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Mirror, mirror on the wall…

Skin lightening

Today the Guardian has published another timely article
about the tragedy of skin lightening
, and the hypocrisy of multinationals
that espouse natural beauty and then sell skin whitening creams to Asian and

Once again the vast majority of responses on the Guardian website are dismissive and/or ignorant of the scale, depth and historical context to this phenomenon.

The global phenomena of skin lightening-darker skinned people wanting to be lighter- has its roots in slavery, a legacy that is very much with us today. It is no surprise to me that many of the dismissive comments, when writers such as Layla Sayeed, and Sunny Hundal try and debate the issue, are met with the argument, ‘Well, it is no different to white people wanting a tan’.

They couldn’t be further from the truth. What they elude in their ignorance is two fold: first, globally, being white bestows a privilege that is so profound and so prevailing, that the recipients-white people-take this unprecedented privilege for granted.

That privilege is a global economic order, homed in, and finally tuned since slavery that by and large sees an economically , politically and culturally powerful white world juxtaposed against a resource rich, yet poor Black world; Secondly, with that wealth, power, and global reach the wealthier world easily dictate to consumers what is beautiful, what is successful, what we should aspire to be like. TV, magazines, and now the webs remind us on a daily basis less we forget.

Skin lightening is just one of many manifestation of this global inferiority complex. Hair straightening, nose narrowing, and in worse cases, a hatred of the self. All this and more are in some way a legacy of our slave and colonial past.

Our goal must be to achieve greater economic and political power, whilst asserting a proud cultural heritage that is us wherever we are.

Simon Woolley
OBV Director


3 Responses

  1. It is amazing how this phenomenon is so prevalent globally. I was born in China, and my friends from China still fall for face whitening facewashes and lotions. It is still the stereotype that people who are paler are regarded more beautiful, though overseas Asian communities seems to take less notice of skin tone.

    I also think that this view is perpetuated by commercialization and our elders. For example, one of my Indian friends told me that his mother told him to keep himself from being tanned because ‘no girl would want to marry you’. My other friend told me that her mother called her a dark little monkey when she got tanned. It is very hard to get rid of such stigmatization indeed.

  2. With a people, a community, generations even so psychologically scarred and hated because of the colour of their skins, any wonder why there is such perpetuation of self loathing in music and turning on each other with knives and guns. The decades of covert racial political, economic and social subtleties not only serves as a reminder but re-enforces ones position and status globally. Call me a cynic but since the human race is so shallow that we still choose to measure someone’s character and human spirit by the colour of his skin, I fear that man’s technological quest will lead him to this magical pill soon to be on our pharmaceutical shelves for the ultimate transformation. I somewhat have a little suspicion that even that!!! will not be enough to satisfy MAN. Simon Woolley’s comment is so spot on and I could not agree more.
    I am very dark, a real black woman and have never used any form of bleach lightening creams and I love my natural sister locks; so in the words of Kurt Cobain:
    “I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.”

  3. I would thoroughly recommend Deborah Gabriel’s book Layers of Blackness: Colourism in the African Diaspora on this topic.

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