“Oh my God, you’re Pakistani? No way!”
“But you’re so white!”
An awkward silence would follow every time someone would define my skin tone in relation to my heritage. In the past, my adolescent self would sit there, unsure of how to respond to such an observation. Did I nod? Did I deny it? Still, confused and awaiting stares were the responses I would get every time I would throw back an answer that was different from what was expected. Over time I learned the “correct” answer that would set those impatient stares to rest.
Everything was fine. Everyone was satisfied. Nothing anyone said was alarming or unnerving. Being “white” was something to take pride in. Lighter skin tone was something to be admired and to be complimented on. As if white did not always mean good. In fact, white did not mean anything at all.
Whiter skin was only just that. Skin.
Now, I do have a lighter skin tone in comparison to other Pakistanis. But that does not mean anything to me, and it shouldn’t mean anything to anyone else either. Color is only color. And despite the fact that our society has frowned upon racism for so long, discrimination still exists.
But what saddens me immensely is the fact that this concept has found its way to the roots of even our Muslim communities. Islam is a religion of equality. No one man is better than the other. No ethnic group is superior to any other in the eyes of God. And that is what us Muslims, if not all humans, must understand.
Thus, this dilemma sinks deeper when the roots branch down to ethnic groups. Amongst the Pakistani community, I’ve heard girls being pressurized by their mothers to “bleach” their skin to make their skin tone lighter. Going out into the sun without sunscreen is scorned upon because a “tan never looks good on dark skin.” But my question is: Why does anyone care what a tan looks like on someone who is “brown?” More so, why is a darker skin color considered something that must be altered or fixed? Bleaching and sunscreen — all to manipulate and maintain skin tone?
I remember slowly, as the years went on, I began to question this acceptable response of “thank you.” And then, one day, I stopped thanking those who did not believe me to be Pakistani, the people who went on to say I had lighter skin.
I was not thankful for having lighter skin or for being a Pakistani who did not have to bleach. I was not thankful at all. And quite frankly, I do not care what color my skin tone is, and I certainly don’t respect you if you do.