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India is obsessed with skin colour. India's skin bleaching business racks in over 450 million a year! Fair & Lovely, a skin whitening brand that launched in the seventies is still one of the more profitable brands under Unilever's portfolio. In fact, it's the largest skin whitening cream in the world. The Indian community believes the paler you are, the more beautiful you are. And this is where things get confusing.
13-years-old: I get up to get some paper from the cubbies in the front of the classroom and a boy follows me. He loudly asks me why Indian girls are so hairy. I stare at him, shocked, wanting to disappear. He presses on, telling me all brown girls are unattractive and he's only ever met one girl hairier than me. He tells me her name, as though I'd know her. I turn around and ignore him until he goes away. The whole class is quiet -- no one sticks up for me. I learn what it's like to hate your skin. Really, really hate it.
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Here is the thing -- "brown" is not a derogatory term. It is not a word rooted in oppression, exclusion, bigotry, or hatred of any kind at the social or institutional level. The term is value neutral. It holds no malice, or intent to harm. It is not a powerful reminder of disenfranchisement and racial divisions such as the term"n*****." As wonderful as it is that people want to step up to the plate to help create inclusion and openness, I just wish it was with some context. Instead, get up off your feet when you hear some of the following slurs that are offensive and have been historically directed towards brown people.
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I always respond with the line that people are like dogs -- we are all the same species but we have different fur colours and no colour is actually better than the other: it just is. And since the two eldest are animal obsessed, this all makes sense to them. Then sometime last summer my seven-year-old son (who always identifies himself as brown like daddy) started telling me how he wanted "yellow" hair because it was better. Maybe it sounds overdramatic but I actually wanted to cry -- I just couldn't bear the idea that despite all the changes, a little brown boy or girl would automatically think that it was better to be the blonde, blue-eyed guy (or girl).
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