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The Little Brown Beast
growing up a brown girl in a white world
“I think I’ll shave my legs tonight,” said Laura, a sassy blonde-haired white girl in my 6th grade PhysEd class, as she glanced at my hairy legs with disgust.
In that moment I felt like the ugly brown crayon. This was a new school, a Catholic school, where the children were supposed to be friendlier, I thought. The children at my old public school called me brown crayon because brown is the colour of feces, and a little brown girl was ugly like feces. When you grow up a brown girl in a white catholic world you realise that catholics are just as racist as everyone else in that white world. I grew up on a steady diet of white supremacy, being the only brown daughter of a very beautiful and white mother in a pale and blue-eyed world I always felt like an unsightly blemish. Shamdai the ugly one. That was me—it’s got rhythm, don’t you think? Mother liked to use my brownness to prove her moral worth as a white person—hello, I’ll be your racial token, never mind the fact that I am your daughter, and fully human; I never felt fully human. The Sanskrit name I no longer allow anyone but my Guyanese relatives to call me reminds me of that beastly little girl who wasn’t human.
That day I went home from school and began asking about shaving my legs. Mother agreed with Laura that my hairy legs made me look unsightly. My white mother has no body hair and my brown dad had enough body hair for everyone on the block, the Indo-Caribbean Sukhan genes hit me like a freight train. White supremacy meant that mother did not permit me to grow up around other Indo Caribbean girls and that I did not get to know any of the women in dad’s family. White supremacy meant a hairy brown girl could never be anything but pathologically ugly.
Mother took my hairiness personally. Looking back, it seemed like an affront to her whiteness. She tried so hard to make me into a white girl. I wanted to be the perfect white girl for her, alas an ugly hairy brown girl can never hope to be that—I am just a coolie girl. A litany of doctors tried to diminish her concerns about her hairy little beast of a daughter. After all, I was still pubescent and growing into my own physiology.
Mother would take no refusals, and a universal health care system means that she continued to seek out specialists until she found those who would affirm her concerns about my body. One doctor wanted to sent me for a D and C at the age of 11; my father, who always let my mum play Munchausens with me, drew the line there. So, mother did not get her D and C, but she did inflict nearly weekly doctors appointments, endless invasive tests and blood draws, and the birth control pill. I was a child in the late 1970s taking the birth control pill because my mother thought I was a hairy little brown beast.
When you are a brown girl in a white world, white supremacy tells you that you are not feminine enough. When you are a brown girl in a white world, white supremacy will do everything it can to cast you as pathological—being brown is a thing that needs remedying in a white world. Despite the fact that I met no diagnostic criteria, and did in fact ovulate, and despite the fact that no differential diagnoses were explored, that I had an eating disorder which had stopped me from eating entirely for half of my high school years, and that the years of my adolescence I spent on The Pill were not accounted for, an endocrinologist labelled me PCOS and even prescribed me an androgen suppressor in my late teens. I entered adulthood with my body harbouring a strange dissonance—my brown body railed against the white beauty standards that held it bondage.
Years after white plantation owners finally released my ancestors’ brown bodies from their enslavement, my white mother punished my body for it’s brownness and, just like the white humans who controlled the brown bodies of my girmitiya ancestors, she claimed a victory for having conquered my brownness.
If you met my mother you would see a sweet old white lady and if you have the chance she would tell you all about how she is not a racist because she married an Indian man, my father. You would not be able to meet my dad, who married a woman 5 years his senior, because he died 4 years ago. White supremacy lives on, and don’t for one minute fool yourself into thinking Canada isn’t racist because white folks up here don’t wear white robes and hoods and burn crosses.
Here, white supremacy wears the crosses and prays the rosary. Here, white supremacy has decided that God was a man who looked a great deal like Cesare Borgia. Here, white supremacy will tell you purity is white, and that Indians are beastly people and that India is overpopulated in a Malthusian way. Canada is racist, and the fact the my white mother—who is on a first name basis with several medical specialists and has been sick and required my dad to cater to her for the duration of their married life—survived my brown father, reminds me that white supremacy is a hidden contagion costing brown and black bodies their lives.
I wrote this in December of 2019. Everything here is real. I’m done talking about race because I think the anti racists are just as racist as the low level Eurocentric ethnic chauvinists. I think the race debate currently taking place is pointless and stupid and a circle-jerk for dopamine hits, not a sincere drive to end bigotry, so I have bowed out of that discussion. Nonetheless, this is my story. Maybe it might help someone.