A series, inspired by the CNN special, dedicated to race related identity issues concerning Black people in America.

 

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.

The Story

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.

Skin Lightening

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,

mshoza-skin-bleach

“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,

sammy-sosa-skin

“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,

vybzbleach_article

“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:

Lil-Kim-Before-and-after-skin-lightening1

Lil Kim

Beyonce

Beyonce

Rihanna

Rihanna

nicki-minaj-skin-bleaching-dadc6a2f

Nicki Minaj

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.

The Problem

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 Point

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

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Comments
  1. elevated87 says:

    This is sad. I understand, however… to a degree. When I was younger I hated being a dark skinned female. I was always told that dark babies were ugly and yellow and red bones were in. You have to get to that point where you can say “Forget everybody. I’m me and that’s who I want to be. I love me more than the opinion of other people”. I love my dark skin. It’s smooth and clear. I don’t need make up like many of my light skinned friends do. I can’t name light skinned female I know with that natural dark glow. It is what it is.

    • DesiBjorn says:

      Thank you for reading and responding. It is sad. It’s sad that we allow certain images and perceptions to persist through media consumption. And I think the journey of confronting and loving your dark skin is different for everyone and not all people make it to that point of truly embracing their dark skin. Many of them like the girl in the clip tolerate their dark skin but would at a moment’s hesitation change it if they could. That’s real. And the reality is America (through media and simple behaviors) does not view dark skin the way it views light skin and we gotta be honest about that.

  2. mizdoss says:

    You know I think that it is so important for parents and families, or even communities for that matter to foster self acceptance. Children need to grow up with a foundation of self loving and not self loathing. After rereading my post, and rereading your posts about this topic I started trying to figure out why I didn’t feel the way many of these dark skinned women felt. I look at my actions and the actions of my friends who do have these dark skinned complexes. I can attribute it to my family and community. My father’s side of my family is mostly dark skinned, and they’ve never expressed to me negativity associated with skin color. My family always bought us black dolls to play with and exposed us to our history and the state of black people in this country. My sister and I haven’t ever expressed feelings of dislike of ourselves because of our skin color. I have a dark skinned friend who has a lighter skinned daughter and does everything in her power to keep the girl lighter (not playing outside for long in the southern summer sun). She buys her white dolls saying that they look more like her daughter than a black doll. Her behavior sickens me, because at this age she is exposing her daughter to a negative connotation when it comes to dark skin. My only hope for this girl is that she will rebel against her mother’s feelings, because most everyone else in her family is dark skinned.

    I’m a elementary teacher, and prefer to teach in the lower income schools, reaching predominately black students, giving them the best education I know how to provide (horn tooted for a second). We were learning about children around the world, and it broke my heart to hear one of my black students look at the African girl and said “eww look at the ugly girl.”
    Me: Why do you think she’s ugly?
    Student: Look at her skin
    Me: What’s wrong with her skin, I think it’s pretty smooth chocolate skin.
    Student: Well she has some type of color on her that looks orange.
    Me: Well it could be a glow from the camera shot that took this picture, or it could be the color of the little hairs on her body that changed color in the African sun. I think she’s a pretty black girl with pretty braids.
    Student: Well yeah, she is pretty.

    Just like that I influenced my student to feel how I felt about the little girl whom she first thought of as ugly. At such a young age, children are easily influenced, and take on the opinion of any person whom they identify with or admire. Young students in general admire their teachers and what to be just like their teachers, so whatever their teacher says is golden! What shocked me the most was that my student was about the same color as the girl in the book.

    Fostering self love at a young age helps self esteem, and lessens the chance for the external influences to contaminate oneself.

    Did I write enough for you!!! (sorry it’s so long I was in a zone)

    Just a lil’ of the TRUTH

    • DesiBjorn says:

      Lol I loved that your response was that thorough.

