“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but our eyes are not colorblind.” — Ashley Ramcharan
My entire life, I’ve been praised for having “good” physical features such as long hair, big eyes and fair skin. Being Indo-Guyanese and first-generation American, my ideas of beauty were heavily influenced by Western media and its perpetuation of anti-Blackness. Like many desi children, I was told to stay out of the sun and wear long-sleeve clothing during the summer to avoid tanning. The result of all this? I believed I was prettier with lighter skin.
Historically in Guyana, racial tensions between Indo- and Afro-Caribbeans started because of colonization and politics. Unfortunately, these tensions exist today. In the Indo-Caribbean community, Black or dark skin is not associated with being beautiful. There is a strong preference for lighter skin. Dark skin children are teased from a young age. Growing up, I remember in church, when the lights were low, the kids would ask where the darker-skinned children were and would tease them for blending into the shadows.
My brother, who is darker than me, was constantly teased for his dark complexion. Every time he complained it hurt me. Knowing that someone you love feels less than merely because of skin color is painful. Colorism is not unique to Indo-Caribbeans and has been part of a heritage handed to us from our South Asian ancestors.
White becomes the beauty standard in many non-white countries because of the influence of Western media and the lasting impact of colonization. The admiration of European characteristics in communities of color is not new, but this narrative impacts women of color especially. In many cases, we look at society’s definition of beauty and compare our non-European features.
The Eurocentric beauty standard that exists in many countries is rooted in colonialism. Systemic racism is manifested in a Eurocentric beauty standard that idolizes features like white skin and silky straight hair. These sought-after ideals create an impossible standard for Black and brown women.
Despite these sought-after Eurocentric standards of beauty, women of color are still subject to opposite and unrealistic beauty standards. The Jessica Rabbit body — large breasts, big butts, tiny snatched waists and “clear” skin are a few examples. Women feel pressured to adhere to these unrealistic standards.
I want women of color to understand these ideas were not created to empower us. Media and major corporations, many of which have predominantly male executives, have created standards for women and sales by exploiting female insecurities.
I say: We as women of color are beautiful regardless of what beauty products and Western media portrays.
But anti-Blackness goes deeper than the beauty industry. It affects our daily interactions and perception of our dark skin counterparts.
Guyanese people use the term “clean skin” when referring to lighter skin. This implies that darker skin is dirty. Growing up, I would always try to scrub away my tan in the shower. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized as a Guyanese woman, while our culture does not prompt extreme racism, it perpetuates anti-Black behavior. We need to unlearn the language and prejudices from our aunties, uncles and nannies. When white skin and beauty become a correlation, skin color is used in error to confirm beauty and value.
While beauty standards are developed through the adherence of such standards, until we accept that Black is beautiful, South Asians will never fully accept Black people in their entirety.
Unconsciously assimilating to a beauty standard instead of consciously defying it allows it to remain the standard. For example, still today many Indo-Caribbean women are told to avoid dating Black men. Families want their daughters to have light-skinned children with thick Indian hair.
Growing up, I would hear the terms like “good Black people” regarding my Black friends. This implies there were a select few “good” ones. While some Indo-Caribbeans want to call out anti-Blackness, it often leads to quarrels with older family members. While I can’t speak for every Indo-Caribbean, I am still unlearning my complacency within these anti-Black beliefs.
Like the common Guyanese proverb says, “who don’t hear does feel.”
It’s not easy to have these conversations with family members, but there are resources to help make the process easier.
While Indo-Caribbeans are not Black, we’re also not white. “Black people issues” extend into non-Black communities. Being of South Asian descent, we get categorized as a model minority in the U.S. Many wear that with pride, yet there are stark reminders that this myth holds zero weight when it comes to discrimination. My own father proclaimed Black lives matter only after aGuyanese man in my hometown of Schenectady, New York, was placed in a position similar to George Floyd. But why do we have to wait for forced empathy? Let’s start now.
Black Lives Matter protests sparked involvement from people all over the world and had notably more South Asian involvement than in previous years.
