I’ve been thinking a lot about identity. What shapes it, influences it, helps to uncover and clarify it. I’ve realized much of my identity has been shaped by something I’ve learned about since elementary school: colonialism.
For American kids, colonialism brings forth images of Christopher Columbus, the American Revolution etc. But the colonialism that shaped me happened a couple thousand miles east of where the 13 colonies began.
Colonialism gave me my last name, the language I speak, the religion I was raised with. Colonialism has shaped the way I view myself, the way I viewed others, the standards I created.
I used to be incredibly envious of my fair skinned, green eyed younger sister. People would always compliment her on her looks, strangers would comment all the time about how striking her eyes were, and I could almost feel their eyes slide over me, as if to say “Well, not that one”. My beauty idols growing up were almost all white, I had a few from Bollywood but even they, lets be honest, were poster children for the ubiquitous “Fair and Lovely”. I don’t remember seeing any Indian women in Hollywood movies until Freida Pinto in Slumdog Millionaire (which I am less than grateful for, as many of my peers asked me if my family came from a slum but that’s an issue for another day)/
My younger sister is beautiful, but so am I, so is my mother, so are my aunts, my grandmother. And we all are different shades. Society perceives darker individuals as less beautiful or attractive because of colorism, a practice rooted in Eurocentric standards of beauty. Why is there a Eurocentric standard of beauty? Because colonialism and its aftereffects instituted a western cultural hegemony, which is still thriving today.
Colonialism gave me my last name, which is Portuguese, a name which funnily enough, I have decided to never give up, even if I get married. A last name, which as one of the two daughters of an only son, will end with me. But the Portuguese gave my family something else: religion. Catholicism was one of the strongest forces in my life, despite my current status as a cafeteria Catholic. It gave me a value system. A sense of tradition. It gave me Catholic guilt. But it never really belonged to me and my family, but somehow we’ve made it our own.
Colonialism also shaped the way I perceived beauty in others. I always had crushes on white guys. Always. I never was attracted to men of color (with the exception of Hrithik Roshan who stole my heart in Dhoom 2). I used the preference argument, “there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just a preference”. As if it was as simple as preferring coffee over tea, cats over dogs, fiction over nonfiction. But this was rooted in internalized racism and self hate. I didn’t like Indian men because I wasn’t comfortable with my own identity as an Indian woman.
I’ve started to accept this, I’ve started to reach back into where I came from. I’m not the same girl I was a few years ago. My beauty idols are now Deepika Padukone and Mindy Kaling. I’m making a conscious effort to surround myself with people with whom I share a culture. And I can feel it changing me, I feel like I’m more the person I’m supposed to be.
2016 iss going to be the year I decolonize my mind and body.