My experience with Colorism as a Pakistani woman

I grew up in a country where my grandparents experienced colonialism by the British and I wonder how it impacted me. My parents internalized the colonial legacy burdens from their parents, passed it on to me which I am afraid of then passing on to my kids.

When my parents got married, my mom did not speak English. My dad was educated in the British system and read and wrote English very well. He sent my mom to Miss De’Souza who tutored my mom to learn classic British English and learn the ways of the “modern world”. My mom could not write in Urdu, the national language, but that was not important.  When my parents went to Europe for the first time, my mom wore pants and took lots of pictures. My dad was in the export business, he would go on business trips to Europe and brought fashionable pants, skirts and shirts for me. We felt privileged to be able to do that.

I learnt to speak English because of my privilege to go to the best schools where English was the medium of instruction. I remember when I was eight or nine years old and I always wanted to make new friends.  I went to the neighbor’s house and the girls asked me if I knew how to speak English. When I said No, they would not become my friends. I quickly learnt that this is very important so I started reading a lot of story books in English and as a teenager read Barbars Cartland’s romantic novels. It’s interesting how I got exposed to the white culture through romantic novels, watching popular tv shows and English movies.

My skin color was considered average for Pakistani standards. My sister’s skin color was just a shade darker than me and my uncle started calling her black and blackish. The cousins picked up on that name. I would see that and feel real guilty/privileged to be a shade lighter. But i didn’t know how to change that. I stayed quiet and the guilt still haunts me. My mom would use a lot of home remedies to make my sister’s skin color lighter. My lighter skin friends got better marriage proposals. My most marriageable friend was the one with light skin, green eyes and dark blond hair. I envied her as a teenager.

When I came to the states in my 20’s, I saw white people going to tanning salons to get a tan. Suddenly, there is a chance for me to look exotic. Wow!

However, when I saw Blacks, it didn’t make sense to me. Is this the hierarchy of color? I certainly feel privileged as a brown person when I compare myself to the black person. Yes I have experienced religious discrimination and this is a different kind of discrimination – race discrimination. If I am carrying the legacy burdens of my forefather’s colonial experiences, then the blacks are carrying their own slavery legacy burdens. We internalize unconsciously and do not even realize that we are carrying them. I remember the first time a white male cried in my therapy session with him, I was in a state of disbelief. For me, the white man was the ultimate symbol of power.

So what perpetuates and maintains these systems in the society? Ultimately it is about power – power comes with the political and economic superiority which then translates into social systems. If we look at the whole world as one system, just like we can see a nuclear family as a system, then we see the hierarchy within the system. Within the family system, parents of children are the super power because they provide the bread and butter. So the super powers of the larger world system have always been the white folks. So the white man colonizes the third world countries, brings back slaves to the “first world” land of “milk and honey”. Immigrants like me come for better education and opportunities. We work extra extra hard, harder than we have worked in our own countries so our second generation have better and more privileged lives than we did. And if we are really good at what we do, it pays off.

What’s ironic is that the blacks have been living here for over three centuries, they are not immigrants so how come their privilege is less than ours?

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