Practical Ways to Change Your Language About Dark Skin

MP_Nina Shoot_032819-25.jpg
This picture that showcases some of my lovely melanin was taken by my friends over at Mallari Productions.

tldr: If we can be mindful of our passing comments regarding light and dark skin, we can then choose to be a part of the narrative to change what it means to have dark skin.

I was just a kid at the time and I was binge watching The Twilight Zone amid summer break. Back then summer vacation meant lounging in my ice cold basement and clicking through television stations with my brother. To stumble upon a marathon of The Twilight Zone was always a treat. Though I’ve watched countless shows over the years, The Twilight Zone remains a favorite of mine because the deeper messages it has taught me about life. But of all of the episodes I’ve watched over the years, one stood out to me the most- ‘The Eye of the Beholder’.

*SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD* You’ve been warned… 

The episode details the horrid tale of a woman who was plagued by her “ugliness”. Little children would cry when they saw her. It felt as though it was impossible for her to exist in society because of how ugly she was. Despite countless surgeries, she remained hideous. However, though she was plagued with ugliness from birth, this episode began with a sliver of  hope- she was getting another surgery.

The entire episode is intentionally filmed to avoid the faces of actors, including the woman receiving surgery. It is only at the end of the episode that the viewer sees the faces of people in her world; the people considered beautiful. The creators of the episode intentionally showed people who’s facial features distinctly differed from our society. I remember being horrified at what looked like pig snouts in place of noses and facial deformities that defined the “norm” of beauty. And the woman classified as ugly, who made children cry, would instead be considered gorgeous by our culture’s standards. The episode ends with screams of people crying over another failed surgery for this woman and my realization that this stunningly beautiful woman believed the lie that she was ugly because of how society defined beauty. Sound familiar?

Most people get it- the ways in which our society speak about having dark skin is not okay. The lack of representation of people of darker skin tones within Bollywood and media in general is frankly disturbing. Instead of seeing women of medium to darker skin tones being portrayed negatively, as touched on in “Why black people discriminate among ourselves: the toxic legacy of colorism“, we are absent in Bollywood. The void of women who look like me in the media communicates that people like me are not even worthy to be portrayed negatively. Darker Indian women are not to be seen as representative of what it means to be Indian, even a negative portrayal.

It sinks into our subconscious mind and teaches us what is beautiful. I think most rational people can all agree that this presentation of women of dark skin is insane. In fact, countless people expressed outrage over the appearance of the finalists for Miss India, confused as to how a country as diverse as India could somehow only have light skin women as finalists for a pageant queen.

In the same way that there are microaggressions across race, there are small ways in which we speak that perpetuate certain stereotypes and ideas surrounding what it means to have medium to dark skin tones. Ladies and gentlemen, we are counteracting years of Euro-centric culture and media. I don’t think that we’ll always be politically correct. But I’m writing this post because our language is important. It matters because the way we speak to each other has power; especially the comments we make in passing.

I’m creating this blog post for the people who want to “do better” but might not know how to do so. Because as much as I’d like to say that it’s only immoral people who say hurtful things, I’ve heard the statements below from an array of people. Some people who I respect and trust, others who I look up too. Colorism runs deep but I know we can do better. Below are some practical ways to change your language about dark skin and why it’s important. 

“I thought she was beautiful, not just because of her color.” 

“I thought she was beautiful” 

The problem with the above statement is in its construction. The use of the word “just” implies that by virtue of this person being a lighter skin tone, she might be pretty. And the issue with saying this is what it insinuates of people of a different skin tone. I get it, our brains have been fed images over and over again of women with ivory skin being described as beautiful. Maybe you feel deep down that this person may be pretty just because they have light skin but please be mindful of how saying this can be perceived by someone who doesn’t fit that ideal.

This brings into question- is it wrong to innately find light or dark skin attractive? I don’t think so. But when we speak we must be cognizant of the privilege of having light skin and accept that the norm is not that people love and appreciate both light and dark skin. The norm is instead glorifying light skin while shaming those who don’t fit that ideal. For that reason a passing comment of admiration of someone just because they are light skinned can come across as hurtful.

I can recall countless instances in which I would be confused and ask my mom why a certain person was also described as beautiful when they weren’t to me. The response was always something along the lines of how they actually really weren’t but they had light skin so naturally some people would find them beautiful just for that reason. This taught me that you might be pretty just for having light skin and maybe ugly just because you don’t. That’s an issue. Why can’t we find the beauty in both? Why can’t we praise both? Why can’t we see beyond the color of a person’s skin?

