Photo credit: bobbygiggz/ photo on flickr
“Why are you still bleaching?” asks my mom shaking her head at her cousin.
“What can I do?” Her cousin replies dejected, as if bleaching is something she needs to survive just like the air she breaths. Like an addict, addicted to the dream to just look lighter, cleaner.
“You might get cancer from this! Do you know that?!”
A shrug is the only response.
Black History Month is about pride. It’s about remembering and celebrating. It’s about embracing who you are as a Black person and reminding yourself that despite all the stereotypes, despite the various attempts to break you down and put you in your place…you matter.
There is a practice among some Black communities that I believe is just stripping layer after layer that pride, that conscious decision to embrace blackness.
James Brown sang “Say it Loud, I’m Black and Proud.”
But some subconsciously and/or consciously disagree. Hence bleaching exists.
The first time I remember hearing about bleaching I was but a mere child. My mom was reprimanding friends of her that were and still bleach their skin. A method to strip away your blackness and become lighter. It doesn’t matter whether that practice might blemish your skin forever, give you weird looking stretchmarks or cause you skin cancer. They are all willing to put that cream on to become a few shades lighter.
Because their motto is “lighter is beautiful”. You see it broadcasted sometime in African media, where there are plenty of actresses engaging in this practice, where men rave about lighter skin women. You see it in Jamaica where I recently discovered that bleaching is widespread. Because your fortune is supposed to be better if your shade is closer to white than to black.
There’s a song by Lisa Hype, a Jamaican artist, about bleaching being awesome.
But all I could hear when I heard it for the first time yesterday was: I’m Black and I ain’t Proud; I’m Black and I hate it; I’m Black and I’ve got to do something about it.
They can call it “skin whitening”, or “skin lightening” to make it sound less harsh. But it’s bleaching. Sometimes they use actual bleach. And other times the results are the product of a cocktail of chemicals to reduce melanine concentration in the skin. If you are curious about what is it that they actually use, Wikipedia has a detailed description.
the “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group”.
And it has probably a lot to do with why so many women (and men) make this fashion choice, decide to “tone” their skin and just be lighter.
And it needs to stop. We’re all Black. We’re all individuals with hopes and dreams for the future. We all have a history. We may be where we are because of ancestors in chains, or free. We may be where we are because of the hard work that our families have made. We might have had amazing childhoods or rough ones. We might have tons of friends or just a few. But we’re all people, no matter our shade.
Let’s not add to racism by discriminating among ourselves.
And for all the people out there who bleach. Don’t let people tell you that being darker is not beautiful. Because we’re all beautiful and should be proud. Because we’re the results of genes and genes that have perfectly moulded to give us skin the colour of caramel or ebony.
Lupita Nyong’o gave a speech when she received the Best Breakthrough Performance Award at Essence’s 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. She talked about a letter that she had received from a girl who was planning to lighten her skin before she found out about the actress. And she remembered a time where she wished she had lighter skin herself.
And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside.
There is no shade to that beauty.
There is no shade to that beauty. Be proud of you who are. Be Black. Be Who You Are. Be Proud.
Here are a number of interesting articles and videos/documentaries on colorism and bleaching:
5 Truths About Colorism That I’ve Learned As a Black Woman In NYC by Kristin Collins Jackson
Dark Girl, A Documentary – you can find it on Netflix.
And I leave you with this question…what would you say to encourage people who bleach or are thinking about it to stop?