This time of year, no matter your background, family tends to be at the center. Holiday meals, parties and gift exchanges can be full of joy, but they can also bring up the many reasons why family time can be be so stressful.
For a Personal piece titled “What It’s Like To Have Darker Skin In A Culture That Tells Me It’s ‘Ugly’,” Anu Kumar described the very real challenge of growing up with South Indian parents who told her that her skin color was unacceptable — while the world outside rarely seemed to notice.
I spoke with the piece’s editor, Sahaj Kohli, about why this essay has resonated and what it can mean for women when their parents have this attitude.
“Colorism in South Asian culture is rampant, both in South Asia and in those communities living in the West,” Sahaj says. “It’s easy to point fingers to people on the outside, but it’s incredibly difficult to turn to your own family and community and hold them accountable for the problematic and toxic beliefs they maintain.”
As Anu writes, she knew her parents thought they were helping her by telling her to cover up her skin in the sun (and no, not for the purpose of avoiding skin cancer).
“They wanted to make sure I didn’t receive the angry glares, that my skin tone wouldn’t be a deciding factor in professional interviews, that other people will automatically know my worth when they look at me,” she writes.
But all this did was pass down a judgment that Anu, who grew up in East Tennessee, felt didn’t apply to her.
″[They believed] that in order to be successful and happy, you must have light skin. ... This is generations of conditioning that unfair skin isn’t a marker of our geographical heritage, but a marker of low social status and worth.”
Sahaj, who works with immigrants and children of immigrants in the South Asian community with her project Brown Girl Therapy, has found many people are facing these kinds of issues.
“It’s hard, from my own experience, to reconcile the cultural and societal expectations of the older generations in your family with cultural and societal beliefs of the country you grew up and live in,” she says. “It’s natural for there to be a shift in second-gen Americans, but the process of actually creating that shift can take a toll mentally and emotionally. That’s why I think destigmatizing therapy and mental health care is incredibly important for these communities.”
Generation gaps aren’t a new story, but they’re being rewritten as more cultures mix together in an attempt to find balance and understanding.
If there’s something your family has struggled with and found harmony on (or even not!), I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to reach out.
Until next week,
Follow Sahaj on Twitter (@SahajKohli) for more from HuffPost Personal, and Brown Girl Therapy.
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