Whitewashed

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Today brought the news of yet another Black celebrity using bleaching cream to exchange their natural brown skin in favor of an extremely pale tone. Nigerian-Cameroonian singer Dencia debuted her look and her fittingly named skincare line Whitenicius. As I looked at Dencia ‘s ghost-like skin a phrase came to mind: another one bites the dust. Another one of my people lost the battle and gave into the notion that the skin they were born in is inferior and less attractive than pale skin. As is always the case I found the pre-bleached version to be far superior. The more I saw pictures of Dencia’s bleached skin the angrier I became.

But how angry could I be at Dencia and those like her? All they did was internalize and act on the messages that dark-skinned people-and women in particular-receive. It’s easy to just say ‘Black is beautiful’. It’s easy to condescendingly admonish them to just love themselves. I wish that centuries of conditioning could vanish with words alone. But what good are words and slogans in the face of reality? How do we teach dark-skinned women of color that they are equal and loved when reality says otherwise? How do you convince someone to love the skin they’re in when the polar opposite of their skin is the standard globally?

The bleaching epidemic simultaneously angers and saddens me. I have the desire to pop the victims upside the head for giving in-but I have an even stronger desire to hold them in love and cry with them. For I know that pain all too well. And truthfully I had to grow to love my skin again in SPITE of the conditioning and messages to the contrary. It’s not an easy or quick process. I think that a beauty aesthetic which included and upheld dark-skinned women of color would go a long way in shifting the paradigm. And indeed there have been a few encouraging signs over the past six months. The lovely cocoa-complexioned Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America last year. Rising star Lupita Nyong’o of Kenya continues to receive admiration for her beauty, poise and style. I hope the trend continues. Perhaps the ascension of more devastatingly gorgeous women like Nina and Lupita will encourage dark girls to be comfortable in their own skin and leave the bleaching creams on the shelf.

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