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Stop telling me ‘I wish I had your tan’

23 Apr 2016

It was just a few days ago that I awoke to a shocking message from my Tinder date suggesting that I should bleach my skin as it would somehow make me more attractive. I have become accustomed to hearing a lot of racist comments in my short lifetime, but none have shocked me quite as much as this one.

After venting my frustrations on a Facebook status, I was greeted with an outpouring of supportive comments from friends and strangers, reminding me that regardless of my skin colour I was still beautiful. What eventually followed were multiple blogs and news outlets asking if they could share my story.

I was delighted, as it seemed like such a great opportunity to shine a light on the problematic £14 million industry of skin bleaching. With these articles came even more support, but sadly well-intentioned, yet very insensitive comments, also started to flood in.

Comments such as, “I wish I had your tan!” or “I wish I was as brown as you!” 100% of these came from non-PoC. People who make it clear that they want my skin tone, but could never understand the oppression, racism, and struggle that comes with being my ethnicity, and don’t understand how their flippant comments can be so hurtful. I understand completely that there is no ill intent behind these messages of support and that most of these comments are coming from a place of good nature, but my skin colour is not a shade of tan you can buy at a supermarket and use as you please.

This is the melanin I was born with that I do not get the option to choose. I do not have the option to apply this colour as I like, still benefit from white privilege, and then wash off all the systemic racism that comes along with it. So often, when a white person applies a tan they are praised for how dark they have become, while people of colour are still systematically oppressed and mocked for being that same colour if not darker. So often, when non-PoC pick and choose black features and apply it to themselves it is seen as trendy and fashionable, whereas we are ridiculed for them.

Take for example the recent image on MAC cosmetics Instagram page of a black models by the name of Aamito Lagun. The comments section was full of racist comments comparing the lips to those of a monkeys. One user wrote, “Holy nigger lips, Batman! What is this color called?… Grape Drank?” These comments come in stark contrast to those found on images of several white women. Take Kylie Jenner for example, whose enhanced lips are praised as “innovative” and “beautiful”.

My main message to white people is that you need to stop reducing our struggles, hardships, and lived experiences. I’m not saying don’t give PoC compliments. I’m the last person to turn down a compliment, believe me! But try and be careful with the way you word what you are saying; or at the very least take on board some constructive criticism and try to do your best to learn from it.