Thanu Y. is Sri Lankan of Sinhalese ethnic background. She is an organizer, media and immigrant rights activist, and DJ in New York City. Follow Thanu on Twitter @ty_ushka
——— In Thanu’s words:
I don’t think you ever stop struggling with colorism after a lifetime of being told to “stay out of the sun”, “if only you were lighter, you’d be pretty”, “you are so DARK” (said in a way that always connotes negativity).
I grew up between Sri Lanka and Thailand where colorism (like in many places and communities dealing with colonial histories) is prevalent; where the media, family, and friends encouraged the purchase of skin lightening creams, and where there were little to no positive and affirming images of dark-skinned people as beautiful. This would impact my whole life.
It was mainly experiences after the age of 18 through really learning and studying histories of colonialism and racism that I began to understand the external and institutional realities that lead to our internalized oppression. The power of knowledge and the incredible people I have met in the last 10 years have helped build my confidence in who I am and this has brought me to a place where I love myself and how I look.
But there is an inkling of anxiety that never goes away. I think it’s important for those reading this blog, whether they be allies or survivors of the epidemic of colorism, to recognize that it’s a continuous journey to heal from hundreds of years of colorism that manifests in the bodies of dark-skinned individuals. It is never as easy as “this is what people said to me when I was growing up” but “now I’m over it.” To this day, I deal with my anger. Here in the U.S., when lighter skinned friends excitedly talk about the “tans” they get in the summer when they go the beach, I have to control feelings of bitterness. Even when people tell me they “like my skin tone,” I am suspicious of what that means. I wonder if it’s just another exercise in the way darker folks are exotified in the West.
And so I continue to heal, love myself, speak up in solidarity, and embrace beauty in myself and in all the amazing, fierce dark-skinned South Asians and people of other ethnic/racial backgrounds that I know. This is part of the pursuit for social justice.