      I’m not at all disagreeing with your notion of fostering self esteem. I just don’t think that has much to do with this issue of dark skin. I say that because I feel the bigger piece of work that must be addressed is, for example, where did your student develop those thoughts to begin with? I’m certain no one at home is saying to them dark skinned people are ugly yet that child instinctively knew that the little African girl in the picture was not the preferred or desired complexion for what would be considered pretty. That’s what I’m getting at…there’s something bigger than self esteem going on here. I am convinced that it is the silent assault on ours and out children’s minds about dark skin. For instance, we all know who McDonald’s market is (I’m not gonna get into the whole discussion about them in general because I’m not really offended by their corny Black commercials for my own reasons) but when those commercials come on the actors are usually fair skinned Black people with curly and or long hair and when they throw a dark skinned woman in there she has some natural style or when it’s a dark skinned guy he is almost always more urban than the lighter skinned guys. It seems like nothing but repeat those commercials several hundred times a week to a unsuspecting mind and there you have it. On some subconscious level we make associations that stick.

      When we see movies (even Black movies) the men who always the dangerous thugs or uneducated blue collar brothers that need uplifting are usually…dark skinned. Again, I know it sounds like something small but that is the crux of my point, that the things are small but they are powerful and when repeatedly exposed they have affects and no one has to say dark skin is ugly or reject a dark skin person for them to pick up this feeling of being unpreferred.

      My mother is a dark skinned woman from whom I take my complexion and I grew up in a household that was very affirming of who I was and being proud of that but I would be a lie if I said I never had the day come when I realized that I didn’t have to get rejected by women because of my complexion not did I have to hate it myself for me to know that there were times in my life when even the complexion of the skin I live in had made a difference in how I was perceived.

  3. mizdoss says:

    I completely understand what you are saying about the problem being deeper than self acceptance. The mental damage has been done. I just think the only way to counteract that mindset is to try to create a new one in the youth.

    You are right about that McDonald’s commercial madness though!

    • DesiBjorn says:

      Lol right!

      And, ofcourse, you believe the difference is made with youth… You’re an educator! And it’s exactly the mindset I think you should have to be effective at it. And I definitely think that is the perfect place to turn it around. I wanna stop it before it ever starts, because as I’m sure you know not every teacher will have the insight or the time or make the time to stop and teach our kids things that aren’t in the curriculum. So it would be nice of they have to start out with a warped perception. And I want us to take think more about the images being presented to us and our children. And take accountability for our ability to change that if we wanted to. I guess that’s all I’m getting at. I want the frustration and sadness about this issue to be channeled into energy to move for change directed at the root of the problem. But no doubt keep shaping our kids minds and setting them back right. We salute you for that! Cause they damn sure don’t pay you enough for doing it…smh (I guess that’s a whole other post too lol).

      • mizdoss says:

        You are RIGHT about the payment part!!! I understand the wanting to prevent the mindset of negative connotations towards dark skin, but where do you start? We’d have to get back to the black panther movement, and I don’t find enough black people ready to rally together for any cause long enough to make a difference.

      • DesiBjorn says:

        Well you just said it right there. We go back to the Black Power Movement. They didn’t start off as a movement either…they were a couple pissed off “eccentric” Black walking through the neighborhood with guns to protect their people from crime AND the police.

        We can’t worry about numbers, sis. We gotta do it because our passion won’t let us rest until we are doing something. We can’t do it for the turn out, we gotta do it because our mindset won’t let us not believe we can make a difference. It’s the same way that you approach being an educator. You can’t teach every kid in the world. And I’m sure there are times you don’t have enough time to impart all the general wisdom your kids need (like around EOG testing time). But you don’t let that be an excuse not to be an educator and not to take advantage of the moments you have when you have them. Feel me?

  4. Mike says:

    This was some interesting reading, I live in Sweden and here we have a huge obsession with taning but Im out of luck since my red hair followed with weak skin. I had no idea that there is a use of blemishing creams in the US, so in my view youre sitting with the world in your hands!

    for the young, I think it would be good to highlight the diffrent standards of Beauty and find a common understanding were people can find pride in who they are rather than what they are and break the media complex chain of whats considered to be the ideal human beeing.

    Greetings / Hälsningar
    Mikael

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