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Hi, xoJane. It is I, Brown Girl Faz.

The first time I experienced racism was in a classroom when I was nine years old. I didn’t know what was happening, but I understood that there was a lot of hate there while my teacher loomed over me and said, “You know why I didn’t call on you to answer my questions? Because your skin is black.”

She spat the word black like it gave her boils.

I’m from Singapore. One of the richest nations in the world, touted as a cultural and religious melting pot with racially harmonious Rainbow Brites running around throwing glitter in the air. I’m calling bullshit. I have never felt like I belonged in this country a single day of my life.

Products that are supposed to whiten your vaginas may be new to the beauty market in Asia, but the correlation between dark skin and “dirtiness” is not anything new. You don’t even have to look further than the makeup counters and drugstores –- no colors exist after a certain shade of beige.

I should explain the racial make-up of Singapore:

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It is a country of 5 million people, with Chinese making up 74% of the population, Malays -13%, Indians – 9% and the rest are Eurasians and other minority ethnicities. Right from the time you are born, your ID tells you what race you are. Nobody identifies themselves as Singaporean first; your racial identity is what you are first and foremost.

I was already a cultural mess to begin with -– unlike most of Singapore whose first languages are their arterial languages (i.e., the Chinese speak Mandarin, the Malays speak Malay, Indians speak Tamil), I come from an English-speaking Indian family.

So while kids hung out with other kids who spoke their mother tongue at recess, I spent my lunchtime solo with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Enid Blyton.

In hindsight, what appalls me most is not how merciless my peers were in school, but how many of the educators were equally if not more vindictive. The teacher I mentioned earlier? She taught me English, Math and Science for two years and made me sit by myself right at the back of the class. The whole two years I was made to feel worthless and disgusting, and the entire time I thought it was my fault.

I was to blame because I had skin that matches the earth. I deserved it all.

When I was 11, we were told to write poetry and present it in class. A boy wrote about me. Not a sappy puppy love letter, mind you –- it was a poem about how fat I was, how black I was and how I was a mess, I shouldn’t exist. Instead of doing anything about it, the teacher (a different one) laughed with him and with the rest of the class.

High school was no exception of course. People tend to think that just because I’m Indian, I couldn’t speak anything else other than Indian languages but my multi-lingual background allowed me into a world where people spoke about you in languages they thought you didn’t understand.

Let me tell you –- oblivion can be blissful. I can never erase the things people have said about me in front of me just because they thought I wouldn’t understand.

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The only dark skinned girl in the room

At 15, when my self-esteem was probably at its lowest, I walked past a bunch of guys talking openly about me: “If Faz were fairer, she’d be pretty.”

Keling (the Indian equivalent of n*gger). Burnt. Black skin. Dirty. I’ve been called the worst names from fellow Singaporeans.

It’s funny because one of the lines in the Singapore pledge is “We are the citizens of Singapore… Regardless of race, language or religion.” You’d recite this pledge every morning in school for at least 10 years of your life, but who actually means what they pledge?

Which is why I love being in the US –- there’s foundation that matches my skin, I see Indian, Chinese and African-American people on TV and I don’t feel like people are constantly judging me based on the color of my skin.

While I work and surround myself with people who never look at my skin color as something that defines me, I walked into an elevator just last week and had two guys talking about me in Malay. Of course I told them off as I stepped out, but it’s so disheartening.

I spent an hour looking through local magazines for a dark-skinned person and I couldn’t find any. What I could find were pages and pages of whitening products. Minority races on the main English TV channel are never main characters -– they are usually obese and made fun of (don’t get me started about how I’m a US Size 8 and “obese” in Asia).

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Cross-racial elation going on here y’all

For now, as far as I’m concerned, I know it starts with me. I will call anybody out for racism, I will continue writing and featuring people of all colors and sizes in my work, I will teach my children that your skin is something you should be so proud of because skin itself is a miracle, no matter what shade of awesome you are.

One day maybe Singapore will follow suit.

XOJane

This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Faz on XOJane!

  • http://gravatar.com/chanela17 chanela17

    “f Faz were fairer, she’d be pretty” i was told this in high school too. SMH (of course my name isn’t faz though) aha.

  • Anthony

    I’m sure glad that your experience in America has been positive for you. America is not a racial heaven, but enough dark people have raised a fuss long enough that open expressions of racism are considered unacceptable although they certainly do still happen. By the way, never forget that the words black and beautiful go together just fine, and you are certainly a beautiful young woman.

