On the Deaths We Choose to Mourn… And the Ones We Choose to Forget

On February 10th, 2015, Yusor Abu Salha, 21, was shot execution-style alongside her husband of six weeks, Deah Barakat, 23, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, by a man who resembles a potato. The potato-terrorist’s name is Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old while male who, according to the malestream media, shot the three innocent students over a “parking dispute” while chanting the infinite wisdom of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, renowned leaders in the progressive Islamophobic new atheists movement. Like all white men with grievances and guns, Hicks had harassed the three Palestinian-American students for their religious beliefs incessantly before finally killing them in a pre-meditated “fit of rage,” while their cars were not parked at an empty parking space.

I apologize for waiting to write about this story. As you can tell, I’m still rather upset.

However, I cannot describe the atrocious murder of these three in a clear act of terrorism without mentioning the February 6th assault of a 9-year-old Muslim boy in Sweden, whose head was smashed into the pavement by security as the 9-year-old struggled to breathe whilst reciting the shahada; or the vicious assault on a Muslim family inside of a grocery store on February 12th during which the father of a 10-year-old boy was physically beaten to the ground by a group of white men while his son was held back by bystanders from assisting his father, and while his young daughter was sexually harassed as the men demanded that she remove her hijab; or the 28-year-old Mustafa Mattan who was shot and killed through the door of his apartment on February 9th after he rose to answer a knock. Mattan was a Somali Muslim, a university graduate student who’d found work as a security guard to save for a wedding, and a humble and soft-spoken man whose funeral expenses were covered by donations that his family struggled to raise. And these are only the most prominent of countless hate-crimes motivated by growing Islamophobia. Surrounding these attacks on living, breathing people, most of whom have been made to stop living and breathing, are the February 13th burning of the Islamic Center in Huston, the February 14th vandalism (happy day of love everyone) of an Islamic school in Rhode Island, and the windows shot out of a Muslim secondary school in Montreal on February 10th.

Although the malestream media neglected to report the shooting on Chapel Hill accurately without the criticism of Twitter and independent journalists (that’s embarrassing) the Muslim community was overflowing with enough pain and outrage (and rightfully so) that eventually, reporters from CNN and MSNBC had the sense to realize their mistakes, though not without parading the “parking dispute” proposition for a few more days, checked with the words “police claim” to frame the favored excuse. Unfortunately, some expression of that pain and outrage from the Muslim community involved appropriation of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter–#MuslimLivesMatter—which was also embarrassing, and telling to say the least, considering the death of the Somali grad student had, comparatively, inspired nothing from us but the sound of crickets.

It is inarguable that Yusor, Razan, and Deah had been upstanding citizens, who built homes for those without homes, who raised money to donate to Syrian refugees, who were devoted and kind, who impacted their communities so profoundly that their efforts continued even after their deaths. It is inarguable that this world was better while they lived in it, that the loss of their lives is mourned by those loved best by God, that they were stellar Muslims and stellar human beings. But what if they hadn’t been? What if they hadn’t been the epitome of everything we uphold as ideal? What if they hadn’t been newly weds? What if they hadn’t been accepted into a university, hadn’t been planning to attend next fall? What if they hadn’t been hijabis? What if they hadn’t raised money for refugees, but had been impoverished themselves? What if they had been 16 and pregnant, or LGB or T, or… not Palestinian? —what if they, like the Somali man, shot in his apartment, whom we neglected, had actually fit the profile of the victims in #BlackLivesMatter?

Would Muslim lives matter then?

Before we “borrow” (read: appropriate) from the black community, whose struggles and movements benefit us all, it is crucial to evaluate whether those from whom we are “borrowing” are valued in our own. The relative silence in the death of Mattan, 16 hours before the deaths of Yusor, Razan, and Deah, speaks as many volumes about the racism in the Muslim community as the silence surrounding the deaths of Yusor, Razan, and Deah speaks about the American media. The Muslim community exists in a state of Arab supremacy, in which the devastation to Arab American lives—or Arab lives in a global context—is met with all the heartbreak that embraces an ideal victim, and destruction to all other lives, especially Black lives, is greeted with a shuffle of discomfort. Non-Arab lives are considerably devalued, and consequently, the narrative of their deaths neglected. As hard as it might be to face, our collective sorrow has a color.

