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I didn’t discover my identity until I was 30. I lost myself in who I thought I should be.
Rooted in other people’s expectations. Planted in their shoulds.
I was always told my reputation mattered. The model of that reputation was a good girl. If I unpack it more, it was a good white girl.
The problem with this was, I wasn’t white.
I am a Brown woman, yet I felt white. What I mean is my parents where white, and they raised me in a white society, and that became my identity.
I love my parents, and I grew up ‘privileged’. So much of this so-called white privilege that came with the territory I lived in skipped me.
I was the girl who the guy I crushed on called a curry muncher.
I was the girl who a strange man told to go back to Sri Lanka where I came from on a flight home to Australia.
I was the woman who was security checked every time I took a flight.
I was the woman who had a harpoon gun aimed at me as a drunk guy shouted I shot the Indian.
These things forged my identity and I didn’t like them, so I rejected them. I rejected me.
As an adopted girl all I knew was Australian culture. I grew up wishing I was white, and doing everything I could to hide the fact that I was Brown. I remember scouring the internet for skin lightening creams. I’d hide under big hats and big t-shirts so I wouldn’t get a tan.
I disowned my heritage.
When I returned to Sri Lanka for the first time at 22 I discovered I didn’t belong there either. The army stopped me to check my identity documents because I was in a van with white people.
I was also followed down the beach and abused by a local. The army stepped in again, this time as my allies. They asked me if I wanted to press charges because such treatment of a tourist was shocking to them.
That word struck me, a tourist. It felt like no matter where I went, whether it was Australia or Sri Lanka, I was a tourist. I never quite fit in. The droning question where are you from, rung in my ears. Australia. Blank stares. No, where are you really from? This was the question that haunted me most. I didn’t know where I was from because nobody would claim me, and so I thought I couldn’t claim myself and I didn’t. I became a chameleon because it was safer to blend in than to own my truth.
Even my birth family treated me like a stranger. My first experience of my bloodline slapped me in the face, as I realised how different I was. We couldn’t even speak the same language.
So who was I?
It took me a long time to answer this question. I fell into the depths of self-sabotage, alcohol, drugs, partying, and clinging to men. I was searching for anything I could do to feel like a part of something.
Then I started to get vitiligo on my hands. I was no longer the Brown girl. I was the Brown girl with white spots on her hand. A leopard. It was as if my lifelong dream of being white had come true, and it was my worst nightmare.
I played the victim at first. I’d been playing the victim for most of my life because I thought it would give me love but it didn’t.
And then I woke up.
My son was the catalyst. I realised I didn’t want him to experience what I had. I knew the only way for that to change was to start accepting myself and claiming my identity.
So I cleaned up my life. I got rid of alcohol and I started exercising every day. I dove into self-acceptance practices. Meditation, journaling, tapping, mirror work. You name it, I tried it, and it worked.
With each new tiny commitment I made to myself I started to discover a new piece of me.
I realised I loved running.
I found a love for sunset walks on the beach.
I discovered I loved quite nights at home with my family, the need to be a VIP at hotspots disappeared.
I started to get okay with my skin, and then I started to like it until , I was giving gratitude to it. I realised it was my gift, leopard spots and all. I started loving every part of me and saying no to things that I wanted to. Boundaries became my best friend.
I realised it was my small quirks that made me, me. It was less about my skin and more about my core essence. The more I claimed my Brownness the more I discovered my internal makeup. I started to fall in love with the challenges I had experienced, and the fact I was different.
I stopped hiding and I started using my voice. Discovering my identity became my greatest success. and all I had to do was remove the masks and allow myself to be me.
This essay was written thanks to a monthly theme from Illuminate, a writing community from The Kindred Voice.
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