Brown Girl In a Green Country: Color, Race and Background Checks

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Sometimes, I feel like we’re too whiny of a nation.

And by nation, I mean your average brown Pakistani.

Alright, let me make a few amends to that controversial statement I just made; average brown/light skinned/freckled/fai/albino/dusky/red-skinned/white-brown, or as white a brown person can be Pakistani. Phew. I hope I didn’t forget anyone; who knows which other variation I may have made the helpless victim to my gross neglect of deeming us all one and equal in a country founded on the very principles of equality!

Anyways, back to my conjecture on our whininess.

Well, let’s put it this way: we have suffered at the hands of white supremacists, hoodwinking good fortunes under the façade of the British East India Company, for three massive centuries, yet now that we’ve overcome the bloody whites, we’ve forgotten what it feels to be free.

We’re lost.

We have all the freedom a slave could ever beseech the Heavens for, yet we yield, in our subconscious thoughts and on the bulletins coming in from the South Asian section of CNN’s website, that we have no idea WHAT we are anymore.

I know, I know. Freedom can be deceitful. It can woo you into its stratagems only to steer you farther off from finding yourself. BUT YOU SEE, in our beloved nation’s case, we have our identities right in our hands. But our hands are being pulled with strings by the same supremacists we once fought against.

Believe me, it’s hard. It’s unbelievably hard to let go of a history that bound you to the earth, to slave against the earth, to obey the foreigner, to remain demure as your fate is decided, much rather toyed with, right before your fearful eyes.

We may have broken out of the chains on our wrists, but we still struggle to break free of the racial cage around our minds.

The key is in our hands. It has been for 70 years. But we’re just too afraid of reaching out for it.
But because this has been a promised background check, let us now review the chains that bind the average Pakistani to yield under the supremacy of the fairer skinned.

Being of the feminine specie, I can relate a small anecdote that accommodates itself into the lives of most us brown citizens.

Now most of us, the girls especially, have been groomed to always hone our beauty. Our beauty, if not our education, is the most important aspect of our personality, by social standards. That is pretty much the lady code of any culture in the world, but here I’m narrowing it down to my own.

We’ve grown up with advertisements promising ‘fairer skin in seven days’, accompanied by ‘fairness scales’ to judge our position on the beauty standards that we are compared to. As a child, this was very normal, almost quotidian, for me as for millions of others like me. In between drama serials, cricket matches, news broadcasts, the companies behind the light skinned faces, tweaked and toned to perfection, deigned to belittle our natural colours from the cradle. In fact, most of us even received fairness creams made by cheap local producers by some of our infamous desi aunties, although unfortunately, I have been saved the honour of such a bestowal. The most incredible We had always been taught that our freckles, our sun-kissed skin, our tans, our blotches, were tiny obstacles that should, HAVE, to be gotten rid of. There was no question about it. We had to have perfectly flawless skin, mirroring that of a new born baby if we could. It had to be as fair as it could get, zero space for acne, tans or freckles. We had to be like the white women from a sanitary pad advertisement, unsuitably copied onto the boxes of Care Honey creams and Zubaida aapa’s whitening formulas. We had to be like them. We had to. No questions asked.

That is, until I grew up and my education led to my eyes being opened to the blatant abuse of our race by those of our very own race, to this delusion of brown being a color that connotes insufficiency, lack of beauty and ability and, above all, inferiority.

My family and friends are a part of this heinous scheme as well. But what they perceive to be concern for my skin, or my future as a double-standard-keeping husband’s wife, is quite misled. They constantly pine me over how fair I’ve become ever since my young days as a toddler that basked in the warmth of the sun, but who’s now been taught to refrain from setting out into it because it will destroy the beauty I’ve gathered in my youth. They also click their tongues when they see how tanned I’ve become after a few good days of sports at school, saying how staying indoors in the summer will help it ‘cool down’ so I shouldn’t worry. They remark on my youthful beauty, which is in reality, applaud for my bettered position on the fairness scale from the Fair and Lovely advert we keep seeing on the telly, and this next one makes me laugh; they have no idea that they’ve been brainwashed by the very ‘goras’ they reprimand us from copying.

Dear aunties and uncles, being fair and being beautiful are not synonymous. Or mutually exclusive. Being one doesn’t make me any less of myself, and being the other doesn’t make me anymore. My beauty isn’t defined by a scale; it’s defined by me, the very core of me, or as Wordsworth complimented his wife in Phantom of Delight, the ‘very pulse of the machine’. MY machine.

I work in ways your deceived eyes are just too marginalised to see. You refuse to acknowledge the glory of your own skin to be accepted by someone who will never benefit you. You isolate your own race, the pride of your history, the beauty of your struggles, JUST to seek the approval of our old colonial masters.

Why?

After so long why?

Now, what follows is based entirely on conjecture but considering most of the people who conform to internally destroying the confidence of people of their color usually resort to highly predictable taunts and cat calls (looking at you, Nasreen auntie!), there’s a mighty good chance that conjecture can be considered the truth. At least, for Pakistanis.

What I’d want us all to do is to embrace ourselves. Teach your daughters to flaunt their color because it is a part of them that is beautiful, not something to be covered up under layers of dyed lotion sold in fancy bottles. Teach your sons to do the same, maybe not the foundation part, but to never sneer at their own people. We are each other’s support systems, and if we can’t respect and love ourselves, we cannot expect the rest of the world to, either. It isn’t about validation. It is about acceptance and unity; for too long have we gone into the night with labels stuck to our skin, and for a majority, it affects us deeply, in many cases even inhibiting us from going on with our dreams! That shouldn’t happen.

Be yourself and let others be themselves. All shades of brown are beautiful. Everyone is beautiful.


`Devourer of books, literary enthusiast, verbose young writer and poet. I love being brown, Muslim and a Pakistani. I also love shami kebabs, gaajar ka halwa, and dissecting our culture of its flaws. I am mostly found amidst heated discussions surrounding current affairs, rights of refugees, disparities in world education and fighting the normalisation of sexual harassment. Carpe diem` – Shizah Kashif

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