I don’t see skin colour

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Featured Image Credit: Chris Buck

When someone says the word “Nude,” what are the first images that spring to mind? Nudity, naked bodies, art. What if I were to add another word to that – colour.

Nude Colour – now what?

If you don’t stop to think too hard a lot of you may have thought of peachy pastel lipsticks, pinky nail polish, light colours and muted carpet tones.

If you are someone that does not think skin colour representation is important than perhaps you have realized something even within those few words. I, as a brown woman, still unconsciously think of the colour nude as synonymous with white skin. (Something I am trying to re-learn!) You don’t see a lipstick called ‘Natural Nude’ that’s a dark brown colour.

When I was a child I remember asking my mother at Ballet class why the pinky coloured tights were called ‘skin colour.’ They weren’t my skin colour, and my legs looked strangely pale in contrast with my arms when I wore them under my leotard.
At primary school we’d say, ‘pass the skin colour pencil,’ and do you know what colour we meant? The peachy pink one. Because white was skin colour. The norm. Other colours were tan, beige, brown, black. Other.

Not so long ago my co-worker was looking at my tinted moisturizer, named ‘medium,’ and asking about how good the product was. I told her I loved it, aside from the fact that this was the darkest shade they made. So in Summer/when I am more tanned I have to buy another brand. It’s true that make-up has become a lot more ‘diverse’ these days, but there are still a large number of brands that think that all non-white people come in two or three shades. (Anyone that has some good make-up recommendations that have a broad colour range – shout out!)

As a child I had boxes of Barbie dolls all with pale skin that didn’t look like mine. The closest I’d get would be one with at least dark hair (but always silky smooth straight, or those perfect curls that nobody wakes up with, or at least not me). Where are my frizzy haired Barbies at? Just this year I was making my sister a ‘Barbie Cake’ for her birthday. The princess style one with the dress as the cake base. I surveyed a local Warehouse and I again chose out one with darker hair (they all had pale skin), because that’s what I was used to. Picking at little bits and pieces to form identification. Something vaguely similar to me was an achievement.

My favourite Disney Princess was undoubtedly Belle. Mostly for her love of books and a tinier portion for her brown hair. The golden locks of Cinderella or Aurora were not really someone that I could completely identify with. I couldn’t dress up as either of them at kids birthday parties. I mean I couldn’t really dress as Belle either – but I worked with what I had!

Now imagine little girl me being able to watch Moana.

I watched it on the opening day (of course), and pinched my thighs to quell the embarrassing welling of emotional tears that happened within the first few minutes. The entire time I was thinking imagine if I’d seen this when I was a kid! I was consciously searching out for the little Pacific Island girls in the movie theatre and getting all torn up and emotional watching them. I spent half my time studying their reactions. I spent the other half looking down the row at my dad and three sisters.

Did they feel what I was feeling?

My father got excited telling us when they sung in Samoan, whispering translations and trying to tell us about the songs. (He never gets excited in films – he always falls asleep). To this day the only two films I’ve seen him stay awake for are Big Hero 6 and Moana. In the movie theatre a white father and son behind us were discussing if The Rock was Tongan. I stifled laughter as my dad’s face strained and I knew he was was 0.001 seconds away from turning around and telling them he was Samoan.

You know why? Because he was proud.

Because being a poc you are often subject to negative images of your race and therefore are less proud of it. Because being a poc you may not even see any representation of your race at all. It’s a rarity.

REPRESENTATION IS IMPORTANT.

POSITIVE REPRESENTATION IS IMPORTANT.

I saw a post awhile ago asking ‘when you read books how do you picture the main character.’ And I always pictured them as white when the race wasn’t mentioned because that was the ‘default’. White was the norm and anything other had to be specified. That was how it was in my mind because that is how I saw it portrayed in the world.

For the majority of television programs and movies, people of colour are only depicted as minor side characters. As a plot device to move a storyline forward for the white protagonist(s). Their roles often racist and reinforcing existing negative stereotypes. They are frequently used for comedic purposes, used as a caricature. (And let’s not get started on whitewashing that’s a whole other post!).

Growing up representation on screen for me was more like ‘how many Pacific Island crime stories can I count at 7 O’Clock’. For me, it was seeing a crime reported on the news and inwardly going please don’t be a Pacific Islander/Māori. The other day at work someone broke into a bunch of cars and as I was looking through the footage, I felt this awful sinking feeling when I saw the boy and his brown skin. When my co-worker reported him to the police as ‘Pacific Island/Māori,’ I thought of the accompanying description flashing on the television as I’d seen so many times. I thought of people in their living rooms watching and saying ‘oh look another P.I./Māori crim what a surprise’.

Because when people of colour are criminals it reinforces negative stereotypes about their entire race. If it is a white man on the news that committed robbery, people don’t nod at their screens and go ‘oh white men.’ They don’t subconsciously side-eye their white male co-worker the next day. They don’t hold their bag tighter when they bypass a white male on the street. When white people are criminals, or make negative decisions, this is blamed on them personally. Their own individual circumstances – not their entire race. For people of colour every act is one that represents us entirely. And if the majority of our representation is negative, then what will our overall perception be?

I found this a lot at University, being singled out for the ‘minority opinion.’ In lectures and tutorials that spoke specifically about race, I felt the pressure of my answer having to somehow encompass the thoughts of every single woman of colour. Because it was not my words, not my own personal opinion, but for all of us. God forbid I say something wrong and incriminate everyone.

White people commonly make statements such as ‘I don’t see colour,’ or ‘race is a societal construction.’ That is because their skin colour is something that has rarely ever mattered. They don’t ever worry that they may lose out on a job opportunity for their race. If they don’t get it – they weren’t good enough. They don’t worry that their race will make them a less viable candidate for a rental home. They aren’t concerned that they will be racially profiled by police. They don’t worry that they won’t find a doll in a store that looks like them or their kid – they’ll find hundreds. If they need a new foundation, if they cut their finger, if they need new tights. They’ll find plenty of options to suit, plenty of brands to decide between. (Oh yes that’s another thing, ‘skin coloured’ band-aids/plasters).

The truth is, that when you say you don’t see race, you’re not combating racism – you are ignoring it. You are privileged enough (or ignorant, or both) to make this statement. Pretending colour doesn’t matter is not going to make racism disappear. Saying you’re ‘colour blind’ shuts down important conversations about race. Talking about it, educating ourselves, and being aware of even the little ‘insignificant,’ things are all vital in moving toward a more inclusive world.

I can’t wait for more positive representation of people of colour, for more diversity in all areas of life – even those that seem as insignificant as a child’s doll.

I see colour – all of it, and it’s beautiful.

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