When I originally sat down to write this, I had more frustration and sadness in my heart. I sent my writing to a few friends of colour and while they might have supported my thoughts and writing, it still didn’t feel right to share something from a place of rage, frustration and blame. I knew deep down that it’s not in me to perpetuate this kind of behaviour, so I gave myself space from my writing, and from social media. Time and space to clear my mind and look at this from further back.
I know that trying to send a message isn’t always easy when we have heaviness in our hearts, so I’m sharing this with you because this is the best way I know how: through story. We ALL have stories. Here are some of mine. I know there are a lot of solutions being put out there, however, I would like to say that before we can make fundamental changes in our psyche, in our behaviour and in our actions, there needs to be a true connection. And that connection, for us humans, is through story.
I am a brown skin woman. Born in Pakistan. My mother radiant like chocolate and my father, golden like toffee. I came to Canada in 1988 when I was 3 and my brother 18months. We settled in Hamilton, Ontario – predominantly Italian and Portuguese…and well, during a time when assimilation was cool – not guarding your culture and being proud of it.
Here are some KEY moments in my life of thirty-four years:
- Being called “blackie” by my classmates when I was four years old. FOUR. One girl was a Black girl! Lighter than me – and so it confused me even more!
- If my brother and I got darker in the summer months, often my parents would suggest that we weren’t scrubbing ourselves hard enough…especially our knees and elbows. 🙄 My mom being a nurse, I’m surprised she didn’t just look to anatomy…where we have more skin there. But again, this is deep, post-colonial, cultural issue…stemming from white supremacy
- My parents using chickpea flour, called besan, to give us full body scrubs. Apparently besan helps with whitening skin, not bleaching, but lightening skin.
- Going to the bank alone: I get “I’m sorry, that’s our policy, I can’t do anything to help you.” Even when pregnant and hand on belly.
- Going to the bank with Siggi, my white partner: “Let me see what I can do.”
- Going for a skincare appointment, with always a white aesthetician, “I used ____ product on you. It’s great for hyperpigmentation. You could try that for a while to even out some areas.” (I get that this is larger issue in our world of beauty ideals)
- Never finding a makeup artist that knows how to apply makeup for my skin colour and always chooses the lighter foundation…making me look ashy. And when I ask for a darker shade, they are so wide-eyed I sometimes want to punch them.
- At 20 years old…it was the first time I my whole life that I appreciated my skin colour. I was on exchange in Cuba. Yes! Twenty years of not loving my skin colour. It took leaving a country that “accepts” all cultures (Canada) and going to a small island to BE SEEN. Fuck. To be adored for the beauty of my skin colour. It confused me! And maybe that’s why it was hard to leave. Going back to Canada where no one acknowledged me and it was hard to embrace my nature.
- Being confused by white people tanning. W T F. First you don’t accept us and respect us, then you tan? Yet you whitewash us, offer whitening products (even if natural) and use our cultures to market as your own?
- My own brother having racist after racist act committed against him. A coloured person can’t have nice clothes? Can’t have a dog and walk around? Can’t have a white partner?
- Questioning every job I’ve been offered…was it to fulfill the minority quota? Often times I have been the only person of colour at a workplace.
- My entire life always trying my hardest to look clean, proper, better, follow the rules, say the right things, to BE ACCEPTED. This may be the story for many BIPOC – to be accepted in a society that has discriminated against us for so long. The best we (my ancestors, my parents, my family and friends), can do is to “look” and “act” our best to try to fit in and be accepted.
- Being followed with suspicion in several stores at both Halifax Shopping Centre and MicMac Mall while I shopped OR I get the silent, “you’re invisible” treatment, yet if a white customer walked in, the retail employee suddenly comes alive to help 🙄
- When I go to a potluck or gathering, I just look around…maybeee there are few other coloured people, but I just wonder, “Where are the BIPOC mamas?” or “Why am I the only coloured person in this Irish pub or North End potluck?” I am not dismissing these special experiences, and honoured to be a POC present. I just look around and this is what see.
I’m not asking for you to feel sorry for me. I’ve made my peace with a lot of what I have experienced. It took until this most recent phase in my life…my thirties, to really work through a lot of that trauma. Like, I wonder what kind of strong woman I could be if I was loved and able to love myself fully from age one, age four, age twenty? And not be hit with racism, inequality, and disproportionate opportunities every time I tried to stand up and live my life just as any white person. I no longer see myself as a victim and see those experiences as in my past. I am bringing them up in this present moment to share and educate. However, it’s hard to fully put those things in the past when they CONTINUE HAPPENING. I personally haven’t experienced violence of physical abuse because of my skin colour. I have however, felt the real pain of my brothers and sisters near and far. This is why I am doing this work.
What has empowered me to get past that victim mentality? My “no excuses” mentality – probably perpetuated by having to be resilient and work extra hard to just “get on with it” and be like white people want us to be. I also believe that the dark parts of our story, make us strong and maybe that’s why I am here now? Just like we have NO EXCUSES to have to do well in school (to fight for those scholarships), or stand out as entertainers or artists, as good parents, as good humans… I have to say that white people, there are NO EXCUSES for you to be ignorant any longer.
I am happy and empowered to see that in my thirties there is finally more than a few shades of brown in the makeup section. I’m thrilled to see Black ballerinas and Black supermodels. Black Barbie is really a Black Barbie, finally. Black princesses. Black heroines. Black and brown Emojis. Black business owners. Black opportunities. And I am honoured that people seek me out because I am a coloured massage therapist!