The victims of the Chapel Hill shooting garnered this much attention in the Muslim community because the victims were upstanding. And no one should have to be upstanding for their lives to matter. There’s a really horrible sense that some who aren’t directly connected to the victims is publicly indulging themselves in the excuse to behave righteously about how good–and they were good–the victims were… and to credit the entire Muslim community through the good deeds of the respected dead. So that the Muslim American community can itself be depicted as the ideal victim.

But we are not an ideal victim. We are not all Arabs, and we are not all straight, and we are not all young and beautiful and excellent, and we are not all in positions to give rather than receive. And my heart is breaking, for Yusor, and Razan, and Deah, and for Mustafa too, and—forgive me—but especially for him. Because no one but his family is mourning him like they are mourning the victims of Hicks. And it is shattering me to the core.

.إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ‎


You have the right to bear children.

You have the right to bear children. No one may enter your body and alter the state of your existence with an entitled twist of cold medical instruments. If you are impoverished, you have the right to bear children. If you are disabled, you have the right to bear children. If you are of color, you have the right to bear children. If you are transgender, if you are intersex, if you are not heterosexual, if you are diaspora embodied, if you are ill, if you cannot read this, you have the right to bear children. You have the right to bear children in a country that is not yours. You have the right to bear children who may “burden” society for 18 years. You have the right to bear children of men who resemble you. You have the right to bear children of men whose hearts have been crushed by the weight of distress. You have the right to bear children of women in male bodies. You have the right to bear children you cannot afford. You have the right to bear children who are disabled, of color, transgender, like you. You have the right to bear children. You have the right to love, and you have the right to bear children.

And once they have been birthed, your children have the right to exist.


Imitating the Appearances of People of Color

I’ve been thinking about appropriation–not just cultural appropriation, but of a variation of appropriation that is equally if not just a little more sinister: the appropriation of appearance. This is something that is bodily, involves policing the autonomy itself of women of color, and results in valuing the woman wearing the imitation more than the woman whose body inspired it.

There is, in other words, a kind of appropriation that is merged with white supremacist ideals of beauty, and how, in order to remain the standard, these ideals have relied heavily on disparaging physical features of people of color that are otherwise “objectively” attractive. For example, the first thing that comes to mind are caricatures of black women’s/men’s lips as drawn by racist white artists. Because these lips are stereotyped to be fuller, they’ve been exaggerated in political and cultural cartoons/”art” to ridicule the entire black race.

But fuller lips are more appealing. And as a feature, they are not just appealing on women; they’re equally as appealing on men. I would even be so brazen as to argue that people who are attracted to men tend to prefer full lips on men–if not for the aesthetic, for the sensation. It’s bizarre then that this was one of the features chosen to be mocked. To be a little more impudent, I would go so far as to allege that it’s jealousy.

There’s historical evidence for this being a petulant act of jealousy. The hair of women of color, which tends to be thicker, more voluminous & abundant, and has the ability to hold a variety of styles with less effort, is constantly under attack as “frizzy”, “unkempt,” and altogether “unprofessional.” Consequently women of color are compelled to change our hair, sometimes at devastating (financial and personal) costs. And because most salons charge extra (typically an extra $10) to the list of provided services for women with “more hair,” not measured only in length but thickness (read: mostly just women of color) we’re not just driven to appeal to white standards of beauty but simultaneously discouraged from “raising our statuses” with these additional costs. But as Cassandre explains, black women were banned in the 1800s from showing their hair in public–not because it was unsightly but because it was too attractive:

Apparently, women of color were wearing their hair in such fabulous ways, adding jewels and feathers to their high hairdos and walking around with such beauty and pride that it was obscuring their status. This was very threatening to the social stability (read: white population) of the area at the time. The law was meant to distinguish women of color from their white counterparts and to minimize their beauty.

