of you. I wish I had your skin tone; I so love it." I was not expecting this at all, that day I went home and stood in front of my bedroom mirror and stared at myself for ages. And that day was a turning point in my life, I began to love myself and stop looking for ways to lighten my skin tone.
Every place I have worked at, I got the same reaction from colleagues, I kept getting complimented on my skin tone. One of my colleagues working in another office in another country always arranged a video call, even if a task was resolvable via email. He still arranged a video call, towards the end of the call I did mention to him that an email would have sufficed, but he said he preferred a video call, because he liked talking to me and loved seeing me on the video call just to admire my skin tone and wished that he had a similar colouring.
Having met like-minded people who have been through similar incidents in their lives because of their skin tone. I am one for spending time in nature so every morning I am in the park near to where I live ready for a yoga session and with the early morning sun, I get my fill of natural vitamin D from the sun. The first time my yoga buddy joined me for a session, said to me "Kiran, we are going to get dark if we stay out too long". I stopped in my tracks and then is when she told me that she went through incidents where she was always prejudiced for her skin tone. But now we do not care what society says - each morning we meet at the park for yoga and enjoy highlighting our skin tone.
There was that culture of my childhood where it was a curse to have a skin tone like mine. And here is a culture where your skin tone is admired and even envied because others wished they had what you have. This really boosted my confidence, and I began to realise, that there is nothing wrong with me, it is the mentality of society that is wearing blinkers and following the masses of falsehood of how things should be.
By Kiran Kaur