P O S T S I X:
“Your skin looks unclean. You’re so unclean Simran”
Those words will forever be burnt in my mind. They are the product of losing my childish innocence to the hands of a girl I thought was my friend.
She may have been playing around, but the comparison of my skin colour to that of waste, faeces and mud became so common. It was the typical angle that bullies would come at when they taunted me. I thought little of it, because I did have a great circle of friends. I played it off as bullying that occurs because children are children, and it’s no different to teasing someone who has a mark on their skin, or who is overweight.
I came to realise, years later, that it was the systemic teachings by parents, siblings and society that bred these horrendous thoughts, and made children of colour, like myself, disassociate from their heritage.
Comments stick with us, whether we like it or not. In the backs of our minds, we always have a little tape of our biggest insecurities. For the longest period of time, mine was my skin. Girls struggled with their weight, the size of their boobs, how pert their asses were. I struggled with how brown my skin is.
I spent a lot of my childhood constructing a shield around myself, to mask out negativity and convince myself that it was ok. That the comments were alright. They were little steps in making myself more Australian.
I think I almost started believing that if I was outspoken, loud, active and involved, my skin would automatically lighten. If I could convince myself and society that I was “Australian”, my skin would change and I would no longer stand out.
Obviously, it didn’t.
At the age of 10, I think I was akin to a chameleon. Masking my true colours from those who didn’t want to see it. I actively sought to weed out the indian from my life. I asked my mum to stop making me parathas for lunch, and instead give me sandwiches, or let me buy the only vegetarian option from our school canteen. I tried to give up my mother tongue – an action that I still, to this day, regret ever venturing upon. I prided myself on how non-Indian I thought I was becoming.
I played sport out in the sun. I wore shorts and singlets and played with boys. I was outspoken and loud, unapologetic and enthusiastic.
I’m still all of those things today. I’ve just had a change in attitude and mindset.
When I was 12, and I started high school, I quickly realised I was again in the minority in my grade. I was one of six Indians in a group of 150 girls. However, I remember, very clearly, being told by one of the first girls I befriended, that my skin colour was so nice and tan, and that I was lucky I was naturally bronzed and olive.
In that moment, I think I was thrust into a very different pair of glasses, because it was one of the first nice things I had heard about my skin colour from someone who wasn’t family.
I found myself in an environment where cultural diversity was celebrated. My friends and peers were genuinely interested in my culture, identity and heritage. there was great pride with knowing you did come from “somewhere else”. But I was so far away from my heritage. I was so removed from what I used to love as a child, that I didn’t know how to come back. I didn’t watch Indian movies, my Hindi had become so limited, and I stopped dancing as much because I took on different sports and activities.
I was lost between wanting to accept my skin and who I truly am, and not being able to.
In a learning environment where cultural difference was prided upon, I felt like I was losing grip on mine. By trying to mark my identity as a simple, linear path, I had lost the understanding that our identities, our bicultural identities are so complex, diverse and multi-faceted, that there is no one equation to creating our identities.
So then what brought me back?
I think it was self acceptance and the creation of a safe environment where difference was a matter of pride. I was surrounded by students who wore their differing heritages as badges of honour. It was a matter of pride to be able to fluidly move between two cultures when they felt like it. To be able to effectively communicate not only in English, but in their mother tongues as well. To relish traditional, home-cooked food. To be able to dance and sing their cultural songs.
I started immersing myself in the bits of Indian culture I knew I would always enjoy. Weddings, dance, fashion and food. I gained more interest in understanding why my mum would add certain spices to our food when she was cooking. I learnt how to cook by watching mum and just listening to the stories she would tell me about the dishes she was preparing, and how she used to enjoy them as a child herself.
I asked my parents to take both my sister and I to different parts of India every time we visited, so I could immerse myself in the different elements that make up the whole of the subcontinent. We travelled to the west, to the south. We lived like locals. Hiked to holy grounds and I learnt about my heritage. I learnt about the rich history that I come from. And I was mindblown.
I started respecting my mother tongue.
And all around me, there was an air of acceptance, that difference was and is ok. When you’re different, you’re interesting.
For so long, I had struggled with the notion of difference. I wasn’t Indian enough to be a true Indian owing to my lack of submissiveness, my inability to be a proper young lady and my terrible Hindi. But I wasn’t Australian enough in my lack of courage, my vegetarianism and my dark skin.
What I needed to realise is that the term “Australian” has no one true meaning by default. My parents immigrated to Australia because they knew the quality of life here would be better. There was no restriction on who or what made an Australian. In fact, the term Australian encapsulates the different voices, accents, beliefs and values that we all bring to the forefront and truly accept about ourselves.
To be Australian is to strongly believe in yourself and be true to yourself, regardless of the colour of your skin.
It takes time to accept. To this day, I face bigots on the street who tell me to go back to my own country because of my dark skin. And the irrational fears do sometimes creep up. But then I remember that I have so much going on for myself, knowing that by day, I am a young, confident Australian, and by night, I am a young confident Australian-Indian, dancing and singing, eating my favourite dishes, and immersing herself in two cultures that made me who I am.