While women of color are discouraged from wearing their hair without flattening, thinning, chemically treating, or otherwise travelling great lengths to force it to comply with the settled string-yness of white hair, white women meanwhile seek out all means possible to thicken their hair–because, of course, white people quietly know what is actually attractive, and a function of institutionalized racism is convincing women of color that they aren’t, while white women transform themselves to have these very features. The shelves of any store selling shampoo are lined with products promising to provide volume. It doesn’t stop at hair either, of course–the descendants of white artists who parodied the lips of black men and women in outrageously racist cartoons are the first clients for lip injections that imitate the very feature they publicly disparage.

Black women have constellations in their hair.
(Click images for source.)
Black women have constellations in their hair.
Black women have constellations in their hair.

And a woman (most likely a white one) might angrily and defensively claim that I’m stretching it by including this, but, I kid you not, a white woman once tackled me in a drug store because I had picked up the last jet black mascara.

She was blonde.

So were her eyelashes. I was 17 at the time and aghast at the fact that I had just been tackled. Why do blonde women insist that their eyelashes have to be full and voluminous and jet black? Stunned as she flew out of nowhere into my vision and pried the mascara from my hands, I cried, “That doesn’t even match your hair!” It was a cruel thing to say, I realize. But by the mercy of all that is heavenly, she just, like, physically assaulted me. For mascara.

It’s characteristic of both women and men of color to have fuller and longer eyelashes, but that’s something desirable, that isn’t as prominent as hair or lips, and is thus never attributed to race. There’s a lot about “the problems with Asian hair” or “the problems with Black hair” but never about “the problems with white eyelashes.” White people, you’ve got to stop tackling me at Rite Aid with your eyelash issues, seriously.

She's a threat alright. Who wouldn't want to look like that?
She’s a threat alright. Who wouldn’t want to look like that?

One of the (obvious) reasons it’s so irritating that white people will often reply with, “But light skinned women tan their skin all the time!” in response to black women bleaching their skin and using harmful lightness creams is that a white woman who has tanned her skin to be the same color as a woman of color’s natural skin will be valued more highly for her beauty–even though it’s only an imitation. I don’t mean to sound all, “But are they REAL?” about this, but it’s a clear and disturbing indication of how harmful cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to appearance, is when a white woman attempts to thicken her hair, tan her skin, inject her lips, and assault a woman of color for her eyelashes and still walk out considered more beautiful. This phenomenon has all of the symptoms of a kind of appropriation: when these features/customs are worn/practiced by a white person, it’s “stylish, worldly, and beautiful”; otherwise, it’s something that needs to be altered and suppressed at all costs.

Stop Talking about Drones

This is going to be a quick post, and it’s prompted by various Muslims–and naturally, they’ve pretty much all been men trying to “put things in perspective”–detracting from the tragedy of the Nigerian girls who’ve been kidnapped, raped, and sold into slavery by competing with the attention the kidnapping is receiving, via lists of various things happening to Muslims in other places. There’s some guy’s picture circling around somewhere on the Internet with a sign reading that Michelle Obama’s husband has killed more children with drones than Boko Haram has kidnapped. I’m sure you’ve seen it. I don’t know what the FUCK is wrong with you, but you ALL need to shut the hell up.

Black women have worked HARD for this to even be a news story in the first place. The girls had been kidnapped for a month before it made international news. Maybe this tragedy isn’t tragic enough for you, but despite what you might believe the problems of black women deserve even more of a spotlight than they’ve fought to have. STOP distracting from the issue, stop using their activism as a foothold for yours, stop pushing your interests in children who look like you and pray like you at the expense of theirs. This is especially aggravating because (excuse me while I turn into an US-centric asshat for a moment here) all people of color living in the US who have immigrated here are leeching off the Black Liberation Movement, have always leeched off the Black Liberation Movement, and have time and time again failed to show solidarity with black women.

Can you shut up about colonialism for just one moment? Do you have to take over every conversation about global misogyny? What is it about violence that targets black women or involves sex trafficking that suddenly prompts men to come along and “put things in perspective”?! You there–you, the guys calling out the President’s wife for violence against Pakistani children–you will say you’ve never hurt a child but you are LIVING on a country built on the corpses of children, you are BORN of an ancestry that provided white colonialists with black slaves, you travel between the US and Saudi and engage with governments and empires who have sold out their people, and who still systematically oppress the black populations from which they’ve supplied slaves to colonialists. And you want to point fingers at Michelle Obama’s husband while she’s trying to draw attention to girls who’ve been trafficked? And whom have you killed!

