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Talking Colorism and Racism: My Brown Skin

Colorism is just like racism, a prejudice; a form of discrimination that South African Indian community prefer lighter skin tones than the darker. I recall many years ago when my sisters’ were at the “samoosa run” time of their lives, I probably was around 15/16 years old. The age at which I could tease them incessantly about this whole fiasco of prospective suitors coming home to view “the girls”.

Thankfully I was too young for this entire show or so I thought. I always said; when I did reach that age, no way was I going to subject myself to that. Anyway, “the boy” and his family came over to visit; he was a pharmacist from some small town on the coast. They would decide on a marriage proposal based on my sisters’ capability of carrying the tea tray and serving snacks without spilling it on anyone. A few days after their visit, the boy’s mother called expressing their interest and intention to propose; to the youngest daughter i.e. Me.

My mother was shocked, “Saffiya was still in school and this was not possible.”

I was not impressed, he definitely did not look like Rob Lowe or Tom Cruise (the heartthrobs of my era). A stubborn lot that they were, they were prepared to wait until I matriculated. That was not even the issue, for my mother it was about what the boy’s mother had said in reference to me. Wait for it ….. “She is a bit darker, but she is pretty and has very long hair”. My mother was more flabbergasted about the use of the word “darker”.

Even back then I had this unassuming arrogance; I was darker skinned and the prima donna I was; I would tell people “the Quran is in black ink, not white, because black is beautiful”. Most people would think I was smug; for me, this was the only way I could fight back. From an early age, it was about the tone of peoples skin and colour nuances. I recall hurtfully, as an uncle once referred to me as “blackie”. I guess that stayed with me all the years, to the point that I was never a fan of his. When a child hears something enough times, they accept it as merely another fact of life. This was not a fact I was willing to accept.

Where am I going with this?

Colourismexistseventoday – awordwhichmakesmyskin crawl.

Like racism. It’s a prejudice; a form of discrimination, that society prefers lighter skin tones and not the darker one. I am never ashamed that my skin tone is darker in comparison to my sisters’. One would think that this ugliness would have been erased considering it takes all kinds to make the world.

So what pre-empted my walk down memory lane with you and the topic at hand? Whilst in conversation with a woman seated next to me at a recent social gathering. I was asked by this lady if I knew of any “girls” who are of the marrying age. She then added she was looking for pretty fair girls for her two sons. We won’t even discuss why her sons’ are incapable of finding “girls” themselves. That’s probably a topic for another day. I don’t think she actually realized she said the word fair out loud.

As always, I needed to bite my tongue; make sure my 10-second rule came into play before responding. I still feel quite bad about my reaction to this woman; a part of me says she deserved my comments thereafter.

What is it with our fellow women who are always in a search for fair-skinned daughters-in-law for their sons?

Would a darker skin tone daughter be less of a woman? They say we are the product of all things we have experienced, I guess this is why I use my writing to denounce any prejudices against women, I will always bolster up women in society. Even though sometimes I feel I am living in fool’s paradise because skin colour stratification still exists even in this day and age. I know historically where this came from, but really, we live in such a progressive world yet our society has not shed this prejudice of dark skin.

From conception; we have no control over our skin tone, eye colour, hair texture etc. It’s not like we in our mothers’ womb, and we can decide over a period of nine months how we want to look before we push the eject button. Maybe during the 9 months, we keep ourselves entertained, by tugging on the umbilical cord. One pull for option one, or two for other options. Skin Colour? Fair or Other. We all tugged once.

Maybe that’s why we all came out kicking and screaming, there was a short circuit because many of us did not pull hard enough and some of us were too lazy to pull and we incubated longer than the rest. We speak against racism, gender inequality, yet we ignore the most ingrained issue – Colourism. We are constantly asking everyone to live in a colour blind way yet us Indians have this unhealthy obsession with colour. For me it becomes prevalent when I attend social gatherings; the likelihood of this prejudicial slur coming up is much higher. Will we ever stop comparing one woman to another based on her shade? We speak of religious equality and human rights, yet we crumble when it comes to colourism.

The only way we can get rid of this ugliness in our communities; is when women start respecting women other women in all their different hues. Discrimination based on skin colour, also known as colorism or shadeism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people who are usually members of the same race are treated differently based on the social implications which come with the cultural meanings which are attached to skin color.

I love my melanin … do you?

Check out our resources on dealing with colorism here

Being a writer Indian Spice definitely does not stifle one’s creativity, and that is why I am here. 

Saffiya Ismail click here to view all Saffiya’s articles

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