“Don’t stay out too much, you’ll get dark!”

“Put some sunscreen on before you go out into the sun so your skin is protected!” 

In all the years I’ve been told to not stay out in the sun or to avoid the sun, it has never been because my skin needed sunscreen or because of skin health. It was all because of the vanity of how I might look worse with dark skin. Hello, people- are you kidding me? Skin health is super important and totally disregarded. In fact, some people risk the health of their skin in attempts to bleach their skin to become when society deems beautiful. By telling our our daughters and nieces to stay inside to avoid tanning, we are communicating that how we look is more important than actually living our lives! I’ve seen people petrified of their skin tanning. People who would go to lengths to avoid the sun touching their face while sitting in a car or they would steer clear of standing outside for prolonged periods of time. It’s not just medium/dark women, I’ve seen women with light skin chained down by the expectations of having light skin and doing whatever it takes to maintain it. When we engage in this behavior we remained bound to fit this narrow ideal of what beautiful looks like and this is a reality for light and dark skin women alike.

“She would be so pretty, but she’s so dark”

“She is so pretty, all that melanin glows” 

You don’t need to qualify someone’s beauty. They’re not pretty for a dark girl, they’re just pretty. I would often hear my grandmother described as a dark beauty. But growing up I never felt the need to add “dark” to that compliment. Her almond eyes, defined nose and gentle smile were not beautiful despite her darkness. She was just beautiful. Period.

Someone recently commented on one of my videos in excitement about how my melanin was starting to show more because the sun was out. I never heard someone refer to my skin color that way. Why do we think that by being dark this somehow negates someone’s beauty? What if instead we saw it as something that’s actually beautiful about a person?

“We couldn’t understand why that gorgeous girl married such a dark-skinned guy.”

“We couldn’t understand what a gorgeous girl married a guy who didn’t think was so cute!” 

When you choose to use the word dark as synonymous with ugly or “less than”, that’s a problem. Why is that language normalized? What if I were to say- she’d be so pretty if she were not so toned and in shape? He’d look so much better if he wasn’t so confident and comfortable in his body. The way we chose to place the word “dark” in sentences teaches the meaning of that word to our future generations. Dark does not mean ugly and needs to stopped being used as a synonym for unattractive.

Closing Thoughts

The reality is that dark, medium and light skin are all beautiful. People were created by God with different skin tones for a reason. Instead of perpetuating the message that light skin is beautiful while dark skin is not, let’s empower fellow men and women to love themselves more. The alternative is chasing this one beauty ideal that leaves so many women feeling insecure.

I remember hearing as a kid how my father had the lightest skin out of all of his light skin siblings. This was a point of pride. But he was also described as foolish because he didn’t care for it and his ivory skinned darkened over the years to a now tan color. When I asked my dad about skin color, about why he married someone darker than him, like my mom, he explained that he thought brown skin was beautiful.

There are people willing to risk the health of their skin in order to fit into the mold of what society calls beautiful. Being honest, I’m not normally a fighter. I often grow tired of fighting the current of what society desires and part of me wants to just accept things as they are, conform and change my skin. But the reality is that I can’t change my skin to fit this mold. I refuse to bleach my skin to be just a shade lighter, to attempt to conform to the idea that being “fair” is lovely while still not even reaching that goal. I also don’t want to because I’m growing to love my skin- even when it tans in the sun.

My father’s attitude was confusing to me because he in many ways held power by naturally having light skin. He had something that other people desperately tried to get through bleaching and staying out of the sun. He threw away this status because he didn’t care for it. My hope is that all of us can be more mindful of the influence that our culture has on our perception of beauty. The woman from The Twilight Zone episode haunted me. It’s a radical choice to believe you’re beautiful in a society that tells you that you’re not. But you might just be right.

 

 

Now That It’s Cool To Be Indian

Nina.png

Something odd that has been brought to the surface recently is how things taken from Indian culture that once evoked responses of disgust are now “cool”. I read a post on the Facebook group #SubtleCurryTraits about how the stereotypical “white girl” who years earlier considered turmeric disgusting in “yellow rice”, now adds tumeric to their chai teas for the “health benefits”.

Well, the tide has turned. The teenage heart throb of my youth, Nick Jonas, chose to marry the stunning, Priyanka Chopra. But despite this change in heart by America as a nation, I’d argue that things really aren’t better. You must be thinking- isn’t this sudden love of all things Indian supposed to be great news? Indian culture may now be “in” but the truth is that I still know too many Indians who are ashamed of their culture, petrified of being labeled a FOB and are unable to erase the years of shame that we’ve associated with being Indian because of pop culture’s previous narrative. A message in which the worth or lack thereof, of an India in media was communicated by the void of people who looked like me on television shows, ads or magazines
and honestly, even within India’s own media that continues to refuse to include women of medium or darker shades on media platforms.