By all means, talk about drones. Do it on your own damn hashtag.

Stop distracting from people who are marginalized in not only their race but their sex–THAT is something you will never understand, even as you continue to use it as a prop to promote your own agendas.

“White people don’t have a monopoly on genetic variation.” –Chally Kacelnik

I wrote this elsewhere but am posting it here for two reasons. Firstly, I want to link you to this article written by Chally stating that white people don’t have a monopoly on genetic variation and I want to talk about it. (Actually, I’m just going to grab this opportunity to link a few essentials Chally has written lately: read this one, and this one, and this one.) And secondly, last week a (white) woman informed me that she was wondering why some Latina women have such white (“I mean really, really pure white,” she emphasized) skin even when they were “mixed” and disclosed that she had decided to conduct research on the matter through which she had “discovered that there is a biological ingredient in a specific chili pepper pertinent to their diet that results in whiter skin—”

“Do you also wonder why white people have such light skin?” I interrupted rudely, forcing what I had attempted as a polite smile.

She looked startled and laughed nervously.

Enter Chally’s article. White people do not have a monopoly on genetic variation. As Chally writes, they’re depicted as blonde, green-eyed, tall, petite, brunette, stocky, brown-eyed, Roman-nosed, slim, tanned, raven-haired, violet-eyed, snub-nosed, pale, blue-eyed, red-headed… But everyone else? One generic look each. And if “other” races deviate from their assigned appearance, their features are measured on a scale of whiteness. I’ve occasionally been told I have a white woman’s mouth and chin, and it always disturbed me. These are my features, and if I identified with a race they would be the features of my race. White people also happen to have them. That doesn’t make them white. It’s not a deviation from my race.

What’s worse is that someone is denied that background if xie falls outside the idea of what a person of that race should look like. (As mentioned in Chally’s article—yes, there are red-haired, blue-eyed Kashmiri people! And yes, they are still Asian.) But that’s how you get the stereotype that all people of one ethnicity look the same and are interchangeable and easily confused with one another. The vast, expansive differences are simply not acknowledged. People train themselves not to see the differences, are taught to expect everyone to look the same, and so they comfortably never see the differences. They don’t have to recognize or confront them or leave the comfort of their prejudice.

And that’s exactly why they deny you are the ethnicity you insist you are when you disclose it to them if you don’t look like their idea of that ethnicity. (“No way! You must be mixed!”) And that’s why they get so uncomfortable when they can’t figure out what ethnicity you are when you don’t disclose it. They need a label so that they can sum up your expected characteristics in all other areas. They are used to categorizing people together like that and erasing individuality and personal identity by assigning essential physical racial attributes and reducing you to them. If you’re not white, and they can’t figure out “what” you are, they suddenly don’t know how to behave.

I’ve had people desperately guessing at my ethnicity when viewing photos of me. “Arab? Brazilian? Moroccan? Indian? Mexican?” and even trying white ethnicities, “Spanish? Greek? Italian?” even though I clearly don’t look white, because white people are given the most variety in attributes. “You still have their skintone!” (No. I have mine.) Most people are convinced I must be mixed. (I’m not.)

So! Please don’t be an asshat, thank you.

The Western Muslim Woman, Part II: Visual Presentation and Interpretation

Having thrown out the idea of identifying with a race in part I, I feel I should make something clear: as much as I see the social construct of race to be problematic, I am not interested in ripping race away from other people. I know that others identify with race for reactionary reasons, or because it gives them in a sense of community in a country that is mostly white and won’t stop reminding them, or because the cultural practices tied to race make them feel closer to their families. Quite frankly, I don’t care about the reason: it is anti-feminist to forcibly remove things that are so close to people, on which they have built their identities, and that on an individual basis aren’t contributing to the oppression of others. And it would be no different from an anti-religious feminist attempting to convince me to leave Islam, or a radical feminist attempting to convince me that my performances of femininity are destructive. Furthermore, as I mentioned in the previous part, not identifying with a race does not allow one to opt out of racism, and from a practical approach, pretending the construct doesn’t exist or coercing others not to identify with it is at this point only a convenient way of ignoring the problem. I’ve frequently encountered people who don’t identify with a race and believe that they therefore are incapable of racism.

