Of course, you wouldn’t know anything about that because you’re light-skinned.
Sometimes, smart people can say some very stupid things.
I was talking to a friend recently, and our topics fluttered variously from raising a family, to my future plans, to her recent past. I don’t know exactly how we got to skin bleaching, but we got there. Apparently it happens in Senegal. I wasn’t entirely astonished at the news because I’ve seen a few billboard ads for skin products that promise “clarifiant”(lightening) results. Still, I didn’t think it was a major issue because other than the ads I haven’t really encountered the practice in Senegal.
Dakar, where I currently live, is home to a very diverse population. Apart from indigenous Senegalese, and second generation migrants from nearby African countries like Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, there are a lot of other Africans from West Africa and farther away (Kenya, Zimbabwe, Burundi), North Africans, Lebanese, Japanese, Chinese, Americans, French, and a smattering of other White/European people. The Senegalese make up the majority of the population (I don’t have exact statistics; this is based solely on observation).
Most indigenous Senegalese people have very dark skin. It’s beautiful, smooth, even-toned, ebony skin. It’s like the people here were all dipped in rich, dark chocolate. This dark skin is the norm here, and I’ve seen dark men married to dark women and they have cute dark babies. Since I’ve been here, I’ve only encountered one person whose skin shows obvious signs of bleaching.
I don’t know what the preferred aesthetic is here to be honest. I haven’t heard of any voiced preference for light-skinned women like I’ve heard in Nigeria. It’s possible I am unaware of a preference because I don’t understand Wolof. And to be fair, I haven’t spent a lot of time talking to Senegalese people – I’ve been busy with work, and my work puts me in contact with other Africans, especially Guineans. Still, I just assumed that the preponderance of dark-skinned Senegalese meant that among their own people at least, dark skin was considered beautiful. However, according to my friend who a) isn’t Senegalese and b) has lived here about three years, there are men in this country who “prefer” light-skinned women, and there is pressure on women to lighten their skin. She says that there are even men who give their wives money to buy products to get lighter. This was the first time I was hearing this, so I wasn’t very quick to accept her words as gospel truth.
I expressed my scepticism, and she took that to mean that I was completely unaware of light-skin bias as a concept. And then she uttered the following:
“Here, light-skinned people and metisses get treated better. Men give light-skinned women more attention and don’t pay attention to dark women. Of course, you wouldn’t know anything about that because you’re light-skinned.”
While it’s not the first time I’ve been confronted with this silliness (I love and respect the friend in question, but I’m also a firm believer in telling it like it is), it was no less irritating than the previous times.
So, this is a message to all the darker-skinned black women out there who believe that all lighter-skinned black women are happily basking in the adoration of idiot men with a colonial complex and/or are unaware of the discrimination you face. It is possible that such women exist, but I am not one of them. When I hear about colour bias in the workplace, or in social situations, I am equally as pissed off as you are. It is very stupid to think that I am somehow unaffected by colourism simply because I have light brown skin. My sister is dark skinned. My cousins are dark-skinned. Do you think I am happy to hear that someone has talked down on them because of how they look? Do you think I am delighted to learn that they might have been disregarded for a job position simply because the employer wanted someone “brighter”? You may be bitter and resentful of colourism and its perpetrators, but your light-skinned sisters and friends are not your enemies. We did not create this system of preference for light-skin as you very well know. Slavery and colonialism created this mess. And it is a mess.
I grind my teeth every time a darker skinned friend or colleague tries to reinforce this division between dark and light-skinned blacks, because at the end of the day, in the eyes of a racist person, we are all black monkeys. They don’t really see different shades. Instead of binding together to weather the oppression, we’re splintering off into skin-tone factions, and that helps no one.
As much as I hate it when someone suggests that I’m happy being treated better than my dark skinned peers, I hate it even more when someone says I’m not allowed to comment on colourism or its consequences (like skin-bleaching), because, you know, I’m not a “victim”. If that is the argument, then no black person alive today is allowed to decry the trans-Atlantic slave trade because none of us was sold as slaves. And black people who don’t live in the US cannot comment about police brutality against Black Americans. And if these last two scenarios seem ridiculous to you, then the first one is equally silly. Racism and colourism affect all black people albeit in different ways, but not one of us is unaffected by the discrimination that comes from other races and, tragically, other Blacks.
So… of course I know a lot about it, despite my light skin.