  • BeanBean

    Her skin is beautiful, and her hair is to die for. Women pay big bucks for hair like that! Don’t let the ignorant dumb arses get you down. A lot of people think whites are to blame for this. But the truth is the whole skin color thing in Asia has been around for a few thousand years, just look at ancient art work. Chinese, Japanese, Korean on top, all the other Asians on the bottom. Size 8 obese…oh my!

  • http://tontonmichel.tumblr.com/ Tonton Michel

    Her journey was heartbreaking, glad she found some peace of mind and had the strength not to let their attitudes poison her self esteem.,

  • http://clutch pretty girl

    The problem is not yours…it is there’s. The best revenge is living a good life. Oh, by the way the US have the same problem. Especially some black men, they will chose anything under the sun, but there own.

  • Fantastico

    Not far from anal bleaching trend.

  • Fantastico

    When it comes to Colorism among people of African descent yes it is the white Europeans fault. Being dark was not a problem for us until Colonialism and Slavery.

  • Mr. Man

    Well I just came in here to post the FACT that you are absolutely beautiful and your skin tone accounts for 97% of it. Be strong my sista, there is not a thing wrong with you.

  • omfg

    i hate to sound like a debbie downer, but i sometimes find it so difficult to have sympathy for indians and others who talk about discrimination they say they’ve felt. indians are incredibly racist toward black people everywhere in the world, including in the united states.

    i’m sure the indians in singapore talk isht about black people when the opportunities arise.

  • BeanBean

    Oh yes I know that. But referring to Asians, it’s been this way, way before they even knew whites existed. Whites in some ways exacerbated their skin color issues. The truth is most people in Africa are probably about 100 years behind socially when it comes to hair and skin color. It’s sad that Africans are worse off than black americans when it comes to skin and hair. I would’ve thought that Africa is a sanctuary for black skin and kinky hair, guess not.

  • Yb

    I share you sentiments at times. I’ve experienced horrible racism from Indians and other Asians in Nigeria, of all places. But even though I am still sympathetic to those who experience racism.

  • Anthony

    The same thoughts crossed my mind, but I see no point in dumping all history on the head of this young woman. I do hope, however, that she calls out racism against people of African origin when she sees it.

  • http://gravatar.com/nacee24 nacee24

    horrible things were said to you as a child. No child should ever be made to feel the way you had. Get the last laugh. be happy!

  • noir45

    Serita, I was like whaaaa???

  • noir45

    Whaaaa? anal bleaching? Lord hammercy. That’s just as crazy as vagina whitening.

  • http://www.straightnochase.com josie

    :(

  • guest

    I hate to break this to you but, as a young black man with very dark skin, I had some pretty nasty things said to me by sisters who were darker than I am.

  • The Other Jess

    and successful! that always gets their gall.

  • http://twitter.com/aymarn мùħάммάd άίмάή άмίή (@aymarn)

    Now I’ve seen that photo from somewhere! haha

  • jcross

    ^^^THIS!!! Of course I don’t blame Faz for the beliefs that many of her people have about black people; she’s an individual, as Yb and Anthony pointed out. I empathize with her story and am happy that she’s speaking on what’s always brushed under the rug. But I totally feel what you’re saying! Every other non-white race on the planet has had their turn running over black people and feeling relieved that white people don’t show them as much contempt as they do us, but when white people (or the ruling class in their countries) remind them of ‘their place’, they expect black people to stand with them and protest. Ummmm, where are you during our most turbulent times? I know where, whistling and pretending they don’t see what’s going on…

    And again, I’m speaking in general.

  • http://www.labelwhorre.com labelwhorre.com

    omg..bless your soul..i had to curse some of them out when i was in Lagos…REAL RACIST even to their own race..literally they rape and burn outcastes in their society…but that being said I am happy she found her ground and she is free from the self torment..Hope she wont one day join in and discriminate against blacks.