But we can still be both agents and victims of racism, because race is something others interpret, most often from our appearances—especially as women. And these judgments are based on poorly “recognized” common attributes, and on stereotyping that erases the individual. To illustrate, I had a rather unpleasant reoccurring experience these past few days. With finals approaching, I’ve been wearing my hair in a simple high ponytail; although, my hair is so abundant that hardly anything is simple: I had to keep the long wavy raven locks up with pins and clips to hold it in place—and to ensure it stayed it had to be straightened. It normally flows down my waist, but held up ended mid-back, just below the band of my bra.

“You look so beautiful with your hair like that!” a woman exclaimed.

“Thank you,” I smiled.

“You look like Princess Jasmine!”

I felt my smile falter a little, but knowing she was attempting to give me a compliment, I held it fast in its place and half-heartedly thanked her again. Maybe it wasn’t racial, I assured myself, maybe I really do look like Jasmine. I even passed by a mirror quickly to check, giving her the benefit of the doubt.


Nonetheless I chose to believe she wasn’t being racist. It is much easier to not be offended. Offense is not enjoyable. She just meant the hair; she meant the hair looks like Jasmine’s, and not all of me and that’s why I don’t see it, I told myself, pushing away questions like But would she have said that to any woman with long dark hair?

And then it happened three more times with three different people, and just as I was thinking Well, I guess I really must look like Jasmine… the last one added, “You and [name redacted] both remind me of Princess Jasmine.”

And the woman to whom she was referring and I looked nothing alike, except that we had a similar skintone.

And we’d both mentioned being Muslim.

Her hair wasn’t even long.

“…Except, I don’t know if Jasmine was Muslim,” she added.

If you’re talking about how close I am to looking like her how the hell is that even relevant? I thought irately. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to say anything. The notion of comparing real women to Disney princesses itself was already disturbing, and what was more disturbing was that for these observers who assign me a race in my refusal to disclose one, “Muslim” had become a personality type that was conveyed and identified through an iconic—and cartoon—appearance. I don’t share most of Jasmine’s actual personality—but although I find her one of the least interesting of Disney princesses, she does have one. Friends who know my actual personality have said consistently, “You’re more of an Ariel or a Belle. And maybe a little Megara.” But it doesn’t matter who I am, or who Jasmine is, because she’s possibly Muslim, and we have the same skintone.

The title of this post is an archetype, but this post is really about me. And I must emphasize this, because I am not representative, and because this terrible inclination people have to group minorities together is so destructive to the point where several people of color feel uncomfortable sitting next to someone who resembles them in appearance, because any observer walking by would immediately assign a race or assume some relation.

One of the beautiful things about hi’ jab is that, at least in the privileged West, it is association by will, an act of choosing one’s community rather than being assigned. I don’t wear the headscarf, but I’m quite possessive of my faith—it’s who I am. But it’s not who I am the same way it is who another Muslim woman is, and it’s incredibly discouraging that such an obvious thing need be said. When you’re in a position of disadvantage, like being a religious minority and a woman of color, the balance between the erasure of your individuality by stereotyping and the show of your solidarity with your sisters is delicate.

In defiance of the misogynistic contention that menstrual blood is unclean, I apply nail polish when I’m on my period to shamelessly announce that I’m menstruating. It is, essentially, an act of rebellion and a recognizable practice of freedom under the circumstances of my religious community. And it is truly reactionary, considering I’m not as enthusiastic about having my nails done as I am with other performances of beauty. It is an act in which a couple of other women have begun participating, and it’s a deliberate show of solidarity demonstrated by an actual practice rather than assigned race, and—in a state of the Islamic community where women who practice femininity are viewed as unruly—it is not oppressive the way it is in a white narrative, but (at this point) rather liberating.

