As summer approaches, most people are eager to get tans. They flock to the beaches in their bikinis and swim trunks, slather on tanning lotion, and lay there for what seems like hours just for their skin to turn darker. Ultimately, society allows those with paler complexions to have a freedom of choice on what they want their skin shade to be, tan or pale. However, for people of color, that’s a different story.
Growing up in a tiny suburban town in Texas, summers always meant going outside to have fun and experiencing the scorching heat from the sun, only to return home a few hours later to realize you have sunburns, a horrific tan line, and your entire body is now a few shades darker.
At the same time, my suburbia was incredibly diverse. While there were a few white families living here and there, most of the population included families who immigrated from India, China, Vietnam, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, etc. I myself have made friends with many of the minorities there around my age who I would go to school with.
Within my years living in suburban Houston, I’ve had countless occasions of my friends being reluctant to go outside in fears of turning darker. I’ve had numerous situations where my family would shake their heads and smack their lips when realizing my tan was from cooking in the sweltering Texas sun for too long. Even with large amounts of sunscreen slapped upon my skin, I still always managed to receive a tan.
Some of my dark friends have had personal stories about using skin bleaching cream and feeling insecure about their skin color, saying they were “too ashamed to go outside without covering all my skin” and “I [had] always wanted to bleach my skin so I could look like the people in my surroundings, making me very self-conscious about my skin color”. In general, whiteness is still promoted by beauty and hygiene companies and very blatantly through televised commercials. Using skin bleaching creams turned peoples’ skin itchy and flaky, and in some serious cases, could cause abnormal birth and major nerve damage.
But for white people, tanning is a generally ubiquitous activity in the summer. Some white people have darker skin than others, but no one shade is preferred above the other. On the other hand, when minorities get tans on their skin, they are deemed less desirable to the more fair-skinned individuals of their same ethnicity. Minorities essentially feel they must have fairer skin because of the perpetual, systemic racism that internally tells them, “If you get darker, you get uglier.” In this simple yet complicated way, white people are free from any sort of colorist oppression because they don’t experience the same stigma of becoming tanner in the same way as minorities do.
So here’s some advice to my fellow minorities: Don’t be afraid to get a few shades darker because systemic colorism tells you, you can’t. It’s summer, go out and have some fun in the sun.