For years, I’ve struggled with my brownness. In high school, playing tennis after school led to some pretty serious tans, both on the arms and around the socks. I was brown, very brown. I even used to say I was “golden-colored”. I loved playing tennis and I found a sport that I was actually good, maybe even great at. And I was teased constantly because of how dark I became after spending several hours playing under the California sun. I would ask myself, “Why is everybody baggin’ on me for actually doing something that I enjoyed? Being dark just shows how committed I am to the sport, right?” Still today, I hear people occasionally say “tennis dark” to reference my past skin color and it just never sits right with me.
While in high school, I would have to deal with comments and remarks from close family members and friends about how dark I was and how brown I looked. Sometimes, upon first entering a room, I would get comments about being so brown and so tanned rather than receiving a simple “hello”. Back then, I never knew about microaggressions and how emotionally damaging and psychologically taxing these racial slurs were on people of color like myself. And without any guidance or mentors to help me through these feelings, I felt lost, isolated, and different — I mean, really, how many people of color were playing tennis professionally at the time (not to mention the culture of high school masculinity back then)?
When I got to college, I began to embrace my identity as a Pilipino American and the various shades of brown that I was exposed to. Joining the Pilipino Academic Student Services and the bridges multicultural community was an absolute blessing and formative experience throughout my undergraduate career — you can read more about my involvements with these here. Since coming to graduate school and readily working my way to becoming an awesome educator and student affairs professional, I am empowered by the beauty of my own skin: the way the black ink from my tattoos permanently settles onto my body, the physical sensation of being sun-kissed by Mother Nature herself. However, just because I am empowered and see value in my own skin color does not make it any easier being a person of color in the state of Vermont. It is still a struggle. It is still an uphill battle. It is still exhausting.
And so, with each opportunity I get, I try and remind myself how beautiful the color of my skin truly is. After starting my television series binge with Empire and after reading “Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum, I am also reminded of the power and responsibility that comes with talking to our children about race & racism. I wished somebody had told me early on that brown was (and still is) beautiful. That brown could be a medium for self-expression, resistance, and activism. That the color of my skin could put me in harm’s way, make me feel vulnerable and unwanted at times. That the way I look and feel & act in this world would be watched and criticized by my White counterparts. That this brown color came with its own set of Pilipino culture, history, & responsibility to be a catalyst for radical change & radical love.
Brown is undeniably beautiful. And I tell myself that every single day. But it’s not the “me’s” that I’m currently worried about. It’s the people who are put in positions of privilege and responsibility who take advantage of my community and the law. It’s those same individuals who have the power, influence, and authority to mistreat the underrepresented. I am afraid of the unfortunate possibility (and for some, reality) that our younger children come into this world thinking White is the norm, White means success, White means beauty. I’m worried that we’re not telling our children (enough) that the brown and black colors of their skin are just as beautiful, just as powerful, and just as meaningful. So when I have kids I will tell them to always be aware, alert, and ready, for being a person of color in today’s society still comes with its fair share of challenges, hateful actions and racial slurs, and “golden-colored” microaggressions. But I will also let them know that their brownness embodies various forms of beauty, culture, life, love, history, passion, and the power to truly make the world a kinder tomorrow.
Brown is more than just the color of my skin. It is who I am, what I choose to fight for, where I decide to live and be freely, when I speak up and stay silent, why I care so much about my own self worth and the beauty of others, and it dictates how exactly I choose to live my life the best way that I can. This is why my skin color matters.