Brown Eyes

by Guest Contributor Tara, originally posted at Bias Cut

I used to work for an optometrist, and when I did, we used to sell a lot of colored contact lenses. Though the lenses came in many different colors, no one ever picked brown. Hazel and Honey were popular choices for people with very dark eyes, but I can’t recall anyone ever choosing brown. I don’t even think we stocked that color.

In communities of color, internalized racism often causes us to rank our features as good or bad, pretty or ugly by how closely they resemble whiteness. In this paradigm, straight hair beats curly, light skin beats darker, eyelids without folds in them become coveted and worth surgery to “correct.” Of course, there are many who reject this criterion and create their own standards of beauty, but it’s also hard to escape constant and ceaseless messages about what is desirable and what isn’t.

When I was younger, I was one of those non-white kids who desperately wanted colored contacts. Nothing in the world would have pleased me more than violet-colored eyes. I would have settled for green, too. But, I also took a lot of pride in the fact that my eyes were lighter brown than the eyes of my mother and my two sisters. I would stare at them in the mirror sometimes, in the sunlight if I could, because they looked golden in it. I’d tell myself that they were almost hazel. I remember one moment after a long cry that I looked in the mirror and was thrilled that the redness of my face almost made my eyes look a muddy greenish brown. Of course, to the majority of white folks, my brown eyes would never be special. They probably weren’t even special in my own family, or at least my source of dubious pride was never acknowledged.

At the optometrist’s, I was given free samples from time to time, and colored contacts were gifted to me several times by contact lens company representatives eager to win a new devotee. Predictably, I looked ridiculous in blue and green eyes, but I especially looked bad in purple. I could barely look at myself in the mirror with those hideous lavender things on my eyeballs, and had a good laugh at how secretly disappointed my adolescent self would have been, yet how diligently I probably would have worn them anyway.

As it stands, my eyes are not quite Honey, but not quite Chocolate either. They work perfectly with the rest of my features, and they’re not better or prettier than anyone else’s dark brown eyes. Unlearning a life’s indoctrination of racism takes, well, a life, and sometimes it’s realizing the little things that help you the furthest.