Yes, I’m Brown: Learning to Love the Color of My Skin 

I was four years old and it was my first day of pre-school. I still remember being incredibly shy and barely speaking English, or even understanding it for that matter. What were we supposed to do in pre-school? At first, I enjoyed it. We went over letters and numbers, we sang, and we colored quite a bit. I remember looking for the skin colored, peachy crayon that day. Instead, I was handed some old, barely used brown crayon. Brown? I thought I asked for the “skin crayon.” That’s when my new friends told me: “But look! You’re not skin colored, you’re brown!” I went home that day and cried. Brown was dirty. And so, I felt dirty.  

My mom always tried convincing me that I was beautiful, even when I was four. She or my grandma would braid ribbons into my hair and do my nails from time to time, so the aspiring princess inside me felt pretty. I asked my mom why Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, or Ariel weren’t brown. Sure, there was Jasmine. But why did she seem like the only one? Growing up, I always saw Indian beauty products made for the specific purpose of lightening facial skin tone. It was called “Fair and Lovely” and my mom used it. I used it throughout high school. I looked lighter and I liked that. It became routine and I forgot about it. It wasn’t until I came to college that I once again, felt the color of my skin. 

I grew up in Chicago. You can walk down any block in Rogers Park and see people with all the shades of skin you can imagine. Now, I was in some small, rich town in Ohio. One of my friends back home asked me how I felt being one of the few people of color on campus. I had to think about it for a second. Part of me felt fine, and the other part of me felt out of place, like four year old me with the brown crayon. I was incredibly homesick. I wanted to go home and cuddle with my mom until I felt better, just like I did when I was four. I missed the food I grew up with. I missed the cultural family drama at home. I missed speaking my language with my friends. I missed being able to find foundation in my shade of tan. I eventually realized that my skin represented aspects of my upbringing and culture. I missed seeing people who looked like me. 

I had always been so insecure about my skin that I never thought about what it meant and how it showed who I was. It took me a while to get here, but I don’t feel dirty anymore. Instead, I feel Indian. Sometimes, I still get homesick. Learning to love the color of my skin has made me feel like part of home is always with me. It’s like I carry heritage everywhere I go, and that makes me feel the type of beautiful Fair and Lovely never could.