I re-read this article by Sede Alonge after I cited it in a post last year, and this time, it hit me just how much misinformation it contains. While I agree with the author that consenting adult human beings are allowed to court skin cancer and kidney failure by consistently applying dangerous chemicals in the name of skin toning/bleaching/lightening/whitening/whatever, I am not buying her attempt to make it seem like it’s no big deal – she’s trying to underplay the underlying (and even overlying) political/racial/social forces at work here. What struck me in particular was this part:
When white people use tanning lotions, solariums and other methods to darken their skin, it is treated as par for the course and other white people don’t feel the need to remind them that “white is beautiful”. In fact, such a statement would likely be regarded as racist by members of other races. Yes, I understand that there was a specific historical context in the US and elsewhere which, at the time, necessitated the use of the “black is beautiful” slogan in order to boost black people’s sense of self-worth and identity, but this is 2014 and we should have gotten beyond that by now. Or are self-affirming slogans going to be needed by black people forever?
Let’s zoom into this section:
When white people use tanning lotions, solariums and other methods to darken their skin, it is treated as par for the course and other white people don’t feel the need to remind them that “white is beautiful”. In fact, such a statement would likely be regarded as racist by members of other races.
Well, yes. White people are the reason racism is (still) an issue today. We didn’t have racial segregation in Africa until the European colonialists came and established it. In South Africa, the white Dutch settlers, after killing off and subduing much of the Khoe-san population, established their version of Jim Crowe laws under Apartheid. Everywhere there is racism, there are white people. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that places with no white people didn’t/don’t have problems with discrimination or prejudice. However, the singular fact of using (dark) skin colour as a basis to decide superiority/inferiority is the brainchild of white people (at least on the African continent). For centuries, they have told us – through their art, through their scientists, through their politics, that we are ugly, and that fair is beautiful. They’ve told us, and they’re still telling us. Nigeria, like many other countries, receives a lot of Western media, particularly American movies, shows, and magazines. Look at female protagonists of mainstream movies; at advertisements for cosmetic products; at front-page cover models; they’re almost all white women. I’m not saying they’re not beautiful – but where are the dark(er) women? And, no, Lupita Nyongo is not the answer – she is one woman whom white media tried to use to wash off their collectively felt guilt by parading her as the new face of Black, but just as quickly as she burst unto the scene, she’s faded right back out of it. We don’t need a token black face; we need it to be normal for dark skinned women to regularly feature in the spotlight.
Yes, I understand that there was a specific historical context in the US and elsewhere which, at the time, necessitated the use of the “black is beautiful” slogan in order to boost black people’s sense of self-worth and identity, but this is 2014 and we should have gotten beyond that by now.
It’s almost as if the author is afraid to confront the ugliness that is racism. She’d rather live in an imaginary utopia where all races are treated equal and live in perfect harmony with each other and everyone is free to make decisions without their race being a factor. I don’t care what year it is, 2014, 2016 or 3070 – as long as there is racism (or sexism, or ageism, or any other kind of injustice) we should confront it. It’s like ignoring the shockingly and shamefully high rate of slavery and human trafficking in the world because the trans-Atlantic slave trade was abolished in 1807 and this is 2016 so we should have moved passed this by now… no. The author is side-stepping the issue of racism to make her case. I’m not sure why. Her article was published in the UK Telegraph so my guess is she’s trying not to make the white readers feel uncomfortable about racism. Well, racism is an uncomfortable reality for us darkies, so…
People’s desire to have a particular skin tone, be it a darker or lighter one, stems from them wanting to be more attractive and sometimes for others to take notice. And more often than not, in the case of an individual who has undergone skin lightening here in Africa, it works. The critics might be unwilling to concede this publicly, but the harsh truth is that in Africa, lighter skinned girls do get more attention and are more appreciated than darker skinned women.
It is not unusual to often hear Nigerian men say things like: “Oh, I met this beautiful girl the other day, she had a great body…and she was fair in complexion.”… If skin tone didn’t matter at all to Nigerian men, skin lightening creams and soaps wouldn’t be flying off the shelves over here as they are right now. In Nigerian music videos too, one can notice a glaring preference for lighter skinned females
Okay, hold up. Let’s take a step back (or two, or three). Since when is it a woman’s singular aim in life to be the thing that a bunch of misguided men want to sleep with? So because some dudes have been brainwashed or have convinced themselves that only light skinned women are beautiful, everyone should rush to the market/supermarket/pharmacy and grab some of that skin poison bleach? What if tomorrow the new standard is that only women under 5 feet tall are beautiful? Will we all go and get bone shrinking surgeries? Yes, some guys have a bias for fair skinned women, but if we really think about it, are those the men we want in our lives? Moreover, we cannot ignore the socio-historical influences that have caused this bias, and these go beyond women’s attractiveness. In any restaurant, office, hotel in Nigeria, white people are treated with sickening levels of deference when compared with their Nigerian counterparts. Some places go as far as to ignore black clients until they have served the white ones. White business owners and expatriate workers, (and not just the white ones, but the Indian and Chinese) abuse their workers in ways that would raise hell if black employers did the same. Colonialism never really ended in Nigeria; it simply got some plastic surgery. And it is in this context that people are bleaching their skin. That is why it is a problem (aside from the health risks I mean).
The author asked the question: “are self-affirming slogans going to be needed by black people forever?” I’ll answer with this video:
As long as such a racist video can be not simply considered, but filmed, edited, published and aired on television, we’ll be holding on to our “self-affirming slogans” thank you very much.
So I re-read this a few times, and I might sound like I dislike all white people, for things that were done by some white people and that is one definition of prejudice. It was not my intention to be prejudiced in this post – I’m just really angry about the issues I raised.