Sarah: Colourism

I’m half English and half Italian. I was graced with tanned skin, darker than your average white person for sure. In fact, I’ve had many people envy my natural skin tone and my ability to go a beautiful bronzed good colour in the sun. I definitely look more Italian than I do English - dark hair, dark features and honestly I’ve, for the most part, always absolutely loved that. After all, we watch many White people go on holidays to catch a tan, use sun beds and strip down to the underwear the first sign of sun in the UK just to catch some extra rays. So why wouldn’t I be absolutely elated that I have darker skin?

Because for a huge portion of my life I was called a ‘paki’, a ‘darky’, asked if I was Asian - particularly indian. Asked ‘where are you from?’ To which I would always respond ‘liverpool’ knowing that the next question would be ‘but no seriously what’s your heritage/were you born here/where are you REALLY from? I’ve travelled to countries where people have thought me to be native - in Dubai people would just start speaking in Arabic to me, assuming I was not English.

People rarely ever believe me when I say I’m English with Italians heritage. Especially because I don’t know my biological father who was Italian, I don’t know a great deal about Italy and I can’t speak the language people seem to find it so bizarre that I’m tanned. There’s always an extra disbelief of ‘are you sure you’re not Asian?’. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being Asian in anyway shape or form but when you have numerous white people calling you names- racist names- that are associated with another race, essentially to insult you, of course you’re going to develop psychological aversions to the race. ‘It’s just a joke’ isn’t remotely funny when we say it to someone in a derogatory way. It drove me mad not only because those slurs are abhorrent and essentially very insulting to an entire race but also because it completely undermined my own identity. Reflecting on it now, it’s almost as if because I was darker toned, people wanted to label me as ‘other’ just for looking different, I always felt like people needed me to be none English to understand why I looked different. I always associated this with my appearance and honestly I’ve never ever been able to accept the way I look. That box that labelled me ‘ugly’ for not being typically White I’ve never quite been able to get out of. Maybe it’s jealousy - I’m tanned with more ‘exotic’ looks than many I was surrounded by - but to me I was different. I think back now to times I researched whether I could label myself ‘mixed race’ so I could be different. I had a desire to fit into a category.

I want to touch on the damage that this causes because racism is dangerous. Colourism is dangerous. I spent most of my life thinking I was being insulted because I was being called ‘Asian’. I began associating the insults with being ugly and dirty so of course, I then began to think that about an entire race. Naive and something I’ll forever be ashamed of. I grew up in a predominantly white area and even at university, I was surrounded by a majority of white people so I wasn’t completely aware other races and cultures. It’s not taught in school is it? So I wasn’t subject to the beauty that is a multicultural society until around 3 years ago when I began working for a very diverse company. I’m 28 years old. I’ve never ever considered myself racist, but until recently I’m aware I’ve not been anti racist and unfortunately, this bias I grew due to such flippant and ignorant comments solidifies my naivety to systematic racism. At 25 years of age I was finally submerged into a world of many races. It was eye opening and made me realise how wrong and stupid I had been to have such unconscious bias against Asians. I’m forever sorry for this. Such a beautiful, kind and intelligent race.

The people I have worked with over the past 3 years, Black, White, Asian, European have made me realise why it’s so important we accept, acknowledge and embrace different races, ethnicities, cultures and skin colours.

I’ve not suffered oppressive racism - my race hasn’t been oppressed especially not in the UK so I know what I have been subject to is not racism, it’s colourism. Had I been Asian then yes, that’s racism. And that’s the danger isn’t it? These comments were thrown at me like sweets on Halloween without a thought. Where do we draw the line here because to be able to say these comments to someone so easily shouldn’t be the norm.

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