Are You Brown Enough?

Written by: Aliya Kermali

Being a woman of colour, I’ve found myself stuck in the middle of this impossible spectrum more times than I can count. Apparently, there’s an unachievable standard we need to live up to and maintain, that I just never knew about. We’re just never good enough. 

Growing up in a diverse neighbourhood, I knew I was a person of colour, but I never thought I felt different until I later looked back and wondered if I really fit in as much as I convinced myself I did. I became so used to the question “where are you from?” and the weird gazes and comments when I said my background was from Tanzania, or that I was Muslim. “Why are you so light-skinned?” or “You don’t look that brown,” and the classic, “Whoa your background is from Africa?! Shouldn’t you be darker?” You can imagine my reaction when hearing the similar Mean Girls quote a couple of years later. I also received the classic questioning and analyzing, where my classmates decided to tell me what they thought I looked like. I was constantly told I looked White, or that I could “totally be Italian” or pass as someone from Europe. I really didn’t think I could but thanks for YOUR opinion on my skin colour. I didn’t think anything was wrong with these comments at the time because it’s not like they called me dark, so it’s not exactly racist, is it? I just laughed and convinced myself that being called “too light” was a compliment, or there wasn’t anything wrong with that. But looking back, people questioning my background or the “brownness of my skin” made me question my own identity, instead of embracing it. 

I asked myself the question: Am I Brown enough? Was I too Brown? I constantly felt and still sometimes feel stuck in this spectrum of having to live up to these standards set around me. I’m often called and feel whitewashed, as if I’m not brown enough, and should be “more Brown,“ whatever that means. Then there’s the other side of the spectrum. As a child, I used to be embarrassed to bring cultural foods or talk about religious practices in school, with the fear of being “too brown”. This sentiment did not really go away, and after coming to Queens, I’ve sometimes felt the need to downplay my traditions or culture to fit in with the groups around me. Constantly navigating how “brown” I needed to be depending on others, instead of just being myself became the unfortunate norm. The feeling of never being good enough always loomed over my head, while trying to build my identity around all these stereotypes, and amongst the impossible standards that I felt I was always being judged against. Either I was “too brown” or “not brown enough,” because just being myself was not good enough. Why are we always caught in these stereotypes and standards, instead of being taught to just embrace our own identities? I’m proud of my background, my religious affiliation, my skin colour, and my culture, and I’m learning to embrace that. Amongst all the stereotypes, standards, or stigma that may be associated with your identity, just know that you ARE good enough. 

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