The word and definition tell the story. Naturally or chemically, it speaks to the dangers – various side effects – some Black people are subjecting themselves to in order to acquire (a semblance of unnatural) lightness, and by extension, a false sense of specious social acceptance, or tolerance. And so it is, not only in predominantly white societies, but also on the African continent where some Black people have bought into the bleaching aesthetic and farce. The belief being that lighter is better than dark.
The irony and paradox are that even on the African continent (Africa!), people are shamelessly engaging in that dubious practice, because there’s a belief that, as Awori writes: “Light skin is the right skin. Black is closer to sin.”
In North America it was something like: “[…] If you’re white, you’re alright; if you’re Black…”
For generations, in Black publications and conversations much have been spoken and written about colour (blackness).
Listening to a recent radio program, I was taken by a conversation that the host and his entourage in the studio were engaging in with a studio guest, a young woman who described herself as “bi-racial, half-Trinidadian, half Irish…”
She had me wondering what she is, or better stated, how she identifies racially, culturally and otherwise… Black, white, what? For some people of mixed heritage it can be awkward, and I imagine even confusing… given the societies in which we live and where we must check a box on a form when applying for a passport for example. We must identify as something, no doubt a dilemma for that biracial woman, who I’m assuming has no reason to bleach. Although…
Reminds me of a woman I met many years ago. She is a Montrealer of Caribbean background, clearly with different ethnic (red) blood flowing through her veins.
I never engaged that woman in conversation regarding her racial-blood line, just because I’m never curious about anyone’s racial-cultural-ethnic makeup. Peoples’ racial… background has never been of great interest to me; simply take people for what they are. I’m not a judge, I don’t probe, and I’m not an ethnologist.
Anyhow, that woman, who is brown-skinned and freckle-faced disliked her ‘tone’ so much that, according to a good friend of hers back in their younger days, she used to be out in the sun (tanning) to get a little darker. She was so uncomfortable with and conscious of her brown skin. Actually, she just liked being darker.
She sure wasn’t into that skin-lightening phenomenon – even back then. Well today it’s the norm; many Black people are bleaching…
So when Rosie Awori wrote in the February 7 issue of CommunityCONTACT (Volume 27, Number 03) about the issue of “colourism” as some Black people refer to it, it surely resonated… with many Black people.
In fact, someone who read Awori’s article told me that she didn’t know that “bleaching was still going on.” She was very serious. She’s not into that social media thing she said, and “honestly didn’t know Black people were doing that…” The “hair (processing) thing” back in the day she remembered, but skin lightening she was taken aback.
I told her it’s a common practice and that ‘bleachers’ results can be seen on social media. Black people are not only doing it, but loving, and are happy with it. They’re simply uncomfortable with their blackness and (perceived) “social limitations.” To them it’s about being seen, if you will, in a different light, more to the point a different skin.
I’ve seen some of them, frightening. In my eyes they look like they’ve been prepared for the final journey. For whatever the work-over is worth, hope their self-esteem is elevated.
That bleaching matter is interesting; it’s something I address in a chapter of a manuscript I completed many years ago, entitled Read This Book If You’re Black, which I’ve been working on for years. But the real world continues to get in the way. Nevertheless, it has been ready to go, but perfectionist characteristics continue to get in he way. But for a few years now I’ve been promising those who helped to get the product ready (for publication) that it will be done… soon. It will be.
One chapter is entitled Colour Me Black: The futility of neutral identity. It begins with a poem Color… which appears in Lee Bennett Hopkins’, Don’t You Turn Back, a compilation of Langston Hughes’ poems.
Like a banner
For the proud-
Not like a shroud.
Like a song
Not moan or cry
Spelled any way you like, Color or Colour speaks volumes. It heralds Black people, is a clarion call to (some) Black folk that something is amiss, that while there may be an increasing sense of awareness – of racial identity, of spirit and commonalty, many of us continue to observe each other askance, with what seems like an innate suspicion motivated by, well, color.
Many of us are still shrouded by ignorance; either we’re not hearing the clarion call, or simply refuse to heed it. So self-absorbed, complacent, apathetic… have many of us become. It’s fair to say that many don’t even want to identify with, let alone relate to, anything as troublesome, contentious, as color- or race-conscious or racially illuminating as Color. But the reality in North America is this: the issue of color and identity is unavoidable.
Black people who are afraid, no, embarrassed to acknowledge their pedigree and embrace their identity are unable to relate to the reality and immutability of [their] being Black.
Some are so physically diluted and, by extension, so mentally- and identity-confused, they would rather tenuously straddle that racial fence, or worse, opt to exist in racial limbo, rather than outright assuming a position on the issue of [their race and color and] identity.
Still, more Black people, being socially and racially pragmatic, continue to become conscious of that Black pedigree. Rather than allowing society to do it for them, they have come to terms with, and now choose to affirm, their identity: who and what they are. Sure, they’re the products of extremes, but the result is peace-of-mind, no longer being burdened with the racial dilemma and all the social baggage it entails.
Perceptive people can penetrate the bleaching…