Maa, why am I brown?

The writer, Zameena Manekia Manji (Bujumbura, Burundi) is a bookworm with a passion for writing. She hopes to shed some light onto Islamic work to build a stronger society.

‘Maa, why am I brown?’ the 7-year-old me once asked my paternal grandmother sitting at the foot of her wheelchair, looking up to her fair complexion and bouncy curls. She smiled and told me I was beautiful too, it didn’t matter if I was brown. But how did that thought formulate into my mind at such a young age?

As a child, I remember watching the Fair & Lovely cream ad on Sony TV, mesmerized by how a dark-skinned woman suddenly turned all white and freckle free as she glided down the streets with all eyes on her, contrary to how she was shunned when she was darker. The little me would always want to try one of these only to meet my mum’s angry glare when I picked one tube up at the supermarket. Dejectedly, I’d drop it, wondering why my mother didn’t want me to be as fair as her, not realizing she was silently working on building my self confidence, the first step was to allow myself to feel comfortable in my own skin. 

Despite my beautiful mother’s efforts, I was constantly reminded about ‘my brown skin’ from insensitive people with some even asking my mother on who I was, or if I was another relatives daughter. Some straight up asked my mother why was I darker.  I used to hate how I never inherited my mum’s rosy cheeks and honey colored eyes, or her fair complexion. I couldn’t look any different from my elder sister either who bore a striking resemblance of my mum. I was the only child from the 5 of us donned with glasses at the age of 9, further distancing from the very little of looks I may have inherited from my parents – for neither of them ever wore glasses; leading people to literally comparing each sibling’s look with one other or a parent then looking towards me and saying – ‘Hey , you look very different, you don’t resemble anyone’. Teachers and friends at school would ask my sister if I was her cousin or next-door neighbor, remaining boggled for seconds when they were told we were real sisters. Little did people realize, how they, time and again – tampered my self-esteem, making me hate myself in the process, resulting to taking measures on lightening my complexion.

I used to plead to my mother to let me use her Clinique foundation and when she once forgot it by the sink, I took it and from thereon there was not a moment I allowed myself to be seen without it, carrying it everywhere including on flights. I had given in to the society’s lighter skinned demand, where fair women were more loved and admired. I desperately wanted to fit into my own extended family too, where most of my cousins and aunts were fair and beautiful. I wanted to be praised for my beauty too; the same way my sister always was. But I wasn’t, even after purchasing all the expensive products from America, even after caking myself up with my mum’s foundation, even after I finally got to wear contact lenses, hoping people would now say I resemble my mother but they didn’t. Because hey, I wasn’t white.

It took me years to finally feel comfortable in my own skin, thanks to my parents and siblings who kept reminding me that I had beautiful features that enhanced my looks. But perhaps what solidified my self-confidence were the times when my college teacher left no stone unturned by entrusting me with tasks, guiding and instilled lessons that help me till today. Gradually, I aced my assignments at, taught little children part-time, partook and co-organized several programs within and out of the community. The sense of achievement that led me to believe that I was capable beyond my looks; is what enabled me to let my grip loose off the foundation bottle which needles to say, was several shades lighter than my skin and purchased products that matched my exact skin tone. I was slowly setting myself free from my shackled mindset which forced me to think that exterior beauty is everything.

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About the author

Zamena Manekia Manji was born and raised in Dar es Salaam, a bookworm with a passion for writing that cemented at the age of 13. She served the community alongside her studies through the years and upon moving to Bujumbra , Burundi - continued doing the same. Over time her writings have evolved from fiction to Islamic, contemporary and historical writings. She has also worked on a number of scripts, ad writings, essays, personal statements for universities, and beyond as with each task, she tries to improve her writing skills. Through her words she hopes to shed some light into Islamic History, Islamic concepts and contemporary issues, slowly doing her part towards building a better and stronger society.

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