On Having Dark Skin and Embracing Diversity
Letter from Stina Constantine
(Click on the letters to enlarge)
To my dear Sister,
‘Where are you from?’ Oh, no I’m a local here.
‘Yeah, but where are you from?’
Umm... I was born and raised Norwegian?
‘No, really. Where are you actually from?’
*sigh* My parents were born and raised Sri Lankan.
All my life I have heard things like this.
My response of being a local, born and raised in a western country, and now living in another western country somehow didn’t seem to be an adequate answer. My dark skin colour gave people justification to question my answer of where I considered myself to belong. The pigment of my skin mattered that much, yet, at the very same time I became accustomed to hearing;
‘Wait, what? I hadn’t even noticed that you’re not white’.
Both extremes infuriated me, but for many years I didn’t understand why that internal turmoil even existed. Neither was racism, right?
Despite being so strongly frowned upon, the ache of experiencing ongoing racism is one many women endure, yet conversing about the impacts on our feminine hearts and lives can make other people feel all too uncomfortable. At most, we attempt to acknowledge the hurt by sharing a story about someone who experienced a worse form of racism. Still, this discomfort to converse wasn’t quite what I was experiencing either.
Even within my own ethnic culture, the mainstream ideology for skin colour is that, ‘fairer is more beautiful.’
This is a concept most south Asian little girls are brought up with, and no doubt some of you can relate. As a middle child, with beautiful sisters on either end who had skin tones at least 2 shades lighter than my own, ‘the black sheep’ became my middle name. It’s a name I grew to accept, and embrace, thanks to a strong father figure who taught me to be brave from a very young age. But again, I knew the fury I was experiencing wasn’t exactly about this either.
At the same time, I acknowledge that comments about not seeing our skin colour (colour blind) or not accepting our answers for where we come from, weren’t coming from people who were trying to be mean or hateful. There was no intention of harm. Most of them, were simply trying to be curious or trying to express that the colour of our skin, different to their, was not reason to treat us differently, or indeed negatively. I could see this was a good intention, but our words need to reflect that very intention.
This year I decided to take a leap of faith and do something that rather terrified me. I placed myself on a local community platform, by joining a young women’s ambassadorial quest, the Miss Wagga Wagga Quest. This would put me front and centre in the community, raising funds for our local beneficiaries. My motivation for it, was to see other young women from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds step up into this platform, to have their voices heard, and to embrace culturally inclusive leadership in our community. I knew those questions would flood back in, and they have heavily. Although it gave me opportunity to learn to manage my emotions, it also taught me why those emotions were there to start with.
Here is what I came to see.
I, like you dear sister, was created unique.
Like you, I was given talents, gifts, and interests.
Like you, I was given a body, a mind, and a soul.
Like you, I was given body shape, hair texture, and tone of voice.
Like you, I was given a skin colour.
But, unlike many of my sisters, or if you can relate, like many of my sisters, my skin colour either became a determinant for who I was perceived to be, or my skin colour was not considered valuable enough to even be acknowledged. My skin colour either gave people a right to accept their own preconceived ideas about me or it was just dismissed all together.
An aspect of me, was being dismissed.
An aspect of me, that I was so desperately trying to embrace and reveal, was simply being dismissed as invaluable. But when did the visible markers of our heritage become invaluable?
The truth is: The skin tones (because there isn’t just one) of my South Asian sisters are valuable. The skin tones of my Scandinavian sisters are valuable. The skin tones of my African American sisters are valuable. Why? Because it is a part of how we were uniquely made. Uniquely made in the image of beauty. The very image of perfect unity, harmony, radiance, of Infinite glory and majesty; made in the very image of love. No more and no less than any other.
What this quest journey has taught me more than ever is that the world is surrounded by beauty. Every corner we turn, every sound we hear, and texture we taste is filled with beauty if we are open to it. You see, to tell us that ‘I don’t see your skin colour’ is not synonymous with a compliment. It only highlights a refusal to see how we were made. Beauty’s purpose is to draw another towards His Glory, towards love. But when elements of beauty not only goes unacknowledged but is also disregarded, it hurts. It’s not just an exterior. Our bodies are not just a shell. We were created, every facet of us created with predetermined precision. Made exactly how He wanted us, and He takes delight in us. To purposefully dismiss an element of that design, is not at all a compliment to the maker, nor to the creation. That’s why it hurts. The very purpose of our human beauty is deliberately being unseen and most probably for fear of saying the wrong thing.