We need to let go of the old Indo-Caribbean mentality where anti-Blackness drives a wedge between the two most populous groups and stands in the way of progress. The biggest perk about being Indo-Caribbean is our rich culture and history. However, our Indo-Caribbean history would be nothing without Black Caribbean history. Our identities and culture, our love of reggae and soca are intertwined with Blackness. American history is intertwined with Blackness. We take the struggles of our Black peers for granted because we’ve reaped the progress paved by Black activists minus the same blood, sweat and tears.
I’ve gone through my own beauty journey and discovered that I am beautiful (yes, even without makeup, ha). But more work needs to be done within the Indo-Caribbean community. Systemic racism perpetuates tension between different minority groups. If we continue viewing beauty through the same lens, anti-Blackness will continue. Recent trends even include appropriating Black characteristics through a whitewashed image. Yet those Black features are not acknowledged. We need to be more inclusive of representation and beauty. Dark skin is beautiful. Black is beautiful.
This story was published as a collaboration between Brown Girl Magazine and Reckon, a national news organization that covers the people powering change, the challenges shaping our time, and what it means for all of us.
This is a special year for Ramadan. For the first time in three years my mosque will fill to capacity, giving my community a chance to rebuild lost connections and overcome heartache. It reminds me of a simple truth: healing comes not when you expect it but when you need it.
For Muslims, Ramadan symbolizes the time of the year in which Islam’s prophet Muhammad first received the revelation of the Quran. Since Islam follows a calendar based on the monthly cycles of the moon, the start of the holy month of Ramadan is determined when a crescent moon is sighted in Saudi Arabia.
The Quran is said to have been received throughout the life of the prophet Muhammad, and Ramadan marks the days it took for him to receive its first verses. When Muhammad received this revelation, it is said that he isolated himself in a cave to reflect and devoted himself to endless worship. In the same way that Muhammad secluded himself to focus on gratitude and prayer, Muslims around the world use the time to distance themselves from daily distractions and focus on spiritual growth through a month of fasting.
Siyam in community
The Arabic word for fasting is siyam which translates to ‘be at rest.’ Abstaining from eating and drinking allows us to take the rest our body and soul so deeply crave and ground ourselves and one another in a physical, mental and spiritual reset.
When I was a child, Ramadan symbolized the one time it was normal to spend your entire weekend in the Mosque. It was my first experience of a sleepover, with pajamas hidden under my abaya and Pakistani kurtas. Beyond the gender divide of the prayer halls, children would take naps on parents laps as the community prayed throughout the night. The Mosque was a beautiful gathering space open to anyone who needed a meal, whether or not they were fasting.
During the pandemic, Ramadan was different. Endless nights in the Mosque filled with prayer and community were scaled down to Zoom hangouts. Programs that were once filled with intimate in-person conversations on the floor of the Mosque, were now faceless squares on a screen, their names barely visible.
The Jummah or Friday prayers that were once so packed with people that the crowd spilled out onto the surrounding grass and sidewalks were conducted in parked cars. The mosque decorated the parking lot for drive-through visitors for the Eid Namaz, and community members waved from a distance to others with the same time slot.
I still remember when a friend’s mother died of COVID-19. What would have been a Janaza or funeral that surrounded the grieving family with community and prayer, turned into a Zoom call. Watching the tears of my friend’s family during the burial services, unable to visit her home and read the Quran together was heartbreaking.
Even before the pandemic, the world was not always a safe place for me and my community. From my family and I being yelled at to “go back to our country” when we were on vacation, to the looks my mother received when she wore her hijab in public, I understood even as a young child the ways in which Muslims were perceived as outsiders in our own country.
In many ways the pandemic compounded the islamophobia that my community began experiencing at heightened levels after 9/11. During Trump’s time in office, the Muslim community—which in the US mostly consists of people who identify as Asian and Black—faced heightened racism and incidents of violence, in part due to misinformation about the coronavirus. In the racial justice uprisings of 2020, Black Muslims—which make up more than 20% of all Muslims in the US—were not only targeted for their race but their religious background. Mosques across the country were vandalized, and continue to experience increased threats to this day.