We still live in the same country in which I heard the white kid next door telling me that my people should get out of his white neighborhood. There are still people who are told that they smell like “curry”, presumably from people actually knowing what curry smells like. Or you still find the white guys on dating apps who only like Indian girls and treat an entire people group as a fetish. This leads to whole groups of desi people who refuse to engage in anything that associates them with their culture. Forbidden activities include but are not limited to: eating with their hands, being caught speaking their mother tongue or even spending a week in India.

The truth of the matter is that it’s not actually cool to be Indian. It’s only cool in the same way that people like dressing up on Halloween or decorating their Christian tree once a year, it’s exoticized. But even when this fad changes, I’ll still wearing my lengha blouses mixed and matched with American gowns. I’ll still try to rock my lengha skirt with a button down and my salwars pants with American tops. Because just as much as I identify as an American as my nationality, I am still and will always be Indian and that doesn’t need to be cool to you. It’s me.

Being a Brown Girl in Nude Heels

image

I started writing this blog post nearly two years ago. I’m continuing it now. Almost two years ago in June,  I took my first ever teaching course with the first professor to tell me to call him by his first name. After four years of undergraduate study I took the best class I had ever taken my first month of graduate school. My teaching cohort spent that month huddled in circles, crumpling up life stories, paired against each other defending our sides on various issues and growing close to one another as a teaching cohort. Of everything that teaching has given me, one of the biggest gifts was that summer with that cohort.

Of the lessons I learned in that classroom management class, the first that hit was: Privilege is having band aids match your skin.

Or in my case, my lack of privilege is wearing nude heels that stick out against my dark skin. It’s always feeling like you don’t just quite fit in and worrying that you never will. I first grew up in a predominately black and hispanic neighborhood. I was generally accepted by my peers and felt proud of being an Indian. I was surprised to find that when I moved to a high-school that was made of 99% whites students, it wasn’t as cool to be “Indian”. In fact, many people didn’t even know what it meant to be an Indian.

I spend a lot of time completely unaware of issues of race and class. It was always underlying every event and circumstance but I never knew what to call that feeling of knowing that my peers looked and grew up differently than me, despite the fact that we attended the same school.

Learning that bandaids didn’t match the skin was at first upsetting. But that summer opened me up to a whole new world in which I learned that when we become aware of a problem, we can do something about it.

I eventually found “nude” heels that matched my skin color. But I first needed to be aware that the shoes I had on before weren’t quite right.

 

Hey there Delilah?

043203054b8da95498739e9db9a693b6
I was looking through my checklist of bible passages to read when a passage about Samson appeared.  I decided to keep reading past the passage assigned and I saw something about Delilah and Samson.  I read through it and saw how unhealthy their relationship was.  She was prodding him.  She didn’t really care for him and she betrayed him.  His interests were most important.  She wanted something and that was all that mattered,
I kept looking at that passage trying to imagine myself as Samson.  I’m obviously the brolic one!  The one anointed and ordained by God, right?  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was actually like Delilah and my friends in general are Samson.  My study bible said that Delilah was never mentioned in the bible again after this passage, but she stripped Samson of his honor.  How did one person leak their poison so powerfully into another person’s life?
Sure, it was Samson’s choice!  How could he make the same mistakes over and over again?  Stupid.  Not like I’ve ever ermmm done anything like that before.  *cough*
But how many times have I been a Delilah to the people important in my life.  The best thing we could ever do in our lives is encourage people.  To love people so much that they can feel the warmth of God.  But we’re predisposed to just hate.  
Human beings feast on hurting other and I fear that one day this nature in me will really hurt me or the people close to me.  Little people talk about other people right?  And I stand by the belief that it’s okay to share feelings, but there’s a point where it crosses the line.  I think I should know how to gauge that.
I don’t want to be remembered as someone who broke other people down.  I want to build other people up.  Samson was defeated by Delilah.  But we are made strong in Christ because our weakness is perfected in him alone.
I guess the problem comes when people who are filled with the Spirit stop listening to God.  Then just as Samson, God will leave us and we will not realize it.

I hope this was interesting to you!

