Written by Grace Leota
NZ Born of Samoan/Maori descent
Dear white people, we need to talk.
For my fellow brown brothers and sisters,
I wonder if you’ve ever had that defining moment where you realised: holy shit, I’m brown. I’ve had multiple, and let me tell you how much those moments suck. It’s not the liberating “yaaaaaas bitch” I’m brown and proud type of moments. It’s the “wow some people still see me as just a colour” type of moments. For those of you who have been mislead, I’m not ashamed. Of who I am, my culture, or the colour of my skin. But despite me saying that now, it has taken me years to love my skin, my blemishes, the parts of discolouration. I am me, unforgivably brown. I fucking love it.
Dear white boy that said: “let’s get Grace to fight her! Because she’s brown”. White boy! You may or may have not meant that to intentionally make me feel like shit, or to make me feel like grabbing the nearest bleach bottle and pulling a Michael Jackson, but you did. Because I didn’t realise being brown came with the prerequisite of knowing how to fight and stepping out every girl I come across. But instead of me speaking up and letting you know that wasn’t okay, I laughed it off. Because you volunteering me to a boxing match made me uncomfortable enough, I felt vulnerable and in my vulnerable state I didn’t want to then become ‘that angry brown girl’. So in true Grace style, I let it go, and cried about it later, silly girl. You know what, I am an angry brown girl. So angry there are still ignorant people like you who think it’s okay to call me out on the colour of my skin. Angry that despite my mind and my intelligence, you still only saw my brownness, and because of that it makes me a professional street fighter. Angry because before you said that, I thought you were a cool dude. Angry that no, you may have not meant it the way it came out, but it did, it came out of your mouth, and it came from your deep-rooted ignorance. Angry that I felt stripped of everything I was, and what was left was an empty shell, a brown shell. But you know what? Fuck it, yes I’m brown, and I can’t fight at all, so I’m sorry to burst your bubble filled with your stereotypical, offensive ideals (I’m not sorry). You might read this, and if you are, I’m sure you didn’t mean the harm you caused, I’m sure you are a nice enough person. But educate yourself white boy, and don’t let it happen again.
“Our skin colour is not a weapon. You don’t have to be afraid of it.”
Dear varying white people who’ve told me “you’re actually really pretty for an islander”. Excuse me? I had to make sure I caught that right, I’m not just pretty, I’m pretty for an islander. Hmmm no thank you, I don’t want that compliment, you can take it back. Because when you utter those exact words to me I picture 6 year old me staring into the mirror wondering why my skin is brown, why I was different to my friends. I picture 15 year old me out at night with my friends and having “sup island princess” yelled at me from across the road by a loudmouthed white boy, my silence and clearly uncomfortable state should’ve screamed volumes. Because not only was your comment unwanted and unneeded, the oh so cringy “island princess’ met with sniggers from my friends made me want to crawl under a rock and never come out. It has been a long journey learning how to be able to flex my complexion and be unapologetic about it. In your eyes, you’re giving me a compliment by telling me I’m “pretty for a brown girl” but in reality it’s brutally backhanded, it doesn’t warm my soul and it definitely doesn’t light me up and make me feel pretty. Because you see, by you saying that it means you don’t normally find us brown skinned hunnies attractive (which we are, ALL OF US) and that by me being “pretty for an islander” I’m your exception. I don’t want to be your exception white person, because by you telling me this, apart from you being blind to your own flawed logic, it’s like you’re telling me you’re surprised I don’t fit your stereotypical idea of pretty. Like ‘pretty’ isn’t normally found within or among brown skinned girls. Wrong. Pretty is everywhere, it is found in every single female, and it’s not just physical, pretty is found in our minds, our intangible thoughts, the words we speak, the way we treat others. Which brings me into my next point:
Dear white people who’ve said: “you’re so well spoken, you sound so white”. This one gets me heated, makes my head spin, gets under my skin and bitch, just leaves me shook. Because what you’re basically telling me is that:
1. ‘white’ is the only ‘race’ that can be well-spoken and articulate
2. other minority races (such as ME) are seen as typically being less intelligent
Ouch, in other words, keep that hurtful, stereotypical, backhanded, slandering comment you somehow call a ‘compliment’. You’re congratulating me for showing fluency and being well-spoken when people like me normally shouldn’t. Ignorance, and white privilege at it’s best (don’t try to fight me on that one, we all know what white privilege is and that it fucking exists). By you telling me ‘I sound white’ you’re associating me with the idea that ‘white’ is and always will be superior, and it’s the only acceptable form of speaking, it’s like you’re putting me in my place in society: brown girl who sounds white and is well-spoken. (“The saying “you sound so white” is more of a class differentiation that is hidden behind a race distinction.”) If I talk so white, how the fuck else am I supposed to sound? It’s not my responsibility to educate you on why I sound so funny to you, or why your mind has somehow been blown that I don’t talk like how you expected me to. I don’t owe it to you to give you a full rundown on my upbringing and my life to give you a better understanding on why it is I am so well-spoken. The fact it’s even a big deal for you in the first place is where you’ve already gone wrong, because it just proves how ignorant your preconceived notions and ideals are, I’d just like to ask you two simple, non-confrontational, genuine questions: what does ‘white’ sound like to you? What does ‘brown’ sound like to you? There’s no logical way in answering these questions without sounding like a racist ass. Case closed.
I’m not pretty for a brown girl, I’m pretty, PERIOD. I’m not your token brown girl and I’m definitely not your exception. If you cannot look past the colour of my skin and see me for more than just a stereotype, then get out of my life.