Many Mosquitos, but not Too Many
Updated: Feb 3, 2019
I think about race a lot.
I think about race a lot because, in the U.S. I see it everywhere.
I see race when I watch movies. I see race when I walk through neighborhoods. I see race when I’m in class. I see race when I learn from my professors. I see race when I think about leadership. I see race in opportunities, I see race in statistics, and I see race in our laws. It’s like this mosquito that itches at my thoughts and every observation, and I wish I could swat it away sometimes. But this mosquito doesn’t scat because within race, I see color. I see color when I think about the word “representation” and the spectrum of color that exists in every race. I see color when I think about Western and Eastern beauty standards, where in both I see many lighter-skin folks be represented in television, in product adverts, and in everyday conversation about what looks beautiful. And I want to scream and shout because it is 2019, and I believe it is time to get rid of this colonial attitude that has dictated privilege and power and is much too outdated. Because, I know melanin is also beautiful. Having tan skin, sun-kissed skin, black skin, brown skin, red skin – all of it is also beautiful. And from the perspective of being a darker-skinned East-Asian, it took me a while to get to this point. Damn my previous internalized and preconceived notions of beauty.
In India, I am surprised to observe how prevalent and relevant these colonial attitudes on race and class are. Fair-skinned Indian faces, or even white models are whom I see represented on the storefronts of barbershops, billboards, and makeup packaging. Our local family store one block away from ISI sells skin lightening cream. A Caucasian-looking child with the continent of Africa painted on his face is the background of the title slide of every GCIL lecture. It’s subtle and hidden most of the time, but this mosquito that won’t leave me keeps my eyes alert.
What has been wonderful these last few days about working at APSA’s Dream School is getting to know the children and hearing their laughter and candid perspective. Like any other kids, they joke, prank, and open up honestly. On the walls surrounding the canteen of APSA’s Dream School, the artistic murals on the wall feature children playing and dancing, but with skin colors of a pale pink instead of brown. At the Dream School, many of these South-Indian children do not look like who is depicted on the walls. I’ve seen similar instances in children’s books here, and other artwork across different schools. As the only non-white member on my team, it has been interesting to observe the interactions and questions prompted by these curious children.
“How did you become white?”
“What do you put on to get that color?”
I don’t want to share someone else’s story, because I know my teammates feel conflicted about these comments. However, these are valid questions asked by genuinely curious children that are not very familiar with people who look like my teammates. And truthfully, these are questions I had growing up when I was surrounded by barbies that didn’t look like me, media that didn’t look like me, and idols that were primarily white. I was just quiet about them. Although I am comfortable in my own skin now days, I still get some off moments. In these off moments I find inspiration in following the growing demand for inclusion and representation. Examples include Yalitza Aparicio, star of Roma and the first Indigenous woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. There is Ariana Miyamoto, the first half-Black, half-Japanese Miss Japan. There is also Mindy Kaling, an Indian-American comedian who is also half Tamil. I hope that the girls at the Dream School can find motivation in the idols they look up to, and idols that look like them. Many of the girls we will be working with are either teenagers are soon-to-become teenagers, an age where many of us recall with fond confusion and soul-searching. Every girl deserves to know that she is visible, her thoughts are being listened to, and that the people at APSA are rooting for her and ready to help support her in any path she takes.