  • http://www.thinkaboutit-knowaboutit.com/ Danté

    This is what I used to think as well. Then I met my former boss, an Indian woman from Singapore with dark-brown skin who married a Senegalese man with the blackest of skin. She is 65 and I’m 22; we had a very traditional employer-employee relationship. But that all changed when we started discussing race and racism one day. She told me how she found it deplorable how whites had managed to erase the history of black civilizations (including the black Dravidians), how she had made it a point to take her children to Goree Island (where her husband is from) and other old slave ports, and how she used to hate the British colonizers. We had a nice little conversation about those things and more. I guess my point is, there are still people out there who realize that all black and brown skinned people have been beaten by the hand of the same oppressor. I wouldn’t sell all Indians short.

  • Emy

    You’re right about Indians. They’ve had that “white is right” mentality before white people came to their country. Some of their gods are represented with fair skin and some people would whiten to look a bit more like them.

    But what a lot of African Americans fail to realize is that Africans have been brainwashed just like every other person of African descent. It’s not even that people hate their natural hair, it’s just that they’ve never seen it. You grow up and see your mom, your sisters, your aunts, etc. relaxing their hair and you just go along with it. It’s one thing to hate your hair but another when you don’t even know what it looks like. I can’t speak for all the countries in Africa but I know that in Senegal, people are moving slowly but surely away from the “white is right” mentality.

  • Anthony

    That is true. The other day at work, a colleague of Middle Eastern descent showed me a blog by a black writer that critiqued aspects of American response to the Boston bombing. I could not help but think, “for a man of color, you can act awfully white most of the time.”

    As I said earlier, I hope Faz stands against racism when she sees it aimed at people of African origin because we black people are tired of having wet shoulders from people crying on them only to have those same people kick our butts when they are granted “white” status.

  • Cocochanel31

    OMG I almost cried reading this! And this young lady is sooo beautiful OMG!
    My question to her is how was your support system at home? To have to endure that from teachers AND children as a child is just unacceptable.
    Keep fighting girl and embracing yoour BEAUTIFUL CHOCOLATE skin!

    I always thought Indian woman her skin color were so beautiful!

  • http://gravatar.com/cocovabarbie Kema

    I have too many Indian friends to agree. Dont let the loud minority speak for the majority.

  • Sandy

    @ BeanBean: ‘The truth is most people in Africa are probably about 100 years behind socially when it comes to hair and skin color’. Why do people always say ish about Africa? Black people everywhere have been affected by white supremacy & for a long time, we’ve all harbored insecurities about our skin & hair. The situation isn’t worse with Africans than it is with African-Americans, Blacks in the Caribbean or Blacks in South-America. We’ve all been affected. I’m a dark-skinned woman who grew up in Ghana & in my personal experience, although guys at home used to adore light-skinned girls, they also used to praise dark-skinned girls because majority of women in Ghana are dark-skinned. It was when I came to the States that I started feeling that maybe my skin is too dark & my hair isn’t long enough because all the ‘beautiful’ women I saw on tv & magazine covers were light-skinned with long hair.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    so move…..

  • Anthony

    The same could be said about you and the USA.

  • http://gravatar.com/jamesfrmphilly jamesfrmphilly

    have you heard me complain about being in the US?
    if you are the only black person in singapore moving is a simple solution.

  • Anthony

    I think among academics and intellectuals we see the most support for the notion of unity among people of color. Among many of the small business people, one will see the most prejudice.

    It is also worth noting that Black/Indian relations in the Caribbean have often included competition as well as mixing and mingling.

  • Kam

    She stated that she is living in the United States. So she did move.

  • The Comment

    Wow!!!!

    Well. You in America now girl and you are rocking the hell out of that lipstick. Yes ma’am!

  • The Comment

    @BeanBean

    When I first witnessed Asian/Indian self hate I was floored! My jaws dropped. Like,,, what??? Ole girl called you tar baby?? Damn. But I think Azns and Indians are just out in the open. They are not PC AT ALL. And it is a group activity to shame people. Like a sporting event.

    Living and working in SF I’ve seen this behavior all day. I think it is worse as you say it is. I agree.

  • The Comment

    You know what @Guest..your right. We always blame men for this color divide but I clearly remember girls taunting the dudes that were dark. Saying nasty things. I don’t think chicks like to admit of some of the evil stuff they have done. Everything we blame men for can equally be directed at women/girl too.

  • The Comment

    I had the same experience from my best friend in high school. She’s from Belize and she schooled me on the history of Africans who were enslaved throughout South America.

    What amazed me was that none of my black teachers ever told me these things. I had to learn that black pride is global. Not everyone finds pleasure in selling out their history.