I wear kohl because I think it’s beautiful, but also because it’s a valuable cultural preparation for me, and one that has been a great deal separated from race miraculouslywithout becoming white—if there’s any feminist who rants against performances of femininity and cannot see how that alone is independently significant, I would question her legitimacy in the movement. It reminds me of old movies, and in not having a race and in reclaiming my right to influence American culture so that it isn’t only white people who are privileged to define it, it is just a little alleviating in making me feel that I belong somewhere.

I wear red lipstick because it is beautiful, and also because my mother often wore it when she was young and naïve, and a little happier because she was so full of hope. And I want to hold on to her, because I love her, and because I don’t have an ancestry. And so it’s aggravating when white radical feminists, who most certainly can trace their ancestry and from the perspective of others are fairly imbedded in their culture and thus are privileged enough to feel so, want to strip away these performances of femininity.

At a fundamental level, I identify as a radical feminist (namely, I’m anti-pornography [still pro-sex]), though I disagree greatly with some of the proclamations of radical feminists, the most outrageous of which is the assertion that my performance of femininity reminds “marginalized” women—“marginalized” because they have chosen to defy patriarchy by not participating in conventional performances of beauty—that they are considered “undesirable”, and actively alienates them by reinforcing these societal beauty standards, erected as survival mechanisms, in which they do not partake.

You’re kidding me right? You—a feminist, and a woman, specifically a white woman—are telling me—a feminist, and a woman, specifically a woman of color—that I am contributing to your marginalization. That I am doing this by oppressing you with my body. That I am doing this specifically because I am participating in an act of rebellion that your white narrative does not recognize, and one that enables me to practice my own freedoms and retain my bodily autonomy rather than falling over for you. That when I wear makeup in attempt to achieve the standards of beauty that are centered around YOU—to which YOU, with your platinum blonde hair, will always be closer without makeup—I am wearing blackface.

Very often, radical feminism in all its racist, slut-shaming glory is the patriarchy.

I’m not the kind of woman who has to wear makeup whenever she leaves. And I can tell you that when I’m not wearing it, I really don’t give a fuck about who is. I don’t see a woman who is wearing makeup and think, “OMG SHE IS SOOO OPRESSING ME RIGHT NOW!” And anyone who does has her narcissistic head up her ass. What’s most enraging is that this is the ideology claiming that feminism doesn’t oppress women, patriarchy does—when they are the ones asserting that feminists wearing makeup are oppressing women who don’t. (Oh it’s insufferable.) Feminism doesn’t oppress women, but feminists sure as hell do. And when you are telling a woman that when she practices her right to her own body she is oppressing you, you sound exactly like the rape apologist who tells her she deserved it because she was oppressing him with her cleavage! When you tell her that if she really cared about women she’d surrender her bodily autonomy for your cause, you sound like the obnoxious dudebro who insists that if you really loved me you would sleep with me.

And when you rip away meaningful things from women because you don’t understand the significance from your white narrative, you are the patriarchy. It doesn’t matter if it’s mascara, religion, or a surname. You are erasing their cultures and the practices that are just as rightfully women’s—practices that that have been seized by patriarchy and should be reclaimed—and, by judging them sexist, validating the framework men have established to define these institutions instead of allowing women to represent them.

I understand what expectations of beauty do to women. Books have been written. It has been covered, over and over, and it is still in need of more coverage. But please be aware of imperialist, dehumanizing attitudes and white centrism.


One of the incredibly inspirational women I follow on Twitter tweeted that her mother in law, who was visiting, had said about her sweet adorable daughter, “I wish the baby was fair like you and not dark like me.”

And it was heart-breaking. Not only the reality that would be difficult to address with the little girl, but the self-deprecation of the mother in law.

If I described the lovely child, she has tea-colored skin. A little bit lighter than tea, with olive undertones–the same olive undertones of her amazing mother, who (if I remember correctly) is white.

