As I child, I was acutely aware of the colour of my skin. I was the only non-white pupil at my school, and although I was only darker by a couple of shades, it was enough for children and adults alike to ask me where I was from or to make comments about my colour.
Growing older and moving into a more mixed area, my awareness of my difference became less acute, but solidified into part of my body-image: I was less beautiful because I was darker. I began bleaching my facial hair and using make-up to slightly lighten certain areas of skin. In the summers, I was super-careful about the sun, always wearing factor 60 and staying in the shade. I even carried an umbrella as a parasol on my walks to and from school.
It was only last year that I realised what bullshit this was, and how I had internalised white beauty norms. So for the first time I thought, fuck it, brown is beautiful, I’m going to revel in the sun. Last summer and this summer I have been sitting out in the sun without sun-cream or parasol, enjoying its warmth and rays, and its darkening effect on my skin.
And then couple of days ago, I read about UKBA workers racially profiling, harassing and arresting commuters in London. And I decided to stop tanning.
I am extremely privileged to have had few experiences of overt racism. As the current government makes this country more racist, this privilege could be decreasing. I’m very lucky that if a UKBA worker stopped me, I would probably be carrying ID that confirmed my right to live in this country, and even if I wasn’t, my RP accent would probably convince them to leave me alone. (I wish I could say that I’d have the confidence to walk away, as is everybody’s legal right, but I’m not sure I would).
My current assessment is that, for me, no amount of brown-pride-self-love would make up for the stress of being stopped by the UKBA. (And if they’re not afraid of showing overt racism, various police forces probably aren’t far behind). Privilege is not an insult, it is a gift. It is not something inherent to you, something you’re born with and cannot change: as attitudes and practices change, so does your privilege. Up or down. So today is the day I started using sun-cream again.
To make me and any readers feel a bit better, here’s a video of the SBS protest, and a link to the Black Feminists’ petition.