Tag Archives: #brownskingirl

Harris Makes History

“And one day, like a miracle, he’ll be gone.”

This was my favorite yard sign during the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election. During the darkest days marked by mounting COVID-19 deaths, and dog whistles to white supremacists from the White House, it seemed that day would never come.

Votes were cast before or on November 3, and for one, then two, then three days after, an anxious nation awaited the results, dispensing with sleep and most forms of healthy nourishment. We are dealing with the shock that half the nation actually voted to keep Donald Trump in office.

Four years later, this is another wake-up call for Democrats. Who are these people? Who is being left so far behind that they believe Donald Trump is their savior? There have been some analyses, talk of a shrinking middle class, traditionally the Democratic base. Some speculate that perhaps a shift of the population to the edges, those with either very low or very high incomes, have enabled Trump, The voting demographics will be revealing.

A few hours into the morning of Saturday, November 7, after hours of vote-counting, the Associated Press called the state of Nevada and Pennsylvania for Joe Biden. The news flashed across the television networks and Twitter in seconds, and a tidal wave of jubilation took over. My immediate reaction was visceral: I was in tears at what has been achieved with Harris’s victory.

My favorite headline, “Biden wins, Harris makes history” said it all. First woman VP. (Really, America? How shameful that it has taken this long.) First Black person. First Asian American, specifically, the first person of Indian descent.

Shyamala Gopalan came to the US at the age of 19, as I did, to pursue an education. We know the story, of how she got involved soon after in the civil rights movement, where she met Donald Harris who became her husband. How later, as a single mother, with a strong moral compass, she raised her daughters as Black girls and taught them that they could be anything, do anything. On November 7, Kamala’s sister, Maya Harris, tweeted this: 

Kamala Harris’s ascent to the most powerful position any woman has ever held in America is a striking reminder of “possibilities” – the single word Joe Biden chose to describe America in his acceptance speech. With a full heart, I told my daughter, “You can be President! You are like Kamala. Born in America to an Indian mother.” Never mind that she replied, with teen wisdom combined with sarcasm, “Why would I want to be President?!” In 2016, my daughter, then 11, and I watched in horror as state after state was called in favor of Donald Trump. That night, I went to bed at 9 PM, knowing where things were headed, and unable to bear it. I woke up to the horror. I remember the shock on my daughter’s face when I told her the results. To express my anger, frustration, and despair, I wrote this soon after that. And in 2020, a year of unending horrors, the smile on her face as she came out of her room, sleepy-eyed, smiling broadly, having seen the news on social media, made it seem that things would be all right again. We shared a joyous hug. Some captivating art has been making the rounds, inspired by this trail-blazing, accomplished, beautiful, formidable, competent leader.
Artist Bria Goeller worked with T-shirt company Good Trubble to create this image.
This is the one I like the best, by San Francisco artist Bria Goeller. Here, Madam Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris walks purposefully, and her shadow is the silhouette of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges when she became the first Black student to integrate an all-white school in newly-desegregated New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960.
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell
Here is the original painting by Norman Rockwell of her walking escorted by four deputy US marshals. Notice the slur on the wall, the hurled fruit smashed on the ground. And in the midst of it, the little girl with her notebook and ruler. In the words of Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The relief many of us feel is palpable. Finally, there is hope. A burden has lifted.
 

And one day, like a miracle, he will be gone. Can’t wait.


Raji Pillai lives in the SF Bay Area, and writes at www.rajiwrites.com where this article was originally published. 

‘Beyonce Sharma Jayegi’ is More Problematic Than it Appears

From Surabhi’s Notepad – A column that brings us personal essays and stories, frivolous and serious, inspired by real-life events and encounters of navigating the world as a young, Indian woman living outside India.

Beyonce does not need an introduction. She is arguably one of the most influential artists in the history of pop music. An inspiration to millions of women, especially women of color, an ally of the LGBTQ community, and a powerhouse of an artistBeyonce is an international icon.

Brown skin girl, ya skin just like pearls

The best thing in all the world

These are the lyrics from her song “Brown Skin Girl” released last year in July. The lyrics bolster Beyoncé’s crusade for cultural pride and female empowerment; the song went on to become the most-streamed female song of the year. In the video, black and brown-skinned women are portrayed beautifully in celebration of their skin color and diversity. For me, the highlight is the part where the video features a dark-skinned South Asian woman in all her glory. 

Enter Bollywood.

Back at home (India), a group of educated, young creatives decided that a song titled Tujhe Dekh K Goriya, Beyonce Sharma Jaegi” (Beyonce will be ashamed when she sees you oh fair lady) is what the world needs. Barely a month or so after the whole #FairAndLovely debacle in India and #BLM campaigns worldwide, women found themselves back to square one with this inappropriate song.

A Sad State of Affairs

Composed by India’s leading music composer duo Vishal-Shekhar, sung by Nakash Aziz and Neeti Mohan, featuring lyrics by Kumaar and Raj Shekhar, this song was released last month with a promotional video on YouTube. Soon after the launch, the video, starring young actors Ananya Pandey and Ishaan Khattar, amassed over a million downvotes and widespread criticism due to its racist undertones, and for unnecessarily dragging singer-actor Beyoncé’s name.

