I am brown.
I used to call myself “mixed race” but now that I know that race is a construct, it feels like that term is no longer accurate. I am half-Indian, half-Irish, born in Malaysia, raised in Ireland, living in England for nearly 10 years.
My mother was white and Irish, my father was brown and Indian. I always knew my skin was brown (a “lovely tan” as so many Irish people would say), but I didn’t realise I had been socialised as white until I was an adult. I was on a packed bus in Brixton, South London, and I looked around and thought “I’m the only white person on this bus.. wait, what? Did I just call myself white??”
I’m not white.
My skin is brown.
As a child I was called “brownie”, “half-caste”, and even the N-word, by some misguided, ignorant children not used to seeing non-white people. (My precocious response was “the n-word is an idiot’s interpretation of the word Negro, which is out of date and no longer used. Also I’m not black, so you’re just wrong on every level.” I remember my (white) babysitter being shocked and amused by my quick defence, but I was genuinely just correcting them!).
I am Indian and Irish, but I hold my breath every time I tell a white Irish person that I am also from the same country as them. I see their confusion. I expect the challenge. I become defensive, ready to prove my Irishness.
But I don’t defend my Indianness in the same way. Whether it’s internalised white supremacy, or simply a lack of direct connection to that part of my culture, or a combination of both, I know I don’t own the origins of my brownness.