why so brown?
Updated: Apr 26, 2018
Being brown is an inherent part of who I am. So why have I been afraid of it for so long?
Paint and armour
Growing up in what felt like the whitest area of the UK, I spent the majority of my youth with a face that was at least 4 shades lighter than my actual skin colour. Foundation for darker skin tones simply didn't exist in the outer reaches of Norfolk, and with a limited budget and resources, Rimmel 'tan' foundation became my saviour. Ok, so it was orange, not brown, but it was close, or at least close enough in my 13-year-old opinion, to virtually pass for the same. I just wanted to fit in, not to be stared at, or singled out from my friends. If I'm brutally honest, I just wanted to be white. I hate myself for that now.
"I just wanted to fit in, not to be stared at, or singled out from my friends. If I'm brutally honest, I just wanted to be white. I hate myself for that now."
The truth is, I could never really fit in, wherever I went. In summers spent in America with my Dad's family, I was nicknamed 'coconut' - brown on the outside, white on the inside. To my many cousins, who all lived minutes away from each other and attended culturally diverse schools, I was an anomaly. Not brown enough. For a long time, I felt embarrassed of myself, whatever situation I was in. A chubby brown kid with a penchant for Vogue and a weird obsession with clothes. I didn't look like the people in the magazines, I didn't look like the people I went to school with, I didn't even really look like my cousins.
Stories and stories
It took a long time to work out why I felt at odds with so many people. I had a wonderful, happy childhood with all the usual teenage angst, but there was always something else there. Something deep-rooted and hard to put a name to. Some intricate layer of misunderstanding or denial about who I was. The first time I came close to articulating this feeling, was having read Renni Eddo-Lodge's collection of essays 'Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race'. Controversial title aside, this book explores how different individuals can experience the same situations in totally different ways; race being the crux of that. It made sense of the rage I felt when speaking to a childhood friend about racism in Norfolk both now and then, and was met with an eye-rolling 'it wasn't that bad'. My first feeling was one of shame, after all she'd been with me throughout my teen years; perhaps I was being melodramatic - but later it turned into full-blown, full-out rage. She didn't understand that we had been standing in the same places, with completely different stories to tell.
"I realised I had spent the majority of my childhood in a state of anxiety and fear; would they deny our booking when we went to the pub for lunch? Would the bus driver ignore us and drive past on the way to school again?"
I wish I was Mrs Smith
I realised I had spent the majority of my childhood in a state of anxiety and fear; would they deny our booking when we went to the pub for lunch? Would the bus driver ignore us and drive past on the way to school again? At what exact point past 2am, would the drunken comment happen outside the nightclub? I hid away, I feared, I went inside myself and waited for these moments to happen, because they did happen, and they happened often. And it was insidious and degrading and frightening - and yes, in those moments I wished my last name was Smith. I wished I had shiny yellow hair and blue eyes, and my parents didn't speak with an accent, or that my hair didn't sometimes smell of spices. So the terrible thing I did to combat this fear, was pretend that nothing was wrong, that I was no different to anybody else. That it didn't bother me. That this behaviour was funny. I expected it, so I could never be wounded by it; except that I was. I was so deeply wounded that it took me a long time to be able to see being brown as anything other than a negative. A harder life. It took me an even longer time to say - yes, I am brown, and yes, I am proud, and yes, I am different - but aren't we all, different? Having kids has changed the way I view issues of race and identity.
"Frankly, I don't really care what you think of me. Because every colour is a million different shades, and we are all different and we are all unique - and thankfully, I now have access to the foundation shades to prove it."
I'd like to buy everyone a concealer thats the right colour
And yes, my husband is white. We have mixed race children, one who like me, is definitively 'foreign' looking, and one who is so white he could pass for a member of the Hitler youth. I never want them to have the feelings that I did growing up, and growing up in London, its unlikely they will. But they have a heritage, and it is one that I am proud of, for myself and for them. They are both brown, regardless of their colouring. As for me, I no longer care what people think about my colour. For some I will always be a dirty brown, for others I will always act or think or behave in a way they deem 'too white'. Frankly, I don't really care what they think of me. Because every colour is a million different shades, and we are all different and we are all unique - and thankfully, I now have access to the foundation shades to prove it. And like I say to my kids; we are all bloody special.
The Little Brown Book
The Little Brown Book is a collection of pictures and thoughts - firmly and proudly rooted in my life and being brown.