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.