  • http://gravatar.com/sealinewuman sealinewumanwuman

    @jcross

    This. It’s gotten to the point where I find it increasingly difficult to empathise with or join in the struggles of other minority groups because when black people need allies in our own struggles, all you hear is crickets, while we’re expected to take on everyone’s struggles on our shoulders and march in solidarity. Sorry, no I don’t care about you anymore. You don’t get to come here (and I’m including my own West Indian peoples in this), benefit from the struggles of African Americans, then when the going gets tough, either stay silent or turn around and s*&t on them, with that “not like them bulls%&t”. Nope, no, sorry, I just can’t.

    As for this piece, like omfg said, I find it hard to sympathise cause well, I grew up with and am still related to some pretty racist a$$ Indians, and I can almost guarantee for all the crap she’s been put through, and the names she’s been called, if she brought home an actual black partner of African decent, her parents or family members reactions would quite possibly be along the same lines of those of her former tormentors.

  • jcross

    @ Anthony

    Absolutely.

  • Anthony

    James, Indians are a traditional segment of Singapore’s population, just like African Americans are a part of the USA.

  • jcross

    @ sealinewumanwuman

    It’s disgusting. Were you treated the way Faz was as a child? Those classroom incidents she had were awful to say the least.

  • http://gravatar.com/sealinewuman sealinewumanwuman

    @Jcross

    Yeah it is disgusting, and I was treated like that by members of my own family. I had one aunt in particular who would cuss and moan about the “black pepper grains” at the nape of my neck every single time she had to comb my hair for any reason. I still get the “stay out of the sun” talks and the “why don’t you straighten your hair more often, you look so pretty with straight hair” comments from this heffa, I just ignore them and rock my curly fro every time I’m forced/threatened/bribed/guilted into going to a family function, simply because the glow I get from the “oh my god she’s flaunting her blackness!” looks are even better than an orgasm (yeah I’m petty like that), I’ll probably be the death of my poor mother.

    The first prep school we went to was fine, at the second school my brother came home bloody and with torn uniforms most days, usually on my behalf. I also remember there was one other half black half Indian girl who was my best friend, and a boy as well at that school in second grade, he was so quiet and the kids would torment him daily. I promise you that I didn’t know this kids name for a long time because they used to call him blackah shine, meaning he was so dark that he was shiny. And this was in Jamaica, so believe that Caribbean racial utopia bullchit if you want to, the only difference is that it’s usually directed at what they call coolies (black/Indian mixes). At my prep school the only kids that got treated worse than we did, were two Indian girls that came into our class in third grade, one from India and the other one from Guyana. We basically formed a little gang and they left us alone for the most part after that.

  • Medusa

    Erm.. an African (from Africa here)- people DO hate the natural texture of their hair. Like, constant ridicule, “you look like a drug dealer you need to relax your hair it doesn’t look nice, black people are supposed to have straight hair” hatred of their own hair.

    Faz is fucking gorgeous. Her facial features. Her skin tone. Her flawless complexion. All of it. Fuck colorism and racism.

  • http://twitter.com/fazabdulgaffa Faz Abdul Gaffa (@fazabdulgaffa)

    Just saw my article here!

    I completely agree about Indians being racist against black people, and hell, against their own people because of caste, color, ridiculous nonsense.

    But my boyfriend is black, and he is finnnnneeeeee. ;o)

  • Mel

    I had a traumatizing childhood (school wise only) too. You’re gorge though. And, you seem happy now. Which means, all the ignoramuses lost.

  • Maya

    This girl is gorgeous- hair, colour and features included. Unlike the Chinese, who really don’t have any unique features, this girl stands out. With being called obese- again Chinese don’t have a shape, so obviously curves to them is obese. The strongest and the most intelligent are those who are melanin dominated-!look at sports , and the Tamils in India. I wouldn’t blame the whites, but in trying to cover up their insecurities and issues the caucasians did a lot of harm. The chinese worship the white man, coz they like paper chasing and going for the next best fad. In other words, Caucasians and whites see the world from outside-in. Watch how they burn as the sun gets stronger. Nature will give justice soon, and she’s unfair.

  • Starla

    You are gorgeous! Thank you for sharing!

  • Maria

    True y come to USA about your race complex over there, hell would your country even care if a Black USA come there crying about being Black in the USA.
    SMDH

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