I went to a local center that rescues women off the streets and equips them with job and life skills. The women were learning to do embroidery and make jewelry. Their children are cared for at the center while they obtain these skills and go out into the community to find jobs. While visiting the center, the women began to talk among themselves and someone relayed to me that they were discussing how they really liked me because I was brown like them. Just like in America, there is a considerable amount of self hatred happening here in Bangladesh. There are ads, like the one pictures above, that advertise skin whitening. For people who can afford it, this luxury is quite popular. Advertisements in the city only picture lighter skinned women. Lunching with local ladies, they told stories of being the “darker” skinned sister and their elders commenting that it would be difficult for them to find a husband because of this. Similar to the “brown paper bag test” in America, it seems that these forms of self hatred are not unique to our country.
At the end of my visit, I approached the women working at the center and sang praises to them, telling them “shundari” (beautiful) while referring to our brown skin. Being out in the sun all day, my skin is a considerable amount darker than it is in the winter, and I love it! People keep inquiring of I am a Sudanese Muslim. I wanted to let these women know that they should be proud of their skin and their heritage.
Bengalis are people of the Diaspora; we must spread a message of self love throughout the world.