Ramadan as a space to heal
These last few years made me realize how badly I craved the sanctuary of my Mosque, and to physically return to a space where I felt safe. I feel relieved and at peace to return back to nights where I am surrounded by familiar faces praying together side by side and breaking our fast without any fear of judgment.
From singing and acting to drawing immaculate figurines, Saheli Khan, 11, has made her debut in the North American Broadway tour as young Anna in Disney’s musical “Frozen.” As a first-generation Indo Caribbean, with roots in India and Pakistan, she continues to pave the way for young people with similar backgrounds.
Khan has always enjoyed entertaining those around her and she continues to have the motivation to pursue her passions. In school, she always sought to lead her class in songs and she was encouraged by her parents and teachers to enroll in music and acting classes, even at a young age. These ventures fueled her passions even more.
Continue reading to learn more about her journey!
What do you like about acting the most?
I like to portray different characters. Specifically, I like playing characters who have strong personalities and those who portray a sense of bravery, especially during problematic occurrences.
As a first generation Indo Caribbean actress, how do you feel about your journey as a young Disney princess? Do you feel that you are paving the way for other Caribbean and South Asians who want to pursue similar paths?
Diversity has always been important to me, but in today’s society, I feel that most people would like to be accepted and encouraged. As a Disney Princess, I am simply helping to broaden the field for all young people to see that skin color should not matter.
What do you like about your character, Anna? Is there anything that you may dislike?
Young Anna is a ball of sunshine! She is happy, funny, and a delight to be around. Despite having a troubled childhood, she grows up to be just as joyous, but she is also courageous as she goes on a journey to find her sister. I love everything about young Anna and she truly embodies who I am as a person.
Who is your inspiration and why?
My parents are my inspiration. My mom is beautiful, loving, and she works hard without ever giving up. No matter the task, she finds a solution and keeps on going with a smile on her face. She always tells me, “Whenever you feel overwhelmed, remember whose daughter you are and straighten your crown.” And my dad is my best friend. He’s insanely funny, caring and knows all the best places to eat! My parents are exactly how I want to be when I grow up.
If you had a magic wand, what show would you do next?
I would love to be Annie on Broadway or play the lead in a series or movie.
What is the one last thing that you do before you step out on stage and the curtain goes up?
There are many things I do before I step on stage. I do fun and silly things quietly with my “Frozen” sister, Mackenzie Mercer, and play with my Anna pigtails for good luck.
What are your other passions?
I love to sing, act, and spend time with my younger cousin, Ayla. I also love to draw and color since it makes me feel relaxed. I was told I have a great ability to draw and make figurines ever since I was a child. And I love exploring new cities and eating at great restaurants with my family.
What advice do you have for young people who are just starting their careers, specifically within the field of musical theater?
To have a positive mindset, practice diligently, and enjoy every moment within the journey. I have learned that there may be some occurrences that may not take place the way that you want them to, but there’s always an opportunity to learn from them.
Aside from your career, how do you balance your schoolwork and acting?
I attend school virtually, which is essential when I am on tour. Each day I have scheduled school hours that allow me to focus and complete all school assignments. Once that is done, I have most of the day to work on extracurricular activities, go on outings, and hang out with my friends. Though performing takes a large chunk out of my day, it helps that I enjoy it, so it doesn’t feel like work.
What types of roles do you see yourself playing?
I love to play humorous characters such as young Anna from “Frozen.” I truly enjoyed this role as it captures who I truly am.
Khan’s debut marks the start of a budding career. With her array of talents and future goals, we are bound to see more of the young actress in the future and more representation of Indo Caribbeans in mainstream media. If you would like to purchase tickets for Disney’s “Frozen,” click here.
