Aside from growing up trans, I also had the pleasure of growing up in a small town on the east coast of New Brunswick. My family moved to Canada in 1979. My father grew up in an Indian family on Mauritius and met my mother in Ireland and then they moved to Canada. Why they decided to move to such a small town I still don’t know, but there we were, one of two brown families (if I recall correctly, maybe three), in this small ass, super white town on the east coast of Canada.
This offered some interesting times. Lots and lots of people playing “guess that race” with me; people talking to me as if they knew me because they were patients of my dad, or the friend of someone who was a patient of my dad, or they had simply heard about us; people offering up microaggressions like it was going out of style, completely unaware of what they were doing. Good times. This town was so white that it was only when I was 12 or so that I realized that I wasn’t white and then had the pleasure of trying to explain that to friends who were sure I must be mistaken.
So, that was pretty much how my childhood went on up to university, where I moved to Halifax. Halifax is a much bigger city than my home town, but still not a super big place by any means, and also located on the east coast of Canada. It was refreshing to see a more diverse crowd of people and to get to meet some people from backgrounds similar to my own. We had good times. Went out and partied. Led normal lives of carefree university students. It was here, however, that I started to notice the animosity that existed between various social groups on campus, as well as learning to be weary of the police, but still, the four years went by without any major incidents for me. Yet, I was noticing that things weren’t always so for some of my other friends and I wasn’t sure why. I mean, we were all out doing the same things, what were they doing to draw so much more attention than me?
After university I did like many clueless people do, I ventured out to East Asia to teach English. I was broke and had nothing better to do and it dawned on me quickly that getting me a visa into Korea was about the only use my diploma was ever going to serve. So, off I went, not sure what to expect. I really had no clue and I hadn’t done any research, I just figured, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
After the longest flight I had ever taken in my entire life, I arrived in Korea. I was a little freaked out because it was 2am, I was all alone in a new place, and I had to wait for six hours in the airport until my ride arrived. I was really starting to think I had made a mistake. Eventually my ride showed up, I started my job, and things were ok. The job really, really sucked and one of my coworkers, an Indian dude from South Africa, had been working there for about 5 years. Considering how bad the job was, I asked him why he would put up with that shit for so long. He explained that the reason he works that shit job is because it’s nearly impossible for him to find another school to hire him. “They don’t like brown folx,” he clarified. And I was like, “I’m brown, what do you mean?” And he said something along the lines of “Xeph, you naive, light-skinned fool.” BOOM. Mind, fucking, blown.
My coworker was a very dark-skinned Indian fellow. Quite dark. As a result, it was nearly impossible for him to find work in Korea. Me, being a light-skinned, but no less Indian person, didn’t have as much trouble. You see, up until that moment, I hadn’t realized that throughout my entire life (as I explained earlier), I had been experiencing light-skinned privilege. Why would I be allowed into a bar, but my coworker denied access? Light-skinned privilege. Why were my friends catching way more negative attention than me, especially from cops and white jocks? You guessed it: Light. Skinned. Privilege. Even in my backwards ass hometown my light skinned privilege inconspicuously worked in my favor. Looking back, I know I didn’t have it as hard as the dark-skinned brown family in town.
Now, this isn’t to say I had white privilege. Those instances of people playing “guess the race” with me, all the microagressions I received on a daily basis, the occasional bit of straight-up harassment/being ignored, that was me dealing with the dynamics of racism. However, I will never, ever try to compare my experiences to those of a dark-skinned brown person, or a black person. For example, I’m a trans woman of color, this is true, but I’ve learned that as a light-skinned trans woman of color it is necessary to realize that I do, even if it’s only the slightest bit, have privilege over my dark-skinned/black sisters. It’s nothing I asked for, I’m not pissed about, I don’t feel guilty about it, and the last fucking thing I’ll do is TRY TO DENY IT.
Being light skinned doesn’t make me any less Indian. That shit runs deep and is a big part of my family, in our own way. But just like how I recognize that I have had many privileges in my life (my dad was a doctor, I had access to schools, we weren’t hungry, etc.), being light skinned is definitely one of them. I have to be as willing to account for my privileges as I am my oppression. The trick, for me (stressing “me”, everyone is different), and for what I want to do with my life is to find where all of these things intersect, these privileges and the lack thereof, and try to navigate this life the best way possible.
Xeph Kalma is a bi-racial Indian girl living in Canada. She likes the simple things: fluffy puppies, nice weather, good food, and not taking shit from assholes. She works in tech, and in her free time, looks at/shares pictures of dogs, sleeps, and works on dismantling the patriarchy whenever possible.