Somewhere along the lines, we learned that those with a non-Caucasian skin colour are not less than others. But that lesson never came with the message that therefore every skin colour has no value, no meaning, and no beauty. Rather than to dismiss every skin colour, it simply means to see every person with every kind of skin colour as valuable. To see that the person gifted with that skin colour is indeed a person to be understood, to be encountered and to be loved. Only from there, can we truly come to understand who that person is as a whole. But we have to allow ourselves to see them as a whole.
When we are ready to see each other for who we are and how we were made, and to accept that no one is more or less valuable than another, then we can finally tackle cultural and ethnic diversity in our world, and indeed in our church. We need to be ready to see each other, to embrace each other as we are in order to learn from each other. Once we can do that, we can have honest dialogue about heritage, culture and tradition. Dialogue in which we can truly meet each other. Dialogue that will see us become who we were made to be, to see the wounded body of our church become whole.
Oh how I look forward to that day.
In the meantime my dear sister, be patient and be kind to yourself and to those who surround you. But also, as the quest journey has taught me, be unafraid to be brave, bold, and stand confident in how you were made, and in who you were made to be.
Our actions will speak louder than misconceptions, but our forgiving and encouraging words will help to realign these misunderstandings with the truth.
We as women have a gift to be love to others and to see others with love; to be loved and to love. We each are unique, beautiful, and valued beyond measure. We need only to stand by that truth every day, in every moment we face.
Love & prayers assured,
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Get to know Stina
Full name: Stina Constantine
Occupation: Social Worker (Post-Separation & Families of Children with Cancer), Founder & Managing Director of Virtue Ministry, Miss Wagga Wagga 2019 (City Ambassador) and Ballroom Dance Instructor
Location: Somewhere between Wagga Wagga, Australia and Norway (presently undetermined)
Educational background: Bachelor of Psychology and Master of Social Work
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
It’s my core pivotal point. I’ve had to learn to put Jesus at the centre of my life in order to fully live my best life, and to love the way God loves. The church taught me how to do that.
Has there been a particular teaching of the Church that has intimately transformed the way you see yourself and others? If so, please describe.
The Church’s teaching on Virtue as the habitual disposition for goodness. From a young age I knew Heaven to be our end goal, but it was always very vague ‘just be loving’ or about what not to do ‘don’t sin’. It was when I came across what Virtue actually means, that I realised the church has been trying to teach us all along how to practically become good as opposed to simply doing good deeds, and consequently we are free not only to become who we were made to be, but to take one step closer towards heaven.
What aspect of your life right now do you find the most beautiful? The most challenging?
Yes Year – A group of young women in Australia banded together to a commitment to discern and faithfully ‘Say Yes’, to give out FIAT to everything God puts in our way unless it’s unlawful, immoral, unkind or hinders a previous Yes for a full year. Then to send out a message to the other Yes Year Sisters with the words ‘Saying Yes’ who all then pray for that person. We are now moving into our 5th Year in 2019 and have grown in number with both men and women, married and unmarried. This initiative brought on the courage to discern and embrace initiatives like the Miss Wagga Wagga Quest (of which I was recently selected as city ambassador, another Yes), start my own ministry, postgraduate studies, and even having all my security stripped from me and being asked to move overseas. It consistently challenges me to trust, to surrender and to reach out to my community. I’ve experienced brink of tears and the greatest joys through this gift, as it fervently calls me to my FIAT to God, to Say My Yes to Jesus.
Tell us about your ideal outfit.
I love to experiment and create with fashion, colours, textures and styles. I can never resist comfy fitted jeans, a flowy short sleeved top, a blazer with actual pockets, none of these fake pockets on women’s outfits, and a pair of quality, mid to low heels and a wide brimmed hat, for an early spring day out with the girls, or ministering to young people.
Fill in the blank
My morning routine consists of: Heroic Minute Reflection, morning run, coconut water or lemon & honey, solid breakfast (lover of good food), prayer/meditation, writing/reading followed by trying to turn work into prayer (major emphasis on the trying).
I’m currently obsessed with: currently… more like born addicted to dark chocolate covered marzipan.
I feel most inspired when: spending time in nature exploring, reading and contemplating.
My favorite part about my life right now is: the solid men and women I’ve been blessed to call brothers and sisters, who are running the race and fighting the good fight alongside me.
The advice I would give to the millennial Catholic woman is:
1. Work out who you are, what your tendencies are, your personality type etc.,
2. Work out who you were made to be.
3. Now become that woman! Because that woman is ridiculously amazing, and that woman is desperately needed in our world. There will forever be a hole in all of creation without you embracing all of you, and God wants you to embrace her because that is your true capacity. Like any good father who cherishes his Daughter, he wants the best for you, and he knows the best is in you through his Son, Jesus.