Wanting to be Brown is a Form of White Privilege
My father is a man of colour; an Indonesian with a deep complexion, almond eyes and a smile that, teamed with his bellowed laugh, can light up a whole room. My mother’s fair skin enhances her crystal blue eyes that have watched me navigate the twisted road towards adulthood.
Being of mixed race in New Zealand meant I’ve never had to struggle for acceptance, and looking predominantly Caucasian inevitably means I haven’t had to deal with the issues many people of colour have, even though I technically should.
White privilege is something we’re born into and forced to either acknowledge or deny. You could be one of those tosser politicians who assure themselves it isn’t real while sitting in a room full of other old white men who are convinced it took only “hard work” to get to where they are. Or, you could accept the privilege and not abuse the fact that sometimes the world really does revolve around you.
I used to think I was worldly. That I used my privilege as a reminder to be conscious and grateful for what it brought me. But a young Indian girl selling handmade bracelets on a dusty street in Amritsar exposed my hypocrisy with a simple question: “What product did you use to get your skin that colour?”
Little did that girl know, earlier that day, I was complaining about my paleness. I wished I could lather my body with the coconut-scented fake tan I had left 10,000 miles away. I wanted to be darker, to have sun-kissed skin like the girls you see when scrolling your Instagram feed. The ones who endorse those shitty teas and wear bikinis that cost more than my weekly wage at Maccas. I want everyone to compliment my bronzed glow because that’s what it is, right? Bronze, not brown. Bronze is for white people, and brown… brown is something else entirely.
Racism exists. As much as we want to close our eyes and sing Kumbaya, we can’t, because oppression is still here. People of colour are forced to accept their bodies, whatever shade they are, while I can pick being ghostly pale to a glazed doughnut and everything in-between.
Why is it that western society is so against women of colour using beauty products to lighten their skin when I can walk down the isles of my local supermarket and find 20 products aimed to give white women a bronzed glow? Azealia Banks enters a shit-storm when she admits to using a skin whitening cream, while nobody gives a fuck if Kylie Jenner lathers on four coats of fake tan before a night out.
The fact is that the world revolves around what you look like. With issues such as employment and relationships often based on skin tone, it’s common that an opportunity may not come as easily to some due to their genetic makeup. It also doesn’t help that western beauty ideals have shaped how women see themselves, forcing us to strive for goals that are often unattainable.
If we all want to be something we’re not, why does western society shun those of colour wanting to be white while Caucasians can go on their merry way and be as dark as their hearts desire? Rather than promote equality and let women do whatever they want to feel beautiful, we force coloured women into secrecy if they choose to whiten their skin, and yet #tanningthursday is trending on Instagram.
I want to be darker. I want that same almond richness that my father bears, but without the childhood taunts of “blackie” that shaped him. I want my skin to imitate those who have suffered generations of oppression, but I don’t want to deal with the social injustice associated with it.
The desire to be bronze is white privilege. Having the ability to change the colour of your skin without a second thought, and free from the whispers of judgement from the west, is what constitutes privilege. While we can’t change the world, and trust me I wish we could, the only way to make it a better place is to change ourselves.
It would be nice if skin colour was just that: a colour. We should have the ability to be whoever we want without the tinge of our skin determining society’s views of us. To have the choice of changing our skin colour as freely as our hair and banish the secrecy enforced when buying skin-whitening products in the west. This stigma needs to be challenged because, at the end of the day, we have the goddamn right to feel beautiful, no matter what colour we are.
Cover by Camilla Cordeiro