The film director Maqbool and lyricist Kumaar apologized and said that they never intended to offend Beyonce’s fans and that the “lyric in question was never intended racially”. If this is true then the state of affairs is scarier because if in 2020 learned practitioners of art do not even realize that they are being racist or sexist or colorist, then we probably haven’t progressed as much as a society as we’d like to think.

In an interview to an Indian national daily, the film director Maqbool said, “The term ‘Moriya’ has been so often and traditionally used in Indian songs to address a girl, that it didn’t occur to any of us to interpret it in a literal manner.” 

First of all, this statement in itself is a glaring warning sign. If the urban population of educated creatives is so oblivious to the deep-rooted colorist trends in the Indian society, how can we expect things to change at the ground level. The term “goriya”, which means a fair girl has been used synonymously for “girl” in numerous hit songs like “Chura ke dil mera goriya chali”, “Goriya Churana Mera Jeeya”, “Goriya Re Goriya Re” and many more over the years.

Secondly, the very idea of using Beyoncé’s name in the song and reducing the Grammy-winning icon to just her skin color reflects poorly on the mindset of the creators. In a culture where the colonial hangover is still quite relevant and cinema is more than just a form of entertainment but a social agent of influence, it is high time that filmmakers, actors, and songwriters start taking some responsibility. 

From Plato to Aristotle and Kant: Exploring Art and Its Impact

The debate of art as means versus art as an end has been ongoing for centuries and this song brings us back to it. While Plato was completely against artists and poets and wanted to banish them from his Republic because he believed that art was corrupting, Aristotle, on the other hand, saw art as therapeutic and cathartic. Later, Kant came up with the ends and the means theory where he stated that treating anything as a means to an end is problematic. 

I personally believe that the extent of the impact of art and its influence depends on society. In India, art is never welcomed as just an end in itself. Bollywood is big and people (literally) worship actors. Cinema has the power to influence young minds and when it comes to sensitive challenging issues like domestic violence, crime against women, colorism, sexism, and casteism, can India as a society afford to have such “item songs” blaring on loudspeakers?

India accounts for 37 percent of global female suicides. Last year, in October, a 21-year old woman killed herself over dark complexion taunts in Rajasthan. In 2014, a 29-year old girl’s husband drove her to suicide by taunting her over her dark complexion— this was in close proximity to the national capital (Gurgaon). In 2018, a 14-year old girl in Hyderabad burned herself alive and succumbed to death after she was bullied in school for her dark complexion. 

Even today, most, if not all, matrimonial ads say that the groom is looking for a fair bride. We all saw the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking— an embarrassing but sadly, mostly, true tale of the realities of arranged marriages in India.

However, we need to remember that this is not just an issue in India. It is everywhere— it is a universal challenge. As a 30-year old Indian living in Singapore, I get comments like “for an Indian, you have great skin” or “how come you are not that dark” and sometimes a direct “are you Malay or Indian”. I see whitening and skin lightening treatments and cosmetics everywhere I look in a mall. In Korea, I’ve heard people gift cosmetic surgeries to their daughters as soon as they turn 16. In the US, a recent study has revealed that racism is linked to cognitive decline in African American women.

Young girls are fed with a singular idea of beauty and suffer major self-worth issues growing up. Colorism is affecting the mental as well as the physical well-being of women all over the world. It is high time that we realize the gravity of these issues and stop obsessing over fair skin on a global level.


Surabhi Pandey is a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Website | Blog | Instagram

 

Brown Skin Girl: From Broken to Beautiful

Prologue

1985

I will return to what I love. To music. To Evan. To my life in graduate school at Chapel Hill. To Beethoven’s Opus 110, Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Haydn, and Mozart’s Concerto in C Major. To my graduate recital and concerto competition next year. To my cozy attic apartment on Tenney Circle. I will return. Soon. I just need to hold on for three months.

I’ve been chanting this mantra since yesterday. 

Since everything shattered like a crystal bowl.

I must talk with him one last time.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I tell Amma, my mother, after we check in at Delta Airlines at JFK airport in New York. I walk purposefully to a pay phone some distance away where, hopefully, she can’t see me. 

I check the flight monitors. Only an hour before we board. JFK’s as crowded as a farmer’s market and I weave my body, brushing a shoulder here and there, through the rush of travelers to get to the bank of phones. Announcements of departing and arriving flights, snippets of conversations in New York, Southern, and California accents, German, Hindi, and Chinese swirl around me.

My hands tremble as I pick up the receiver. I imagine him waiting anxiously in his Chapel Hill apartment, his lean face and lithe body strung out as he paces tight as a wire in his two rooms. From the corner of my left eye I see Amma, in black polyester pants and a maroon baggy sweater, watching me like a hungry cat. She won’t give me a minute alone. I twist away so I don’t see her. My eyes sweep over crowds of other Indian travelers reminding me, with irritation, that I’m one of them.

My fingers press the cold steel numbered buttons. My tongue, dry with worry and determination, tastes metallic and sticks to the roof of my mouth.

