I Can’t Rub My Brown Away


leah abraham - i can’t rub my brown away-3

It’s hard to stay hidden when you’re the only brown girl in the room.

I can’t slip into the background and hope no one notices me. I can’t rub my skin color away and blend into the sea of white.

It’s hard to stay hidden when you have big, unruly hair that takes up space.

Even at 5 feet 1 inch, I know I’m making a statement when I walk into the room with my hair completely undone and au naturale. I’m not sure what the statement is, but you’re sure to notice me and my lioness mane.

I spent my teenage years learning how to hide myself so no one would notice me.

I had newly migrated to the U.S. and I didn’t know the rules—what kind of shoes were in, how to order at Starbucks, or what to do with my giant hair. I didn’t speak up in class when I knew the answer. I turned down my spunk so peers wouldn’t notice my awkwardness and discomfort. I hung my head low because I felt shame for taking up space in someone else’s land.

In college, I coasted through four years of “You’re my first Indian friend” and “Say something in Hindu.” I dressed like my peers—the Birkenstocks, oversized flannels and beanies—and yet I stood out. And yet, I was another brown body to my friends. And yet.

When I invited few of my friends to a garba (an Indian dance event that’s held during the festival of Navaratri), one friend whispered to me, “I feel like everybody can notice I’m white. I don’t like this feeling of standing out.”

This is how I feel every day at school, I thought, but failed to say out loud.

My friend felt this way for two hours. I spent nearly every day with that feeling.

I can’t rub my brown away. I can’t slip away in a sea of white when it’s convenient.

I can’t hide because I want to.

The process of undoing shame, of reclaiming space and owning who and what I am is a long journey. I’m still in the middle of the journey—slow to speak, quick to listen, bursting with curiosity.

These days there’s a voice that’s leading me from hiding, prodding me to reclaim my space. Perhaps the most dangerous act of resistance I can practice is to heed to that voice, no matter what the consequence.

Today, I let my hair down. It was big and unruly. It took up a lot of space.

When I looked at myself in the mirror, I considered tying my hair up. Then I remembered my teenage years when I so desperately tried to fit in, be invisible and hide. No more, I thought to myself.

So I chose to let my hair down. I dared to take up space. Even though it felt uncomfortable, I didn’t want to hide. This is my liberation song for today.

Leah Abraham
Leah is a storyteller + writer + journalist + creative + empathizing romantic + pessimistic realist + ISFP + Enneagram type 2 + much more. She lives in the Seattle area where she works as an education reporter and features writer. Bonus facts: She loves the great indoors, hates to floss, and is obsessed with Korean food and her dorky, immigrant family.
Leah Abraham
Leah Abraham

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  • I’m wondering if you’ve encountered Amena Brown’s writing. She’s a spoken word poet and event organizer, and I just finished reading How to Fix a Broken Record in which she shares about her own struggles as a woman of color, loving her hair, making peace with her family tree– and, more generally, celebrating her big feet in Beyonce-style stilettos! Like you, she gave me insight into some areas that are not part of my story, but important for me to hear.

  • Carolina

    Singing liberation with you, Leah! There is power in this, “So I chose to let my hair down. I dared to take up space.” Thank you! <3 I look forward to reading so much more from you and following you on the socialmediasphere. Blessings.

  • Taylor Phillips

    So beautiful. May you be fully liberated and KNOW that you can take up space wherever you’re at because YOU BELONG. You, my friend, show the vast creativity of the God we serve.

    Such a beautiful post. No more shame.

  • Thank you for daring to take up space. May your liberation song continue to grow in beauty and confidence and freedom.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • I can identify in so many ways! The hair- oh my word- yes. I have been there, and I’ve also journaled specifically about the hair. I’m so glad you’re daring to take up space.

  • ” I dared to take up space.” <— what powerful, powerful words and what a call to action.

  • Bekah Landfair

    Yes, yes, yes! I love this. When you choose to live with your hair down, your spirit free, and your identity sealed in Christ, you inspire others to do the same!

  • Melaney G Lyall

    Yes, being the only brown skin for most of my life, even in my family… it was always a crusher. I had/have some major identity issues… but like you… we re-claim our space, the sacredness of self!! Peace be still. xoxo .

  • Love this Leah! I am so glad you let your hair down and are in the same time and space as I am! Your voice, your story, you matter! So glad you are sharing it with the world!