Every time I write about a race a few dozen people get outraged because they perceive a discussion of oppressive ideals as antagonizing or demonizing the White race. I’d like to make it clear that discussing the inappropriate use of blackface or how skin-lightening has become an issue amongst people of color in order to achieve a standard of beauty that is deprived from European features, doesn’t mean that I am pointing fingers at White people. No race is inherently evil or predisposed to owning slaves or committing atrocities against one another. (But God help me if someone else tells me in the comments I should be grateful that my ancestors were slaves?!)
As many of you have pointed out slavery and oppression of many races happens all over the world today and in the past. I am merely talking about the United States’ history and relationship to race which is largely founded in the oppression of people of color by Whites through slavery, segregation, the denial of an education, the right to vote and Jim Crowe laws, to name a few. To deny that is to deny basic facts and elementary school level history.
The belief that White/European features should be the universal standard of beauty is a cultural problem, meaning every races/ethnicities problem, that is rooted in a racial problem stemming from hundreds of years ago in which imperialism, colonialism and slavery was the priority of many European nations, which is why places where there has been a more oppressive European influence (U.S., India, South Africa, etc.) tend to have this problem most.
Here is an ad for “Fair and Lovely” a skin lightening cream. The girl in the commercial realizes she can’t have a successful tv career because she is too dark.
This is why I was stoked to find out that P&G is backing a documentary called “Imagine a Future” (an extension of their 7-year ‘Black is Beautiful’ campaign) which actually discusses the issue of light-skinned Black women being perceived as more beautiful than those with deeper skin. Studies show that men find women who are lighter have more “purity, goodness, modesty and innocence.” Which is ridiculous because there is no comparing supermodels Chanel Iman and Alek Wek ’cause they are both absolutely fierce in every way.
The documentary features Janet Goldsboro, a teenager from Dover, Delaware.
“I didn’t look like what I saw in a magazine. I look different from all my cousins. I had dark features, dark hair, dark eyes, big nose and big lips, and I used to get made fun of because of how I looked. oys say, ‘I like the light-skinned girls,’ or, ‘I like white girls because I want my baby to come out pretty. And that hurts you because it makes you feel like you’re ugly looking,” Janet says.
It’s terrible that the images in magazines, TV and movies affect the way we feel about ourselves and other people so much. In the United States this has been true since slavery where lighter slaves were preferred and even after slavery where lighter skinned Blacks were given more social and economic privileges. If you think about it, it makes sense that we would have this messed up notion ingrained in our brains because if you had a deeper skin tone but knew that your son or daughter would have more opportunities if they were lighter, you’d do your best to make sure that was the case. Except, you’d be passing down a really bad idea about one’s self-image.
“In the documentary, Ms. Goldsboro visits a market in Johannesburg with Lebogang Mashile, a poet, actress and activist, and says, ‘I heard that in South Africa that skin bleaching is a big problem here?’ Ms. Mashile replies: ‘It’s been a problem for a long time. It’s self-hate, it’s not having enough mirrors that affirm you.’”
The pressure to have more Eurocentric features is instilled in us all. Magazines and Hollywood, marketing and advertisements, do their best to make us feel like we’re missing something, like we could just be perfect if only – if only we had one more product. The trouble is when it comes to skin tone and ethnicity these marketing tactics can easily become fueled by some really bad ideas from the world’s collective bad history with race.
Check out these skin lightening advertisements that portray lighter skinned folk as more successful.