In a previous post I began discussing the issue of colorism in the Black community. This conversation is needed and so complex that it was no way I could address everything in one post. So, the conversation continues here.
There have been a number of stories recently regarding the growing popularity of skin bleaching. Let me take a minute to add that this is not just an American thing or a Black thing as the practice is growing in India, China, Japan, and Africa. Nigeria women actually lead the statistics regarding skin color with 70% of Nigerian women admitting to using whitening products. As anyone knows or could guess, skin bleaching is the result of a growing cultural belief that lighter skin affords one more opportunities and makes one more desirable. I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but in for Black people in America this is very indicative of an issue that gets little attention and is often trivialized.
The existence of colorism in the Black community is not a new phenomenon. However, as medical technology advances and more Black people are acquiring the means to express their feelings about their complexion, a revelation is taking place. We are not as comfortable in our skins as we would like to believe.
The best example of this is in celebrity culture. A number of celebrities have been accused of lightening their skin. Recently several artists have even come forward to admit that they have lightened their skin.
Articles about the African singer Mschoza’s admitting to lightening her skin sent waves of responses from people when she said,
“I love the fact that I look younger and my skin is clear. I want to be like Michael Jackson. I know that black is beautiful. I don’t hate being black. I’m just enhancing my beauty. I loved myself when I was dark, and I love myself now that I’m lighter.”
Baseball player, Sammy Sosa stated,
“It’s a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and it whitens my skin some.”
Jamaican rapper, Vybz Kartel had this to say about his skin lightening practices,
“This is my new image. You can expect the unexpected. I feel comfortable with black people lightening their skin. They want a different look. It’s tantamount to white people getting a sun tan.”
Among the artists who have been accused of or are suspected of having lightened their skin (most have not addressed such claims) are:
As those American most likely to ascribe and assimilate to the American standard of beauty, the behavior and suspected behavior of these public personalities says a lot about what we as a culture believe.
If a person has never lived with dark skin or had the experience of having a group of people to which they belong make negative comments about, poke fun at, or view them as less attractive because of their skin, it is easy to imagine that it is no big deal. If no one has ever said, “You look good, for a dark skinned person,” “If you skin was a little lighter you would look so much better,” “Your skin is so pretty/smooth and black,” “You look like you’re from Jamaica or Africa.” It is not that these things are negative but that every compliment has to qualify that persons dark skin in light of the fact that you are giving them a compliment. It’s objectifying and alienating. And shows that you are being defined by your complexion.
As self-centered Americans, we often espouse that people should not care what other people think. But that is almost impossible unless one is to live in recluse shut off from society. It is a part of the social dynamic to interact with others and one cannot help but to have feelings about the general way that they are perceived and treated by the people in that social dynamic. And people find ways to adapt themselves for more favorable responses.
We respond to these people by trying to tell them to love themselves and see themselves as beautiful. I submit to you that self love and finding ones self beautiful is not the problem. The problem is what difference does it make for a person to love themselves and think they’re beautiful if it seems they’re the only one that does. That does not keep them from being hurt by the perpetuation of light skin as more favorable, desirable, and acceptable than dark skin. It’s not a personal issue, it’s a national community issue.
The Black Power Movement brought the phrase “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Made most famous by James Brown. During this era in Black history, there was an emergence of dark skinned faces in the media and public eye. It was an exciting time and one that is very significant in Black history. We often think back to this moment as the end of all issues about dark skin. It wasn’t, but if we look closely we can see how although it appeared America was making peace with dark skin, it was only changing the etiquette of political correctness about how to speak about dark skin.
It is now politically incorrect to say ‘I hate dark skin,’ dark skinned people do not discuss their yearning to be lighter. All too often if the subject is brought up or if a dark skinned person does decide to speak openly about the negative feelings they have about their complexion, people who are not dark skinned (Black and other ethnicities) stigmatize them as having low self-esteem or hating themselves. There may be some self-esteem issues inherent in their confessions, however, to trivialize it and/or dismiss it is even more problematic. But the conversation cannot be had because it’s politically incorrect to admit that America does not prefer dark skin.
(07:00 – 10:00)
In the clip this young woman is trying to describe what she feels and how she feels inside. The audience is so busy clapping when she says God is trying to force her to love herself the way she is and Tyra is so busy trying offer irrelevant commentary that they miss the point. Watch the clip and look into that woman’s eyes when she says that people think she’s tough and has nothing going on but nobody knows what she’s dealing with. This woman is trying to voice her pain and she is far gone into her hurt that she won’t conceive of accepting herself as she is because of the pain that it has brought her to look that way.
Before we can deal with this issue we have to allow the conversation to happen and allow people to open up honestly about their feelings about their complexion. We have to acknowledge the truth and not pretend as though this isn’t happening or isn’t an issue. This is not about pitting dark skinned people against light skinned people; this is not to say that light skinned people do not have their own set of nuanced issues; and this is not to say that dark skinned people are victims. This is about addressing the perceptions that are fed to our community. This is about taking responsibility for not doing more to change the representations that feed our children’s minds and perceptions. This is about giving some our people a space to give voice to their pains. This about validating their hurts so that they can heal. We cannot trivialize a person’s struggle if we do not understand their story.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man