When I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to just fit in.
As one of the only Indian students in my school, which was comprised mostly of white students, I stuck out like a sore thumb.
My brown skin and geeky glasses, which I started wearing as early as second grade, caused me to be exceedingly self-conscious of my appearance. While the glasses were embarrassing in their own right, my skin color was what gave me the most anxiety.
I fretted that not looking the same as my white classmates had an impact on my worth and my ability to succeed. My crippling shyness was only reinforced by my constant insecurities. I would be afraid to talk to new people because I was afraid of immediate judgment.
However, as I grew older and learned to love and appreciate my culture and heritage, the color of my skin became a factor that barely affected my confidence. Instead of being a quiet grievance, it is a solid part of my identity.
But the thing is, my childish concerns could have been a harsh and ugly reality for me. These ideas that we would be shocked by now were something black citizens of the U.S. had to regularly battle due to racial segregation and discrimination.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is one that speaks to people from all minority backgrounds because he is one of the reasons why having basic fundamental rights and being legally treated with equality and respect is not something that is contingent on the hue of your skin.
Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the reasons I have the luxury of not being ashamed or regretful for my skin tone. My brown skin could have easily been the obvious difference between the type of education I received. It could have had the potential to affect my career.
But racism is not a dead concept and we are certainly not a perfect society. I know all too well that I could still be the subject of blatant discrimination, and the stories that are reported in the media make that apparent. Whether we’re talking about police brutality against blacks or other minorities, or witnessing the backlash for a Miss America with Indian heritage, these are all signs of a constant undercurrent of racism.
As a country, we made a step in the right direction by creating legal equality. I can only hope going forward that racism and prejudice will begin to also become a thing of the past so I can tell another shy little brown girl that all she has to worry about is holding out for contact lenses.
Anya Rath is the managing editor for The State News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.