When People Want to Be Tan, But Not a Person of Color
For some people, it’s merely about skin color, but for others it‘s about race
Growing up as a Filipino-American was always somewhat uncomfortable for me. I didn’t want to be a minority. I didn’t want to be seen as different.
But, I am a minority — a first-generation American born of immigrant parents who came to the United States from the Philippines. Although I didn’t used to, I now embrace this part of me and it plays a significant role in my life and my entire identity.
However, even though I’m a minority, I’ve always felt somewhat more “privileged” than others because my skin is lighter.
My Mother has a very fair complexion for being Filipino — Her parents, my grandfather in particular, almost didn’t look Filipino at all. Filipinos are generally darker-skinned. You know, being that the Philippines is made up of thousands of islands and the seasons are basically Summer all year round.
But, having such fair skin steered me in the direction of people always assuming that I’m Chinese — Even those who are Chinese themselves. The other day, an elderly Chinese woman even came up to me in the subway, presumably asking me for directions, speaking in what I thought was Mandarin.
I always told my boyfriend that this kind of thing happened all the time and this time, I’m relieved that he has officially bore witness.
Growing up, I used to get so confused as to why (white) people wanted to be tan. I never understood how the desire to be tan even became an aspiration. When I was in high school, I used to be outside all the time from playing soccer and running track and cross country.
In the Summertime, my skin got very dark and my friends used to tell me “I wish I could be tan like you!”. But, they didn’t realize that that wasn’t something I exactly strived for.
Then, when I went to the Philippines with my family for the first time a few years ago, it was an eye-opening and life altering experience. It was a huge culture-shock.
In the supermarkets, there were products to help make your skinner lighter, whereas in America, you can find shelves upon shelves of tanning oil to help you get the complexion of a greased-up body builder.
In the Philippines, Filipinos wanted to be lighter, not darker. They even carried around umbrellas outside to protect them from the sun’s rays. It seemed weird.
My aunts, uncles, and cousins complimented me on my light complexion whereas in the States, my friends would envy how easily I tanned. After going to the Philippines, I honestly didn’t know what color I should be anymore.
The thing is, white people (or at least white people in America) want the color, but they don’t want to be a person of color.
They want to be tan, but they don’t want to be a minority. And what I wish my friends understood when they used to tell me, “I wish I could be as tan as you!” is that for some people, it’s merely about skin color, but for others it‘s about race. I wanted to to tell them that I wasn’t trying to be tan — That’s just how I look.
When I was in the Philippines, I came to understand the aspiration for Filipinos to be “white” like me the same way that my friends wanted to be “tan” like me.
Race, skin color, and privilege need to be understood through a universal lens.
When we wish to be darker or lighter or whatever color, we have to understand what it means for those of us who have to live in that skin every single day — Because right now, we’re not all on the same page.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, check out, “Dating a Minority Doesn’t Make You Any Less White”