My childhood was the thing that I did not want to remember the most. It brought more pain than pleasure to me. These deep cuts and bruises, I wondered when they will heal. Unpleasant past memories that inflicted on our family were still haunting us. Poor my sisters, they were the ones who were affected the most.
For 23 years our family had lived with the idea that people with dark complexion were considered ugly and should be avoided. All these years we were suffering, it was all because of our grandparents, especially my grandmother. She was my mother’s maternal mother. She was the queen control, the dictator of the whole family. She decided what would be the best for her children. She even surpassed the limit; she wanted to take control of her grandchildren as well. My grandfather was slightly nicer than her. Still, he had once discriminated us.
How did all the sufferings happen? The vital mistake came when we were born. My father has dark complexion compared to my mother who has fairer skin complexion. As a result some of us were born with dark complexion. All of my brothers are fairer than the girls. It was something that my grandparents did not like because they were expecting their grandchildren to have skin as fair as snow and very cute to their eyes. Being born to this world with such physical condition was a sin to us. I kept on questioning myself, why should my grandparents allow their marriage if they did not like my father right from the beginning? Then, we would have never suffered like this.
As a result of having dark complexion, we were treated differently. The treatment had never and would never change towards us. I still remembered when we returned for Raya we were always asked to put our staff at one corner of the house. At night, we would sleep in the living room. My sister and I used to sleep with our aunts. That was because they were still not married. But later on, when they had married I could feel the gap between us. The obvious discrimination came when our cousins were born. My grandmother would always praise them and gave them all the needs that they needed. On contrary, we were expected to serve them. Compared to our cousins, if we did not help to cook we would be scolded. We were not even allowed to touch expensive things. Our drinks were only cups and plates made of plastic. During Raya morning, our relatives would enjoy the Raya dish first. We would have them later. Some of us even did not eat at all because the food was not enough for us. Adding to the wound in my heart, some of our cousins saw us as sore to their sights. They would say “hitam melegam” (as dark as charcoal) to me as I have the darkest skin complexion compared to my other sisters.
The most unforgettable thing was when my mother revealed a very hurtful secret to us. When she was with the second child, which was my sister, my grandparents had scolded my mother for being pregnant again. She was showered with insulting words and threats. Each day of her life was filled with unshed tears and terrible fear. They despised having family members who had dark complexion. One afternoon, thinking that my father had slept my great grandmother said to her quietly with thick Kedah slang, “Jangan dok beranak banyak-banyak dah. Nanti dapat anak semua hitam macam pungkuq belanga, ”(don’t give birth anymore or they will all end up having skin as dark as the back of the pan). My father overheard that. Those venomous words were like arrows that struck his heart. Until now he still remembered that. Afraid of getting insults and warnings from my grandparents, she would hide her pregnancy from them. She would try to make her appearance look as normal as usual. There was even one time my grandmother said that my younger sister was annoyance to her when she wanted to make calls. My mother’s heart shattered into pieces. Until now she always brings up the point why should she be treated meanly when she was pregnant whereas her sisters were treated nicely when they gave birth to many children.
Having the idea that fair complexion people were beautiful but dark people were ugly made us think that we were the ugliest human being on earth. It had been a burden that we had carried till we grew older. With this idea, my mind could only see our existence was not less than a slave for other people. We deserved to be bullied and to be insulted. This thought had wiped off our belief to stand taller, to have the belief that we were like other people too, deserve to have dreams and special in different aspects. In my secondary school time, I dared not be-friend with fair complexion people except the ones that I trusted and comfortable with. I dared not speak to guys as I always thought that they would be disgusted by the gloominess of my skin colour. I learned to judge people nothing but their appearance. Getting married seemed ridiculous and unfulfilled dreams to me and I even had fantasized to become beautiful as the white people. I despised taking pictures with my friends as I would appear to be ‘a piece of shit’ among the pretty flowers.
The society around us had never been helpful to us. As ex-neighbours, they were just like my grandparents; judging people based on physical appearance. Although they never mentioned that they looked down on us, but I could see that from their look. They had the eyes that sparked sense of discrimination and domination. They always praised their daughters as they were much beautiful than us. Each mistake that we did was vital that they will scold us continuously when we were child.
Luckily I have Islam as my faith. I always stick to Rasulullah’s sayings, “be obedient to your leader, even though he is a Bedouin.” As my knowledge has deepened, I learned that Rasulullah had many friends who had dark skin complexion like Bilal bin Rabah. He was even darker than me and yet he had one of the highest positions in Islam. Islam teaches us that we are not judged based on our physical appearance but the purity of our heart, akhlak, and our good deeds. The chance of furthering my study in this teacher training college was the most blissful gift to my entire life. I learned that I was special and had my own strengths. As I have mentioned before, my sisters were the one to be affected. My elder sister was beauty conscious. She would always buy whitening products and beauty products as she wanted to look best in other people’s eyes. If my face became tanner (darker of course) she would always ask me to immediately wear whitening products. Until now, my younger sister would never have confidence in herself. She would always see herself ugly the way I had seen myself before. Right now I am helping her to gain more confidence and hopefully she would be able to do so.
All these years I tried to find reasons why would my grandmother and the people I have mentioned discriminated us. Why discriminate when Islam teaches us to be equal to each other and consider piousness as the main criterion that every Muslim should have? I tried searching from the Internet, I had read books but most of them were not much related to the situation that I was facing. The only thing that could be the possible reason for these people to discriminate was because of the feeling of ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism means being too obsessed of one’s own culture and race. One only thinks that one’s own race is the best compared to other races. It was still such an unbelievable thing that this situation did not only occur between different races but also within the Malay community itself. In relating to my grandmother’s situation, I thought that her mind was set like that; she was trained by my great grandmother to discriminate. It was a belief that was passed down from generation. Therefore, when I found about it I did not blame really blame her for what she had done to us. She did that unconsciously and luckily my mother did not follow her steps.
Today, my grandmother has treated us better than in the past. Maybe it is because the society is changing and also she realizes that she is getting older as she has no other people that she could rely on except us as her closest relative. She still discriminates us but I do not mind about that. This invisible wound would still remain in my heart, it will never cure but I am still overcoming it with positive thinking. Thanks to God, my parents and friends who are always there for me.