Thursday, 14 October 2010

My brown skin

I'm aware of my skin colour almost every minute of every day. When I told a friend this recently she was genuinely surprised. She said that it was something she never thought about. When you are not a visible minority, it probably isn't on your mind.

Being brown is something I've had to grow into accepting.

When I was seven I left Bangladesh and quickly began the process of adapting to life in Canada - life in white Canada. Because my sister and I were adopted by a caucasian family, we lost our language, our customs, our religion - our ethnicity so that eventually the only trace of that other place you could see on us was our brown skin. Slowly we learned the new ways so we could function in our new family and society.

There was no one to teach us how to make a scrumptious daal or tuck in a gorgeous sari. No passages from the Koran were read to us, no Tagore ever quoted. Even our names were replaced by new more acceptable ones. I remember thinking years after it happened that the kids were simply wrong when they used to taunt us with Hey Paki you stink! We were clean and curry-free. We smelled the same as they did.

In my dating years I often had to do the asking out. Guys (the ones I wanted to go out with) simply were not all that interested in me because I looked like I was from a different culture. The complicated thing for me was that they looked like they were from my culture, the culture I had spent the past ten years acclimating to. I wasn't interested in dating Asian Hispanic or African men only because they weren't familiar to me.There were lots of years spent feeling envious of the attention my white friends received from boys. It's not that I was ostracized because of my skin tone - not at all. But it seemed to me that blondes really did have more fun, that a peaches and cream complexion came with it the freedom to never have to prove how smart and fun you were.

And it always made me wonder how I would treat my heritage, my background, and my skin colour with my kids. What could I offer them that they couldn't read in a book or online themselves? After all, it was how I learned about the country of my origin. I read about the war which forced my parents to carry two tiny babies (my sister and me) through rice fields, hiding by day and fleeing by night until the issue of territory was forcibly decided. I read about the ceremonies and practices, the language and art, the authors and poets and I even read the holiest book of that place in the quest to know what I might have known had I stayed.

For years I felt disconnected - looking a certain way but sounding and acting another. Even though there are thousands and most likely millions of immigrants who are forced to get Canadianized, most still have ties to their cultures through family and friends. What would I give to my children of where I'd come from, who I was?

The answer came to me after I lost Matthew. I thought about his life, how difficult it was for him as a gay teen, how after coming out he felt the need to move to Toronto to be around people of the same culture. I remember some of the things people said - even people in our own family - some of the terrible hurtful things. And I always felt the pain of it as if it was being said to me. I realized that I always felt the hurt when others were being condemned for their race, creed, colour, size or orientation. I became conscious of the fact that I could not tolerate intolerance! And this was what I must give to my boys.

An intolerance of intolerance.


  1. Beautifully written Kim. I've often have told people and friends, "I may be a little darker on the outside, but I'm definitely white on the inside". I know that your situation is different in many ways, but the same in some. Should've stayed in Az. J/K

  2. i agree, beautifully written. you have such a way with words...that just touch my heart. thank you for sharing that.

  3. I agree and I know you will be teaching your boys well. You are amazing and your blog always leaves me thinking. I love how it is so heartful and genuine, just like you.

  4. Great essay, and I so agree.

    I have a good friend (Caucasian) who has adopted a Vietnamese child. She is making an effort to keep her in contact with other children from Vietnam and cooks food from that culture so that she won't lose every bit of her heritage. I think it's important for her to understand that both cultures are hers.

  5. I have great empathy for you. yes I am middle america white. but I have experienced this loss of culture - of identity, of the essence of who we are - when I moved to brasil. loss of language, loss of knowledge of cooking (all the ingredients are different), loss of the famillar around you (the comfort of the famillar), loss in the feeling of belonging in the way they dress versus how americans dress. this knowledge of you is very interesting. I had noticed that your new baby was darker, his coloring is so much like yours and I thought you hispanic - with some Indian but American indian. we fill in the blanks with our own perspectives.
    for some of my comments on Cultural shock in Brasil -

    I am in Houston visiting. Houston is 60% minority and 40% 'white' so we are now the minority. My granddaugher is 50/50 but being raised in a totally white household. at school she is with more than 60% blacks (the neighborhoods out here have very few 'white' families) and often feels like she doesn't quite belong because her culture at home is not quite the same as her school friends. Last night we went to a volleyball game - 10% white in the grandstands. this is the changing face of America. I think that tolerance is slowing coming to the mainstream America - At least for me I know that my thinking has changed - living in Brasil has changed me, have my granddaughter who I love 110% has changed me. so yes make sure the boys understand the family and the coutry of your origins, but mainly teach them tolerence of all those who are differenct.

  6. oh dear that was long. and I am not sure I said what I wanted to say. I appologize for rambling.

  7. Kim, that was so honest and beautifully written. Your boys are blessed to have you and Shaune :) They will learn so much from you about acceptance, individuality, love, freedom and community.

  8. This post is so moving. It's funny how we see things from different perspectives. I see your dark skin and think it's beautiful and exotic. I can't imagine you not turning every head in high school. People can be so cruel and, as you said, intolerable. I know you and Shaune will raise Deaglan and Naveen to be strong, loving, compassionate young men.

  9. Yes, well said...intolerance of intolerance. Well said...

  10. I'm Haida Indian from Northern BC, adopted by a white family in Vancouver.
    I consider myself white as that's my culture; but from time to time the aboriginal thing comes up.
    My 21 year old daughter considers herself 50% Haida, so I suppose it's a personal perspective.

  11. My first visit here, and I am in love with this post. I was also adopted, and I can relate to feeling a certain disconnect... when you look one way, but feel a different way on the inside.

    And you sound like an amazing momma. Intolerance of intolerance? Is a wonderful gift to pass on to our kids.

  12. beautiful post. it is beautiful to know that one can learn to love oneself and accept one for whom she or he is without discrimitaion.

    I am with you with the intolerance of intolerance. That's what I hope to teach my children too.

  13. I identify with a lot of what you wrote. Growing up here (in the US) but looking different, wondering why the "white girl" were having more fun than me and wishing sometimes that I was blonde, blue-eyed. Wanting so hard to fit in. I don't want my daughter to ever feel that way.


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