The Diary of Queen Shugufta, 16, and Nimko King, 3½
Entry 9: Dark Thoughts
Today, we give presentations in Mrs Kareem’s class. She said it could be anything to do with history or sociology. I decide to do mine on ‘Prejudices.’ So I put up my first slide, saying ‘Prejudices’ on the screen, and I begin:
‘Hi everyone. I am going to talk today about something I have noticed in couples, crushes, and relationships all around me. This is true for the students here, and also for their parents, and also for the teachers.
Number One. In almost all couples and crushes, the woman is lighter skinned than the man.
Number Two. In almost all cases, the woman is also thinner than the man, not taking into account weight gain after shaadi (I try really hard not to look at Mrs Kareem when I said that part).
The man always wants to date someone with a lighter or same complexion and thinner than he is. Why is this? Maybe this is a kind of racism.’
‘Here is a photo of our class from the year book.
Here is a photo of what comes up when you google ‘Pakistani celebrities’.
Do you notice the difference? The celebrities are all so light, they could be mistaken for white. Many of them have light hair and light eyes. When you leave school, you will also probably dye your hair a lighter shade. Some of you already have. Where do these beauty standards come from?’
Mrs Kareem interrupts, ‘Uhh. Shugufta. That’s a good presentation, thank you’.
Me: I’m not finished yet.
I switch to the next slide. This one was supplied by my brother, Farhad. It’s a study done by Tinder on which races get the most ‘likes’ on online dating apps.
Mrs Kareem: Enough, Shugufta. You are finished.
Later, she tells me, ‘First of all, you are too young to be talking about ‘crushes’, dating preferences, waghaira. Secondly, how dare you bring parents and teachers into this?’
Nobody is interested in discussing how prejudices operate within ourselves. Only how they operate in others.
Afterwards, Noman and Fizza come up to me.
Noman: Haan. Shugs. Interesting presentation. Thing is. It’s not fair to call that stuff prejudice. That’s just what men find attractive, na?
Me : Yes. That’s my whole point. You find it more attractive because that’s prejudices built into our society.
Noman : Or maybe lighter skin is more attractive? Who wants to date a dark, fat chick?
My blood is boiling at this point and I don’t know what to say. Waseem, my co-editor at the magazine, is standing behind us and overhears. He pipes in,
Waseem: Noman, I think what you’re saying is you have noticed you have a prejudice. That you don’t like darker skin, or larger women. Maybe it’s because you’re scared of being dark, or fat yourself.
Noman: Shut up.
Waseem: Truth is, this hate towards others is a kind of self-hate. If you read some James Baldwin, you would understand better.
I’d never heard Waseem talk so much before.
Me : Yeah. And it’s also a form of oppression. It’s our responsibility to undo this shit.
Noman: Yeah, whatever. Waseem is just bitter ‘cause no one likes him.
Then Waseem turns a bit red, and his voice becomes really small. He says, ‘just trying to help,’ and leaves.
Fizza: You’re such a bully, Noman.
Noman: I know you like it like that, baby.
And he starts to tickle her and she giggles and they walk away.
Sometimes I hate everyone in my school. Nobody likes having difficult conversations, even though those are the only things that will make us better people. They just want to gossip about random shit.
It’s a complicated issue: our attitude towards darkness. It’s linked to classism, casteism, to the attitudes we have towards the poor in this country. That’s why you hear people saying things like, ‘bilkul maasi lag rahi ho’ when you get super tanned. This stuff goes super deep; it has been embedded into our psyches. It also goes back to pre-independence; the goras ruled over us with such cruelty and mind-control that abhi tak we consider them superior to us. And so we try to look like them, act like them. We still believe what the goras said to us in those days, that we are a barbaric, uncivilised people who need to be controlled. Except now, we’ve put on their masks and we talk like that about poor people. We imagine that this sets us apart. It’s pure fear. Honestly, I pray all the facades come tumbling down and we are reduced to the most essential version of ourselves, so that we see how alike we all are. Ameen.