Slut Shaming

260294053432659725_61w0k1br_c

When I was looking for pictures to better explain what I want to talk about in this post, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to stumble on the picture above.  Slut.  The word burns to even to write into this post.  And recently there has been an uproar of something called, “Slut-shaming”.  This basically means that women who are considered sluts are, being shamed.  Seems pretty intuitive right?  Well this depends on your definition of the word slut.  Jenna Marbles is infamous for the videos she creates on Youtube.  Well one day Ms. Marbles made a video that struck the interest of Laci Green, causing her to make a video of her own.

In short Jenna made a video describing behavior that she believes “sluts” partake in, while Laci made a video arguing that if men do not respect sluts, they don’t respect women.  At this point you may be wondering, what exactly is your stance Nina?  And in short, I don’t agree with either of these people.  Although they both argue their points pretty well, some of what they each say is hard to chew.

Let’s start with Lacy.  She argues that a women should be respected because she is a woman, her actions are not a part of this equation.  I’m sorry, but I’ve never followed this logic.  As far as I’m concerned just because someone is older than me, or just because someone is a particular gender, does not mean they deserve my respect.  In general, I believe it’s a pretty good idea to simply respect people or give people the benefit of the doubt.  But if their actions do not warrant respect, why should we show respect?

With the same intuition, if someone does not respect themselves, why should I respect them?  If you go into a house, steal something and leave, what are you?  A thief.  And if you dress provocatively and sleep around, what can you expect to be called?  A slut.  Laci starts to go into this whole idea that the idea of being a virgin is too important to society.  Essentially if you are not a Virgin, you are not worthy.  I was so surprised because as someone who chose to take a vow of abstinence, I feel like the contrary is also true.  Being a virgin in this day and age is really hard.  Who’s right?  As odd as it may sound, I think we’re both right in some regards.  A lot of people look at virgins as though they are mythological creatures, literally.  I remember hearing that virgins who are hot are considered unicorns!  There was even a post from Reddit about this, and although the language is questionable, the message is good.

What does the bible have to say about all of this?

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 ESV / 11 helpful votes

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” …

It essentially believes in the sanctity of preserving yourself before marriage.  From a religious perspective, having sex before marriage is not acceptable.  So if this is true, does this mean women should be called sluts?  I know that this is a controversial opinion but, if the shoe fits?  I think it’s wrong when a word like slut is thrown around and used to classify an entire class of women.  But if someone  is acting in a way that warrants being called a slut, how can you be angry if she is called that?  I personally would never call a woman a slut, but I don’t know if I can expect this behavior from everyone else around me.

I remember this girl once asked openly, why should Christians be virgins?  Is it something necessary today in the age of birth control and contraceptives.  The way I think about it, when you have sex with someone just as the bible preaches, you become one with them.  Can you imagine how painful it would be to become one with someone only to break up with them a month of two later?  When you are married you have made a commitment honorable before God.  When you become one, you are supposed to stay as one.

I can agree with Laci about the fact that the word slut shouldn’t be thrown around.  I can also agree with Jenna about that fact that certain actions warrant being called a slut.  But at the end of the day whether or not you are a virgin is your decision.  (in almost all cases)  It’s your decision to accept whether or not having your virginity is a good thing or a bad thing.  Because there will always be people who call girls sluts for no reason.  When that happens you need to be sure of who you are regardless of what other people think.  But then again, that’s just my opinion.

Making time for God

282530576593575539_06WcarnO_c

Quiet Time, oh how I had hated quiet time so very much when I first started doing it.  For those of you who are unfamiliar as to what quiet time is, it’s basically time you spend alone with God.  As an extrovert the idea of spending an entire hour of my day alone praying and reading the bible felt like complete torture.

I love being a part of group discussions, being around people and sharing ideas- but being alone?  No, thank you.  Because being alone means spending time with me and God.  Just the two of us together with nothing else to really distract me from his presence.  All of a sudden those early mornings I would dedicate to God would be interrupted because my bed looked extra comfy.

13581236346609238_XrtLyU0o_c

It wasn’t until I listened to a Francis Chan Sermon earlier a few days ago that it dawned on me why I hated quiet time so very much.  Quiet time requires me to spend time with God alone and God sees right through me.  I can very well fool everyone I come in contact with on a daily basis; I can even fool myself.  But the one person who sees right through me is God.

That’s so intimidating!  The entire creator of the universe wants to spend time with us!  He knows our innermost thoughts and can see right through every word that we speak.  I remember a friend of mine asked me when was the last time I spent just immersed in God’s presence; I had no good answer to give.  The problem lies in the fact that at the end of the day I didn’t want to spend time in God’s presence.  I wasn’t hungering after him in a way that made me want to spend time with him.

