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Growing up Mauritian: the importance of cultural understanding, not just colour

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

Mauritius is an island made up of different cultures united through slave paths, indentured labourers and trade. From East Africa, India, China to across Europe–all those cultures living in one location, over hundreds of years bred a culture of its own.

A traumatic but beautiful history—one that also caused me a lot of confusion in my own identity. When I was younger, I remember often feeling guilty for not understanding all the cultural references made by friends from India. I thought "I am the same colour as you, why don't I understand?". This confusion continued—later on in life, people with the same colour skin would tell me that I was "...ignoring my roots and religion" because, again, I did not understand certain cultural references.

On other occasions, I have often been told that "I should stay out of the sun, as my skin is getting darker" and that my "parents would be disappointed" or "I won't find a husband with dark skin like this".

Now that may shock many of you, and of course, it shocked me. But it is important to be aware that these values do exist in many cultures. Many women and men are still seen as lesser than others because of the tone of their skin. Of course, I am not an advocate for this in any way, in fact, in makes me sick—but I want to make you aware that this is the reality for many.

Luckily, I have often been able to shut these comments down with a little history education. See, at this stage I understood that culture and values are fluid. My Indian heritage flowed with my indentured labourer ancestors, across the Indian ocean to Mauritius. Here they learned to live side by side with those from different countries, with a different heritage, language, customs and colour skin. We learned from each other, we danced with each other and eventually our cultures married and changed with each other.

In my family today, the idea of culture is so important—more important than the colour of my skin. Today, who I am is directly influenced by the poverty, the trauma, abuse, the pain that came from colonisation, and it's repercussions. My history influenced how my parents met, their values, and finances. It influenced where my parents chose to live when they moved to the UK, where I grew up in London, and most importantly, the way I think.

So when you meet me, please don't make assumptions about me based on the colour of my skin. Please don't pity me or feel like you are doing me a favour. Please don't use me to feel better about yourself. Please don't see me as a number to hit your diversity targets.

Instead, have a conversation with me. Be curious. Listen to me. Appreciate that diversity means diversity of thought and understanding. Understand that systemic change is what needs to happen to make real change, not superficial tokenism.

I write this with the hope that people acknowledge their ignorance and work to understand importance of culture, not just colour. It is so much deeper than that. Culture tells your individual story, your history, and how you came to be the person you are today.

Your personal understanding of your identity is the most beautiful thing in the world.

And what's even more beautiful is growing brave enough to kindly educate those around you, who presume or try to put you in a colour-coded box.

Education is Queen.

Lots of love.


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