Evan answers after one ring. 

“Hi, Evan,” I say in a rush.

“Hi, love.” His honey-like tenor is taut. The sound of him is home. “I’m so worried about you. Are you really going?”

“It’s only three months. We can do it. You know we can.” I imagine his brown eyes, his arms around me. I need to hold on to this moment, to his voice, to us.

“Of course. But don’t you see? They won’t let you come back.”

“They will. They can’t take me away from my education!” Our family’s god is education. Amma always made sure I went to the best schools. Though she loves a beautiful home, my parents did without much furniture when we immigrated six years ago so they could pay for my college tuition.

“I don’t trust them. Don’t leave, Mytrae! Can’t you go to the bathroom and flush your passport down the toilet? Or throw it in the trash?” 

“Amma has it with her. There’s no way she’ll give it to me.”

“Walk away, then. Don’t get on that plane, whatever you do, love. Do something, anything.

His frantic voice makes me doubt myself. But this is the only way I know. Do what I don’t want to ultimately get what I do want. They said if I stay in India for three months and still want to be with him, they’ll let us be together. Just like they made me minor in Computer Science, when I wanted to major in music. I sigh, winding and unwinding the metallic phone cord around my fingers. 

He’s not Indian. He doesn’t understand how we need our parents’ permission for everything.

My shoulders tighten with decision. “I’m doing this for us. I’ll call and write to you while I’m there. They’re announcing our flight. I have to go. I love you, Evan.” 

“Always remember, I love you,” he says slowly, deliberately, like he wants me to really know it. And hold on to it. “Goodbye, my love.”

“Bye, Evan.” I hang up, lean my forehead against the pay phone. Three months will be unbearable.

I walk back to Amma, feeling the thick rope between us and beyond us. It ties us to Daadi, my grandmother, then spools century upon century through my female ancestors to the very beginning of time. It wraps and knots around my waist, and hangs heavy, like lengths and lengths of six-foot saris. It binds us. It defines us. However different we all are, because of it we are the same.

I stop two feet from Amma. Her body relaxes with relief, but her mouth turns down with disappointment and disgust. 

Guilt and shame twist me. 

I’m here, my eyes tell her. I’m ready. I hate you, but I’m ready. 

We turn, without a word to each other, and walk towards security.

* * *

I lift my head groggily from the tray table. The screen shows our jet crossing Afghanistan into Pakistan toward India.

“I can’t bear to face Daadi with this news.” Amma breaks our strained silence. She glances at me then turns away. I got only a couple of hours sleep the night before so I’ve slept most of the thirty-some hours from New York to Hyderabad, waking only for water and orange juice. I haven’t been hungry since they found out about Evan. I can hardly feel. Let alone speak or eat. 

My mother looks haggard, the ever-present dark circles under her black eyes even darker. Shaking her blue-gray asthma inhalant, she puts it to her thin lips, inhales sharply, then rests her head back against the seat and closes her eyes. The gray roots in her short black hair look more pronounced from that angle.

It’s not that bad, I think. People fall in love all the time. Is it so shameful? I turn my head away from her, burrowing into the navy blue pillow. Her asthma always trumps every situation, and I feel the familiar tugs of guilt, pity, and resentment I did as a girl when she wheezed or had an attack. I don’t want to hear her feelings—I’m too overwhelmed by mine. Why should my life be interrupted to convince her and Naina, my father, of my love for Evan? I’m furious about their power over me. And even more furious at myself for bowing to it. I want my own life. I want to make my own choices. I look around at the mostly Indian passengers. I don’t want to be like them. Married with babies and boring careers. The last thing I want to be is a dutiful daughter. 

A dutiful Indian daughter.

Two years ago, the summer after I graduated from Wake Forest, I stayed in India with Daadi and Thatha, my grandparents. They were so proud of me then. Will Daadi shun me now? I avoid the thought. Surely, Thatha won’t make much of it at all, Westernized and broad-minded as he is. After all, he studied at Cambridge and education is everything to him. They love me, and Thatha’s proud that I’m studying music. They won’t treat me the way she is. Thank goodness Roshan Uncle and Leela Aunty, who live next door to my grandparents, are broad-minded. They’ll brush it off like a fly. And I will return to what I love. To my music. To Evan. And my life.

Soon.

Late and jet-lagged we arrive at Hyderabad airport, the dust, heat, and maelstrom that is India greeting us. Amma and I barely look at each other as we pass through customs, collect our bags, and are driven to Daadi’s and Thatha’s home, weaving through bustling, honking thoroughfares crowded with cars, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, and cattle-drawn carts. We are in India, the land of my birth, the city of my childhood, winding through timeless byways of my ancestors.

This is an excerpt from Mytrae Meliana’s (pronounced “my-thray-yee”) just published memoir ‘Brown Skin Girl: An Indian-American Woman’s Magical Journey from Broken to Beautiful‘. She is an award-winning writer, spiritual teacher, speaker, and holistic psychotherapist. She leads workshops for women who desire to heal from trauma, liberate themselves from patriarchy, connect with the Divine Feminine, and create true, bold, inspired lives. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Facebook|Instagram|Twitter