It is officially that time of year—the holiday season. There’s nothing like Christmas and New Year’s in the West Indies. Between the pepperpot in Guyana and the palm trees decorated in lights in Trinidad, the home food, warm weather and laid-back ambiance makes us wish we could escape the cold and head back to the Caribbean. Most of us, however, cannot “take holiday” and find ourselves hungry for fresh dhal puri and doubles. But, thanks to these Indo-Caribbean food bloggers, we can bring the motherland to our kitchens.
From Diwali mithai specialties to curry chicken, Matthew is creating a name for himself as a young Guyanese food blogger. He makes a great effort to incorporate Hindu holidays and traditions on his Instagram account, in conjunction with the customary foods and sweets associated with these religious events. However, his expertise does not end there, with new and alternative recipes for classic dishes such as curry chicken and bhara, Matthew takes center stage sharing both traditional Guyanese dishes as well as specific religious dishes made for festivals. His most popular YouTube video, with 1.4 million views, features his grandmother and focuses on the best tips to make the softest Guyanese paratha roti. In addition, his YouTube account is home to many videos offering guidance to Indo Caribbean cooking. Find recipes at @mattews.guyanese.cooking
Natasha Laggan of Trini Cooking with Natasha is wildly popular throughout the Caribbean and the U.S. With humble beginnings, Natasha credits her love of food to her family’s business. She speaks of the nostalgia home food provides her as she reminisces memories of her grandmother’s cooking and helping her mother make sandwiches early in the morning. Featured by Forbes, Natasha grew her Facebook following quickly throughout the pandemic by posting old YouTube videos. Today, she has more than 1 million followers on Facebook and over 200K followers on YouTube. She uses her passion for cooking and Trinidadian culture to bring easy-to-follow recipes to viewers. Her following has now reached the West Indian diaspora globally as she has also become a brand ambassador to two well-known food companies. Follow the food expert @trinicookingwithnatasha.
With over 100K followers on YouTube, Ria is quite the expert when it comes to making roti. Her dhal puri, sada roti and paratha roti tutorials have over 1M views! However, her expertise does not stop there. Of the 180 YouTube tutorials, her recipes vary from curry to other Trinidadian favorites like macaroni pie and pigtail soup. Just scrolling through her YouTube page makes your mouth water. From doubles to classic Trinidad bakes like pound cake and sweet bread, she provides precision and anecdotal commentary while guiding you through the familiarity of home food. Check out Ria’s page at @cookingwithria.
Known as Chef Devan, Devan Rajkumar embraces his Guyanese Canadian heritage by creating recipes combining flavors of both the East and West Indies. His love of food has allowed him to expand his role to judge in a popular Canadian cooking show: Food Network Canada’s Fire Masters. His cooking often blends the flavors of multiple cultures but also creates the classic recipes of his motherland. With a multitude of interests, Chef Dev uses his social media platform to connect with followers by sharing various aspects of his life that go beyond cooking. His most recent YouTube video provides a trailer for an upcoming video “Tastes Guyana” which shows him exploring Guyana from the inside, specifically deep parts of the inner country. To learn more about Chef Devan follow @chefdevan.
Reshmi is the chef behind the growing blog, Taste of Trinbago. A Trinidadian native who now resides in Texas, she uses her love of food and Trinidadian culture to share hacks, tips and easy recipes with West Indians throughout the globe. She finds a way to simplify traditional West Indian meals, that we once watched our elders make with curiosity. From holiday specialties like black cake to Diwali delicacies, Reshmi has brought vegetarian and non-veg recipes to followers in an extremely accessible way. She even posts recipe cards on her IG highlights for followers who may need written instructions. Her IG profile is a mix of various West Indian foods while also sharing bits of her life and even her secrets to baby food. Follow her @tasteoftrinbago.
These are just five Indo Caribbean food bloggers sharing their secrets to easy cooking. The once very daunting recipes and food instructions our parents gave have been simplified by most of these bloggers through video, voice over and modernized recipes. We no longer have to estimate a “dash, pinch or tuk” of any masala. We are just days away from Christmas and this is the perfect time to find the best-suited recipe to make that paratha for Santa.