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.