04/09/2015 12:32 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Why I'm Glad My Son Is White, Not Brown Like Me

I do not think people truly understand how terrifying it is to realise that your skin colour puts you at risk and that it can be a huge liability. Even as a woman of colour, I did not fully comprehend it until recently.

Joe Armao, Fairfax Media

"Dear Border Force Cops, I'm brown but I don't have a Visa, just a Platinum AMEX," I joked on Twitter last Friday. But for this entire week, I have remained deeply disturbed by the fact that Australian authorities could even propose a program of random visa and identity checks performed on the basis of racial profiling and breaches of basic human rights.

The concept is so outrageous that it has finally given me the courage to say something I have been thinking for a while: I am glad my son is white, not brown like me.

I do not think people truly understand how terrifying it is to realise that your skin colour puts you at risk and that it can be a huge liability. Even as a woman of colour, I did not fully comprehend it until recently, either.

This is because, for most of my life, I was under the impression that I have only ever treated as something special because of my skin colour. Forget about 'white privilege' -- I enjoyed brown privilege for decades.

Thanks to my Indian parents, who migrated to Australia two years before I was born, I have light brown skin that is envied by women for reasons such as not needing to use fake tan, and for being able to shine in bright clothing, and admired by men for being "exotic" and "glowing".

I was only one of perhaps five Indian girls at school, and I was told that I stood out in a way that others admired. When my school formed part of a studio audience for a national children's television show, I was selected to represent us on camera, and it was certainly not because I was the smartest.

I loved that people often expressed curiosity about my heritage, and asked me to explain Indian traditions. In fact, I was so secure in my skin that, when I had my son with my Caucasian husband, and the child had the audacity to come out with blonde hair, blue eyes and the palest complexion, there was a part of me that was disappointed for him. My son would never know the feeling of being special in the way I had for so many years. He would not be a minority -- he would not stand out and be treasured for being different.

But, sadly, due to events that began last year, I no longer feel disappointment. I feel relief. I am relieved my son is white. And, thanks to the Australian Government's #BorderFarce, my relief is now greater than ever.

Of course, I have always known that racism exists. But in my protected little bubble, I felt safe. I genuinely believed that since racism had been removed from the laws of so many countries, Australia included, that things were improving and we lived in an increasingly tolerant era.

The death of American Eric Garner in July 2014 showed me I was wrong. The incident made international headlines when an unarmed Garner was placed in a chokehold by police officers for the suspected selling of individual cigarettes. Garner died from that chokehold. In the video of the "arrest", he can be heard pleading: "I can't breathe."

His voice haunts me to this day, and his murder has stayed in my heart ever since. After watching the video, the long-documented issues of police harassment of black people and racial profiling suddenly, and intrinsically, became part of my life, part of my story; because you cannot watch a murder and remain the same person.

Soon after Garner's death, the Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, controversially admitted that he spoke to his son about how, being a man of colour, he needed to take special care when dealing with the police. De Blasio received a massive amount of support for his honesty, and the movement #BlackLivesMatter was formed.

What De Blasio said resonated with a lot of people -- and with me. I felt grateful that was a conversation I would not need to have with my son. For the first time, the idea crossed my mind that I would not need to fear for his safety and his basic human rights in Australia for simply being white. I started to realise how even more privileged his life is than mine, because whilst I may have enjoyed being different in my youth, as a mother all I want for my son is to be safe and not have to constantly prove himself to the world.

I began to reflect on my own experiences, and saw racism and prejudice where I had initially dismissed incidents as merely the vicissitudes of life. Being told to "move to the back of the bus where black people should sit", for example. Travelling with my white husband or colleagues and being the only one "randomly" questioned by airport security every time. My mother warned by a dance academy, "little Indian girls don't do ballet". A date telling me once that I was attractive but "I only want to have kids who will look like my own, not like you."

Then there was the time I was complimented on how well I spoke English (I should hope so -- I was born in Australia, have Law and Arts degrees and a Masters in English Literature). Actually, that person was right, because surprised clients have often said when I meet them for the first time: "But you sound so Australian on the phone."

In my bubble of brown privilege, I had easily recovered from all of these incidents, but in retrospect, they had still hurt and chipped at my confidence, even if I had not realised it at the time. If being white saves my son from these kinds of experiences, from feeling attacked, isolated and insufficient, then I am glad. If it saves him from being stopped by authorities on the street and asked to explain his presence, then I am very, very relieved.

No matter how secure you are, no matter how accomplished, it hurts your soul to be dismissed or belittled (or worse) because of superficial assumptions and judgments about the colour of your skin. Racism hurts because while we may be proud of our cultural heritage, we are all so much more than the colour of our non-white skin.

I know I am. I am brown, but more importantly, I am a protective mother who hopes that society will one day see beyond skin colour, so that she can feel confident enough in humanity to not have to be glad that her son is white.


Nama Winston blogs at The Revolting Writer.