Last Sunday, I was invited by a friend to a house-warming party hosted by one of his friends. Normally, I don’t do much on Sundays, so I happily tagged along.
It was a comparatively warm sunny November day in the outskirts of London. I was already enjoying the day, and was looking forward to meeting and greeting a bunch of people I’ve never met before.
After a couple of hours by train, when we reached just before entering the house, I asked my friend if the host knew I was coming. He nodded: “Yeah, I texted her to ask if it is okay to bring along a little brown girl to her house.” In reply to my surprised look, he shrugged, saying: “C’mon, it’s just a joke!”
Of course it’s a joke, it’s meant to be funny, it must be. I’ve heard such jokes before: “A bottle of milk” is a friendly slang phrase used to describe very light-skinned people. Red-haired people are commonly called “ginger.”
Often I was fondly called “brown sugar,” many a time they called me “brownie,” but “brown girl” is the most common of all. I know it’s a joke, it’s all for fun.
But hang on a minute -- what’s so funny about it? I don’t get the joke. Who is the joke here, me? Or my skin colour? No, I don’t get the joke at all.
I mean, I have heard similar jokes before. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. We were just about to step inside the house, and I was suddenly surrounded by all new faces, and I somehow stopped myself from asking my friend to crack the joke. I thought I would rather crack it myself by the end of the party.
So, among all those first-time hellos and soft hugs and courteous pecks and gentle handshakes, I kept thinking: What’s so special about this brown girl?
The host, along with the other guests, was speaking in English. So was the brown girl. Me? Well, I thought it might be my Indian-ish accent, those strong Ts and even stronger Rs. There we had people from different countries like Brazil, New Zealand, Ireland, and England, while the host herself was from Germany. So I assumed different accents were equally welcomed and admired.
Then I thought it must be my food habit that makes me “different” from others. Pandas eat bamboo, cows live on grass, whereas goats eat absolutely everything. Likewise, I’m an omnivore, so I eat anything edible on this universe but not pork, may that be for religious or “never had them before” reasons.
In today’s world, people have different issues with different food -- they develop different food habits for varied reasons, be it religion, personal belief, health issues, or just-don’t-like-it.
Some people are vegetarian, while some are vegan, some lactose intolerant, others gluten-free, or non-GMO.
The genetic code was just a little coincidence or magic of this universe as I would like to believe. It cannot be my sole or foremost identification
I’ve a friend who is now on a mission to eat only organic food, which makes her buy a chicken with four times the normal price, but that is absolutely her own preference.
Anyway, the host arranged some everyday nibbles and drinks for us all, like crisps, nuts, biscuits, alcoholic, and non-alcoholic beverages. So, this brown girl’s food habit was not under fire.
Then what? What’s so special about this brown girl? A light-skinned person would just be “a friend,” not “a white girl,” then why would a South Asian girl be called “a little brown girl”?
For the readers’ kind information, I must mention here that this friend is quite a good friend of mine regardless of his skin colour, northern accent, or nationality. He adores me the same way I adore him.
I can say it undoubtedly, this kind soul didn’t consciously mean any discrimination, bullying, or racial segregation towards me or anyone else.
But I felt “a little brown girl” somehow classified me, and this racial classification gave me a sense of separation from others for a moment.
One may ask, am I ashamed to be born in Southeast Asia? Am I in complete denial of my brown skin in this city of “white” people? No, not at all. I’m not ashamed to have brown/caramel/honey skin or whatever they call me, but I’m not proud of it either.
My skin colour, my race, my nationality, my sex, or my sexual orientation -- none of them was an achievement for me.
I got them following the basic theory of evolution or, as they say, being at the right/wrong place at the right/wrong moment.
The genetic code, 23 pairs of chromosomes that I’m made of, was just a little coincidence or magic of this universe as I would like to believe. It cannot be my sole or foremost identification. For the tag of “little brown girl,” my only concern is that my brown skin colour indicates my race, not the person I am.
So my race and ethnicity were introduced to other people before I even got a chance to introduce myself.
It felt like my whole identity was snatched away from me by giving me the tag. The colour brown overshadowed my name, my smile, my warmth, my personality, or the bright colours of my thoughts and dreams.
Yes, I do agree that there are many more real concerns in our daily lives such as climate change, refugee issues, extremism, poverty, and so on. There are burning issues like ethnic cleansing, racism, aggressive discrimination, homophobia, etc. Maybe what I’m saying is just much ado about nothing to many of you.
But all I want to remind you is: This brown girl has a name, a heart, and some grey matter. This brown girl only believes in one race -- the human race. If you must classify me next time, please re-phrase your question to: “Is it OK to bring along a fellow human to your place?”
Farzana Hussain is a Barrister-at-Law and a human rights activist.