I remember back when I was younger I would spend time in church and our pastor would tell us how important it was to read the bible daily.  My parents sounded like a broken rec93871973452541836_XQzdnpvm_c was ridiculous.  I lacked a personal relationship with God and the extent of my relationship to my father lasted for 3 hours on Sunday mornings.

It was because I didn’t really want to know God that I failed to realize the importance in pursuing him and spending time with him.  The thing is that when we start really developing meaningful relationships with people- we want to spend time with them.  It’s not a chore and it shouldn’t feel like work.  When you like being around someone, you will make time for him or her.  Why can’t the same go for our relationship with God?

When I think about quiet time the first bible character that comes to mind is Daniel.  For those of you who may not know why Daniel was, he was a bad a$$!  When he was in the king’s presence and expected to eat the King’s food- he didn’t.  He only ate things that were pleasing to God and he was actually healthier and plumper than everyone else around him.  It’s kind of funny that being “plump” was seen as such a positive back then!

But back on topic, I want to specifically look at Daniel in the lion’s den though.  A decree was published saying that no one would be allowed to pray to anyone other than the king.  But, how did Daniel, someone so passionate and in love with God respond to this?

In Daniel 6:10 it reads, “…when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”

He didn’t stop praying to God just because other people told him that he was not allowed to.  In fact he prayed with his window opened, because he was unashamed of his beliefs.  He knew his relationship with God and he knew that God was much more powerful than the King who told him not to pray.  What I find so funny and even a little bit sad is the fact that if this had happened to me today, I probably wouldn’t have even notice the decree at first.  Sometimes I don’t pray when I am encouraged, how I can pray knowing that I will be persecuted for doing so?

We need to become the Daniels of our generation.  We need to be so passionate and in love with God that we are confident of him and what we believe in.   And the only way we can achieve this is by making time daily for God in our lives.

Dream Jobs

39969515413570362_cWaDOcKd_c

Only nine percent of people have their dream jobs.  NINE percent, how crazy of a number is that?  I grew up in a Malayalee household, this means my parents are from Kerala, India.  I grew up being told to look for a job with stability.  Available options included becoming a doctor, nurse or engineer.  Anything else was simply inadequate.  I bit the bullet and told my parents I wanted to be a business major, they were not happy but they accepted my decision and even pay for my college.  I am incredibly grateful in this regard because I know so many people who are forced to study something they do not like.

With this being said, I’ve recently changed my major to Corporate Communications, a field I find myself incredibly excited to learn more and more about.  At the same time, I am constantly met by opposition.  The funny part is that this doesn’t even really come from my parents, but my friends who have chosen to take the traditional path for my culture.

One of my closest friends is studying Pharmacy in a six year program, something that is incredibly grueling and difficult to pursue.  She is currently in her sixth year and pushing forward.  Because of her major she knows that she doesn’t get that much free time during the week.  She knows that she doesn’t even have much time to spend with friends because she needs to study.  But the prospect of such amazing job security and stable income is enough to fuel her through the remaining four to five years of college that she has left.

Because she is a close friend of mine, we talk together about things like our majors.  And because she is a good friends, she tries to be honest with me.  The way she sees it, of course I should try to get a job I will like but I should find some sort of middle ground.  Meaning a job that I can see myself doing, maybe not loving, but a job that can give me a steady and secure source of income.  Student loans are no joke and four years is a long time to waste.

Screen Shot 2012-12-01 at 2.02.14 PM

The fact of the matter is that I know that money does’t in fact guarantee my happiness.  Just as the little info graphic above shows.  Right now I’d rather take the risk and try to get a job in a major that is incredibly competitive than give up on my dreams for the secure road.  If I was meant for the secure road I would have gone to medical school a long time ago and pushed myself to get through.  But I know that wouldn’t make me happy, in fact I believe it would make me feel miserable.

The thing is that God created me just as I am for a reason.  I am Nina.  I like certain things and dislike others.  The entire world of incredibly diverse and different people who are not all meant to doctors and engineers.  In fact some of them really are made to do that, and I am happy that they are passionate about helping people and building things.  But this mold is not a one size fits all kind of thing.

I might change the way I feel about this by the time I graduate but right now I refuse to major in something I do not love.  I want to take classes in which I take notes because I want to, not just because we have a final coming up.  I want to learn about things that will actually impact who I am as a person and who I want to be.  Majoring in Corporate Communications will do that for me.