So friends, fellow humans. I don’t have all the answers. I realize that with something so big, so fundamentally wrong with our everyday life, it is difficult to know where to begin, what words to say and how to go about correcting it. And I know some solutions might be more effective for some scenarios. And I am aware this is centuries of beliefs and behaviour.
I ask that you wake up. So many little things that you might not think twice about because the world is catered to you…that BIPOC have to consider and reconsider…or the thing we need is not even existing for us.
But friends, business owners, fellow consumers:
Do your outreach activities include your local BIPOC community? That goes for dance classes and sports teams, mom’s groups, market days, play dates, spiritual activities like meditation and yoga sessions, holistic health, alternative child care…the list goes on. Are we welcome to fully experience these facets of society?
Where are the Black aestheticians in the luxury spas? BIPOC bankers? Black schoolteachers? Black beauty promoted far and wide? Black artists respected and paid fairly.
I know the past few weeks, months, years and centuries have been struggle after struggle, violent, hateful act after violent hateful act. Injustice after injustice.
Will you allow it to continue?
I am aware that there are several avenues for re-education, undoing and correcting of beliefs, behaviours; that there are several avenues for being in solidarity and rising up with our Black communities, and I am aware that there are several layers to this entire unfurling of truth. And I see that people are finally waking up and answering to the longtime cries of people of colour.
What will you do from here? Many of you have shown a lot of support this week. Thank you for having the courage to speak up and dedicate the time and energy to posting what you could this past week. I get the #blackouttuesday but I personally believe that it’s not enough. I know some of you didn’t and don’t know what else to do but post a black square. I encourage you to speak to the BIPOC people in your life. Support your local organizations and change at a fundamental level. We need action. Please, use what you’ve learned through social media and apply it. It’s useless to the global BIPOC community if you don’t actually change.
For me, actions speak louder than words. Can we stop attacking each other over semantics and change from within so we can act?
- Speak up against that racists family member and draw those hard boundaries.
- Speak up with your friends, employers and coworkers. Stand with us, but stand with integrity.
- Acknowledge your privilege yes, but we need to do better.
- You have a choice of supporting gentrified neighbourhoods.
- You have the choice of changing your past prejudices.
- You have the choice to support local white-man politics or create the community you actually envision in your heart.
- Support the dismantling of all systems of oppression – this might be a tough one for many of us because it’s entangled in many aspects of our daily lives, but aren’t you just lucky you’re not systematically more vulnerable to those systems? IT’S TIME for these systems to change. Not just the policing system, but education, healthcare, entertainment, sports, arts and culture. The brutality and oppression can’t be undone if these fundamental aspects of what makes us human can’t be addressed first!
Undoing the racism isn’t going to happen over one day or week friends. It’s actually going to require an undoing off all the systems, actions, behaviour built on racism. Are you, we, ready for that? Are you ready for taking responsibility and actively engaging in anti-racist actions? To dismantle white ideals of beauty? To have more unprejudiced opportunities for black families to live in your neighbourhood? To undo the layers of prejudice that exist in our education and health systems? To not follow a BIPOC around a store? To not see them as working the hard labour jobs? To dismantle ALL systems of oppression? All of this and more! Are you ready? It’s been happening and it’s going to explode right now. So yes, take these days, re-educate yourself. Prepare yourself. Start with awareness. Start with conversation. Colourism and racism have walked a long road and are so deeply entangled in every single facet of our lives. Yes, we may come from the same source, but we are not in a world that collectively acknowledges our oneness without looking at our skin colour. Our beauty ideals, what our systems have promoted as pure, and worthy, give no power to supremacy when we truly see ourselves as one. But, it takes dismantling the behaviours and standards we currently have in place. Don’t let fear prevent you and don’t let those cute little social media posts make you think that you’ve done your work. They help. They are a start.
And it’s not a question of what CAN you do. What WILL you do?
When you’ve spoken to all the BIPOC people in your life, looked into their eyes, heard all the ranges of their stories (ranges of skin colour may have different stories unfortunately), then maybe you might have an idea of what it’s like. But friends, with all respect to those who are even awake and true supporters (I don’t even want to encourage the word anti-racist, because it’s more than that too!), to those who have done the work, who have taken the time and energy to relearn and understand, I admire your courage and strength, your love and compassion. Unfortunately the truth in this lifetime is, you will never really know what it is like to have coloured skin, dark skin. I don’t say this to reject and dismiss your effort and growth, but to say it as it actually is. So. Please, keep doing the work, keep standing by our side and being the full love that you are. We need you to keep going! It is important to have you in our lives and reduce the divide.
It all comes down to respect. It could be that simple. But unfortunately it’s not because our global socioeconomic systems are created to oppress, and specifically to oppress people of colour. We are not ready as a global collective go collectively acknowledge at we are one, that we can respect each other.
Respect looks like:
Not having any of the skin colour biases that have been engrained in our brains for generations, and seeing a person of colour as a fellows human, as you. Until our systems can reflect this, we cannot stand behind “we are one”. We need to grow through the thick hate of centuries past to truly embody that level of respect.
Black lives matter. Every. Day. Not just on social media Tuesday, not just a week in June. Every day. We can’t choose not to have coloured skin one day just cuz. It’s everyday. So, friends. This is where it starts. You gotta step up everyday. In all the little things, not just the big things like protests, donations, petitions and social media. It’s the day to little things that need to UNDO the systemic racism that is in every aspect of our lives.