On February 27th, 2014, actress Lupita Nyong’o gave a moving speech at the 7th annual ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood luncheon in Beverly Hills and reactions to this speech plagued social media sites. Since this speech, several hashtags such as #melanin have been roaming on Instagram.
Lupita was able to validate that being Black is just as beautiful by saying: “there is no shame in black beauty.” This seemed to empower Black women across the globe to be proud of the skin they are in. However, color continues to be a Black person’s dilemma today.
Bleaching is not a new phenomenon; even in predominantly Black communities like in West Africa, people uphold this European standard. This goes back to years of colonialism, and slavery. We are led to think that we are just “brightening” “toning” “clearing” our skin just a bit, but just like anything else, it is addictive.
The strive for beauty in the African, American, and Caribbean cultures is seen by the self-inflicted harm of bleaching our skin. I never understood the concept of someone completely changing their skin complexion. As one who suffered from acne for over a decade, I fell prey to bleaching creams namely hydroquinone as an ingredient; all because I wanted to rid my skin of blackheads – the awful aftermath of acne.
As I watched my skin tone change to the point where I could no longer recognize myself, I knew that this was going against my belief that God made us the way he intended without any mistake. Along with the expensive wet-n-wavy Indian hair on my head, I noticed that I received more attention from Black, White and Hispanic males. So, this caused me to do extensive research on skin bleaching and the harmful ingredients found in these products.
Well, for starters, the color change is superficial and not internal unless you take oral products to alter your melanin production. I can imagine how Lupita felt when I and many others have been told repeatedly that African men find light-skin black women more attractive. I mean you have darker women bleaching to become lighter, and even light-skin black women bleaching to highlight their color.
The truth remains that none of these women can truly formulate a reason for their bleaching. It is an unconscious struggle for approval. I do not wish to attack anyone who has bleached their skin, because ultimately this remains your personal preference, but it is something to think about. We can say “black is beautiful” all we want but unless we believe those words, our daughters and sons will suffer the pain we endured and repeat the vicious cycles that plague black communities.
Years ago, my cousin visited me from London and while at the Laundromat in NYC, she was told by a Black American male that she was too pretty to be African. This comment was not warranted by her British accent, but the fact that it has been wrongfully ingrained in western societies that being African denotes inferiority to the point where blacks specifically in the United States feel superior to Blacks in Africa.
When a black woman is made aware of her skin, it is rarely as a compliment. When a black man is made aware of his skin, it is surrounded by fear and discomfort. Living in Utah, I felt so passionate about race, and as time went by, I tried to overlook the issues surrounding being Black and promoting that everything does not have to do with race. However, the unfortunate truth remains that when you are Black, your skin color always precedes even your gender.
As a people, we must overcome the mental hindrances of slavery, empower one another, see through a lens of love so that racial acts lose all power and control over us. Most importantly, love the skin you are in no matter what tone you are on the Black color spectrum.