UWF's MyStory Griot Project: Nicole Allen
Earlier this year, the University of West Florida College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CASSH) and the CASSH Workgroup on Race, Ethnicity and Belonging launched the MyStory Griot Project in an effort to create a space for the campus community to share and discuss their experiences.
Today, WUWF is highlighting one of the stories that’s been collected.
"Hi, I’m Nicole Allen and this is MyStory: Discrimination Through the Eyes of a Brown Asian,” she begins.
At the center of Allen’s story is her mother, who, she recalls, used to “ritualistically apply bleach to her skin as one of her nightly regimens.”
“As a little girl, I intently observed her beauty routine, without fully comprehending the purpose or motivation behind each step,” she said.
“I loved her black hair, brown eyes and the hue and texture of her dark brown skin. My mother, however, deemed her appearance unworthy, an indoctrinated, colorist, and racist notion she grew up believing; fostered from a culture of white-worshipping and perpetuated after moving to the United States.”
Allen’s mom is an immigrant from the Philippines. Her late father was White; so White, she says, that he often referred to himself as translucent.
“He was a charming jokester, but far from the picture-perfect father or husband. I can recall him commenting on my mother’s native language, Tagalog, comparing it to the sound of a clucking hen,” she remembered.
“Attempting to camouflage his discrimination with humor, my father consistently belittled my mother by wielding her culture as a weapon.”
In combination with the discrimination she witnessed at home, Allen recounts being one of just three brown children in her hometown’s entire K-12 school. She says it made her feel like an “imperfection in a flawless sea of White.”
“Desperate to look, act, and be revered as much as the blond-haired, blue-eyed girls in my class, I formed an internalized prejudice towards my own race,” Allen admitted.
“I made constant attempts to make friends with those children I believed embodied the ideal characteristics, only to become a willing accessory in their own blooming prejudices.”
In elementary school, she remembers her peers pulling her hair, while imitating Native warrior cries and calling her Pocahontas. On particularly vile days, she says they placed gum in her hair.
“In sixth grade, they stuck with the Disney Princess theme and advanced their racial comparisons from Pocahontas to Mulan; transitioning from aggressively pulling my hair to tauntingly pulling back their eyelids. Honestly, thinking back, I was impressed they finally got the continent correct.”
Disappointingly, Allen said she could not remember a time when a teacher intervened on her behalf.
Early in her life, she decided to keep her circle small, subconsciously pushing people away and acting as if she was tough and unfazed. It started to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But, the reality was that she was affected.
“When I was in my 20s, a beloved family member joked that I should go back to the rice field. While I believe that comment was intended to be satirical, it set off an internal alarm and I reverted to that little brown girl, wondering where I fit in the world” she said, acknowledging the pain. “It was that day that I took down my wall.”
Allen says it’s been 20 years since her father’s passing, and says she and her mother have just begun to dialogue about their experiences at home.
With time, she now understands the battles her Filipino mother fought against racial discrimination — inside and outside their home.
Today, she notes that her mother no longer bleaches her skin; so things are better.
But, she notes some of those destructive thoughts of the past remain.
“Ugh, I’m getting so dark,” Allen quotes her mother as saying after a day in the sun. “Stop, we’re beautiful just the way we are,” she says of her reply. “But, in those words, I’m not only trying to convince her, but myself.”
Nicole Allen, sharing her story of “Discrimination Through the Eyes of a Brown Asian,” part of the UWF My Story Griot Project.
To find out more, follow the links to UWF’s MyStory Griot Project and the UWF CASSH Workgroup on Race, Ethnicity and Belonging.