Seven-year-old me blinks my eyes at the television. None of the famous people on TV were called any of the names that my friends or I had. Where were the Indians? Was I not allowed to be famous? “Mom, can’t I be famous?” I asked. A “child’s” wish. You can. You can be whatever you want to be. You can fly as high as you wish.
Eleven-year-old me was grossly overweight, majorly in love with food, and in dire need of braces – a group of people laughing terrified me. Confidence got lower, anxiety got higher, and I disappeared into the shadows.
Fourteen-year-old, newly entering into the era of social media found that information and opinions were everywhere. Everyone had something to say, and being the Science Nerd I always was, I wanted to know EVERYTHING. I found out that my bushy eyebrows, and wider hips weren’t attractive. The start of the most teenager-y of my teenage years, I started eating lesser and lesser. Boys liked girls who were thin, right?
Seventeen year old me was so ashamed of my heritage, I asked people to speak to me in English. “I don’t speak Hindi too well.” I said. My parents bought me books, the Mahabharata, one of the most well known Indian epics, my mother, wanting me to learn about the Sikh gurus, bought books filled with illustrations showing their lives, stories of valour, sacrifice and selflessness, but these just went on top of my bookshelf, never to be picked up again.
I vividly remember saying “I’m not even that dark. Almost fair enough to be white, actually” (I know you’re cringing. But you aren’t cringing as much as I am). But I had forgotten that I come from a country where our brown eyes express love, to show sorrow in another’s, they twinkle with laughter in another’s joy, with warmth, when we welcome guests. Atithi Devo Bhava – ‘The Guest is like God’, one of the first traditions we were taught. Compassion is above all, poetic verses taught us. I had forgotten that the curves and stretch marks that my mother has are a reflection of the meandering river we played by as children, fierce, preserving, growing, that on sunny days when we sit on the terrace, our skin is the colour of the very soil that gives us life.
Today, as a twenty-year-old, I have lost many of my inhibitions. I have learnt about where I come from, and I have learnt to be proud of it. I have learnt that I am different, I look different, and behave differently. But I am in no way less. I have also learnt to love my body, my uneven skin tone, and the fact that I am actually not fair enough to pass off as white. And I have learnt to love it even, and especially, when others do not.
But many people of colour have not yet made this transition, because they aren’t provided with an environment conducive enough to instill that feeling of self-confidence. Many people deny racial discrimination by saying that to them, the world is colourless, but racial discrimination will only truly end when we realise our differences, in gender, in colour, in sexual orientation, but do not deny others any opportunities because of them. The feminist movement only aims to make people realize; to help everyone who feels that they are too different to be accepted.
Most visible feminist movements today are…white. And isn’t everything, really? We’re calling Jennifer Lawrence a revolutionary icon for liking pizza, I ‘accidentally’ bought foundation that is two shades lighter than my actual skin tone, Priyanka Chopra was in a completely average American show but all of us collectively lost our cool because finally the hottest character on a sitcom wasn’t white.
But consider this, is a movement really useful until it talks about the experiences of every single group and community? Are another’s experiences any less valid than ours, just because we do not experience them?
I admit that I am much more privileged than most people of colour. I am still alive. Twenty years old, haven’t been married even once (Although, Ranveer Singh, if you’re reading this, HIT ME UP), and given the freedom to do one of the things I love the most – learn.
And all these discussions about visibility, body issues, these are just for the privileged, right? But is our skin something we must just be at peace with? Is our body something we must merely accept?
If your feminism discriminates between who you must fight for, if it finds one person’s problems to be more grievous than another’s, it is not inclusive.
Our fight should be for that girl who had to quit school in the fourth standard because her parents decided that she was old enough to be married, it should be for that girl who cringes because of her complexion, wishing she could bleach her skin. It should be for the trans person who can’t get a job, and for that overweight girl who hopes no one will notice that she’s skipping meals. I remember reading a story about an Indian origin American who was ashamed that her mother would wear a sari at her Graduation Day. Let us fight for every person who lowers their eyes when their heritage is brought up, for all those Muslims who are antagonized every single day because they choose to cover their face, for the black people who are called thugs because of their locks, for every woman who is harassed on public transport because of the red dot on her forehead.
I am a woman of colour, and I will drape my sari (just kidding, I don’t know how to), put on my bangles, wear my bindi, you will hear the sound of my anklets as I walk away from you, you may find my eyebrows too bushy, my waist too wide, my skin too dark, and I may have hair on places you find unattractive. But the fact that you will try to hold me back because of this is what will push me forward.
Photo Credit: Facebook/Angry Indian Goddesses. For representation purposes only.