I wouldn’t wear yellow from the ages of 8 to 35 because my skin was too dark.
If you asked me if I hated my body or appearance, I would have shrugged it off. I’ve never wished for more height, less curves, or sharper cheekbones. My body has always done what it needed to do. I didn’t realize how much I hated the color of my skin until I caught myself mid-text, finger hovering over the brightly colored thumps up emoji.
Well, I’m not Simpsons-yellow. Few people are outside of a comic book or cartoon. It’s probably an effort to be race-neutral, and I’m supposed to be relieved emojis are not white by default. I should be appreciative that in 2015, we were blessed with six shades to choose from. Four years later, the Post-Fenty world deserves better.
Anyway, there I was agonizing over what I will call Brown #2 and Brown #3. I picked the first, lighter color. I deleted the emoji and hesitated. Then I pressed my whole hand up against the phone screen. The darker tone was clearly, plainly, painfully closer to my skin color, but I did not want it.
I’d already overthought using brown emojis with my colleagues. It wasn’t enough that I could practically feel the hypothetical eyerolls directed dead at me for “making race a thing” again, now my own colorism jumped out.
My mom trained me to daily use Eskinol, a ubiquitous Filipino beauty product that “whitens in as early as 1 week.”
Aunties warned me, “Don’t go outside, you’ll get darker.”
As a teenager, our Pinay friends would look from me to my lighter-skinned sister and ask, “Why are you so dark?”
To be dark was to be ugly, unwanted, and unattractive. I was too dark, yet also accused of “acting too white” for reading books and speaking English too well. Caught between the complicity of code-switching and colorism, I buried it all. I stopped hearing it. I refused to wear hats or cover up in the sun, but I also avoided wearing yellow and orange. While I liked the colors, I didn’t like the way they made my skin pop and emphasized the tone.
Intellectually, I understood the preference towards lighter skin was rooted in colonization. Proximity to whiteness signifies power, protection, and privilege; a bias that compounds the Anti-Blackness in the Asian community. Intellectually, I understood it was wrong.
Yet there I was, 35 and struggling over this stupid emoji.
Such a little thing.
Yet these daily “little things” matter and we don’t talk about it enough. My mom still pinches her nose to proudly describe the narrower nose on the Spanish side of her family. I walk down the beauty section at the Filipino store and the models are still all light skin and long straight hair.
My significant other is white. My sister’s children are also white and Korean. Colorism is so insidious, I question how it influenced our romantic choices. Unconscious bias is still bias.
Colonization tells us lies that we believe and tell ourselves; we tell our children. It teaches us how to hate others; it teaches us how to hate ourselves.
Here’s the truth: my skin was never too dark. I believe it. It’s no longer the shallow false peace of suppression. I believe it and not only will I wear whatever color I want, I am going to talk about colorism and the harm we do to our communities when we perpetuate it. WE are going to talk about it it.
This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Chad Everett.