Growing up in North America I was deprived of artists in media that looked like me. I struggled to relate to the people who I saw being successful in music and entertainment. I think I tried my best to feel like I belonged in a place where I knew I didn’t fully fit into. It somewhat forced me to be a bit of a shapeshifter and made my dreams feel very far away and almost unattainable.
Colorism in the South Asian community – what a topic to unpack. Growing up as a first-generation American, a daughter of Indian immigrants, in a predominantly white area of Florida, came with its challenges. My brown paper bag lunches were mocked for their ‘strange’ smells, and people laughed when I mispronounced words or spelled words in the British fashion as opposed to American. I was too young to understand that colonialism was the real one to blame. Despite these negative encounters, one ‘positive’ thing my family always told me from a young age was, “At least you have your mother’s genes – at least you’re light-skinned.” And I clung to that because this repetition hammered the idea that ‘light is good, dark is bad’ into my head, and I wanted to be good.
Enter high school. I started to get curious about boys. I liked them, and I wanted them to like me back. One of the first boys that I racked up the nerve to approach hit me with a line that I will never forget. “I don’t like brown girls.” All I could think in my head was, “But I’m not brown-brown, I’m light-skinned, can’t you see?” as if my so-called light skin was something to be proud of. I think about this moment as one of the defining moments of my early life because, for the next handful of years, I was constantly fearful of being ‘too brown,’ for fear that I would never find someone to like me.
This fear hit the biggest roadblock when I began my high school career, running cross-country, and track. If there’s anything we know about Florida, it’s that it’s an extremely sunny and hot place to live. Running post-class at the peak of the day’s sun would do little to maintain my light skin that was already too brown for boys. I obsessively purchased SPF 100 sunblock, hoping this would do the trick, and I would privately lather on layers before practice. Unfortunately for my high school self, the Florida heat won the battle, and I watched my watch tan line grow more and more drastic. I listened to my teammates make comments about how dark I was getting, comparing their arms next to mine. I endured dinners where family members said that I looked more Black than Indian, spitting out the word ‘Black’ like an insult.
I am blessed to have developed past this stage of self-hatred, though I’m ashamed that it took me until early adulthood to begin questioning the framework set in place by my family, classmates, and friends. In conversations surrounding racial justice today, we are seeing more and more information being disseminated surrounding the context of using the term African American vs. Black. Many Americans have defaulted to using the term “African American” because this is seen as being more politically correct and polite. Why? Because again, anti-Blackness is pervasive. Black is seen as being a ‘bad’ word, with many people not realizing they think this because of their own internalized negative association with Black people. This is all begs the question, is being Black bad? Is being dark-skinned bad?
For many South Asians, the answer would be yes. Post-colonial British beauty standards left their mark on Indian culture even after India gained independence, paving the way for skin-lightening creams like the newly rebranded Glow and Lovely to gain market success. This success led to marketing campaigns reinforcing the notion that light is good, and success is tied to being light-skinned, poisoning the minds of generations of Indians. For those in the Indian community that is now aware of the falsities carried out by these marketing ploys and understand the complex history of colorism in our culture, it’s time to challenge those around us. It’s time to challenge our families, friends, the brands we buy from, and the status quo. Colorism in our community not only affects the mental health and stability of young Indians, but it also leans into anti-Black sentiment. By accepting colorism in our community, we are doing nothing to advance critical conversations surrounding race in America that our family and friends desperately need to engage with and be educated about. Black is good. Brown is good. Acceptance of being our own authentic selves and being comfortable in our skin is the first step. The next step – we must do better and do more to challenge colorism for the next generation, for our darker-skinned community members, and for the eventual end to anti-Blackness in our community.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!
We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.