And the same as mine. I’ve debated writing about skin before but always put it off, because it’s difficult to estimate my own privilege. Olive skin can be fair, but it also tans very quickly and easily. I’m at a medium right now, so I will be forced to demonstrate with swatches of makeup. At my lightest I look like this:

And when I’m rather tanned:
Looking at the swatches now, they don’t look very dark. (It is understandable if you are scoffing at this point.) But that is assuredly because the swatches are liquid-y and transparent. It’s different when gathered as denser pigment in your skin and associated with a race other than white. I have had to endure the inflictions brought by the prejudice of colorism, but I feel like it’s not my place to speak of them because other women are darker and consequently have had experiences that are so much more horrible. It’s similar to what I feel when prejudices against headscarves are discussed: I can’t bring myself to talk about what it’s like to be judged for not wearing them, the discerning looks and the thick smiles and the expressions that say how can she know what she’s talking about when she doesn’t look devout? because the women who do wear them are actual targets of harassment.

There’s also a sense of guilt because I don’t have to be dark (I feel weird about even using the words dark and fair because they’re entirely relative), and so not only do I feel that I am wrongfully drawing attnetion away from the voices of women who hurt much more than I do, but that I’m doing it on purpose. If I wanted to, I could stay inside or always walk in the shade or something and never tan. Except that with olive skin, you can be in the shade and if the sun is even up you’ll start to tan. You just start absorbing it, even when you’re not beneath. I can get a tan in the middle of winter. If the sun’s up and there are clouds in its way, I’ll still start to tan. To truly never tan I would have to stay inside.

And that is no way to live.

And yet it’s a life that many women choose from when they’re alarmingly young. At age seven I remember racing across the blacktop, turning to look back, and seing two of my friends (both of Vietnamese descent and lighter than me) shrink into the shade of a nearby building.

“Why don’t you want to play?” I demanded.

“It’s sunny. We’ll get dark.”

I wanted to play with them, so I joined them in the shade. For about two minutes, that is–I couldn’t stand it. “We’re not doing anything here! I’m going on the swings!”

Dreamers can’t be held when there are swings that are free.

Though my own experiences don’t exist in a vacuum, I can only describe what I know: I can’t speak for the women who have it worse, who’ve used “fairness” creams, who’ve been driven to bleach their skin, who’ve hurt themselves dangerously and emerged believing they were more beautiful.

When I walk into a department store there is foundation in my shade. The olive undertones aren’t catered to–most times foundation undertones are either pink or yellow when there’s so much more to skin–but the generic shade is available. There are celebrities with my skin, and the implication that a woman with my skin-tone can still be an iconic beauty.

But I did grow up hearing, “You were so fair when you were born. You could be still, you know, if you just stayed out of the sun.”

I grew up hearing, “Wow it’s been 30 minutes and you’re so much darker than when you first left! You’ve stayed out there for too long!”

I grew up hearing, “You have such deep eyes and pretty lips. If only you’d stay out of the sun. Why be dark when you don’t have to be? Do you know how many girls would love to be able to control their shade?”

Because my skin color can change drastically, there was pressure from everyone to change it and maintain it according to an unrealistic (for me) standard of beauty. And it was always super disturbing.

But it wouldn’t matter how light I am anyway, because it will never be light enough. As I said earlier, there are clear ties to race and racism: the little girl has the same skin tone as her white mother, and yet she is perceived as darker because she’s mixed. It’s really absurd, and it’s an example of white as default: only white people can have light skin. Or, if you have certain features that are coded as white–those are white features, even as you’re not white. Because white people also happen to have them, and therefore they “own” them even if you happen to have them too; these features are defined as white by privileged white people and considered beautiful by privileged white people, who then force these standards on the rest of us through media outlets and actively contribute to the oppression of people of color.

I’ve always loved my skintone no matter what shade it happens to be at any given moment. It’s the undertones. Like seriously, (excuse obnoxious moment here) sometimes I lie in bed and hold my hand against the light of the window and marvel at the caramel-y shade. I can’t really describe it. My mother, who’s also got the same undertone but in a lighter shade with more peach, has tried as well. “It’s not really like anything,” she’s said. “There’s a different quality to it.” Skin has notes to it, like perfume. Often I live in my head (because I am an escapist) where everyone loves their own skin and it saddens me when little things like this remind me of how far that is from reality.