Valuing Lightness and Darkness

by Karen Mori

This week’s reading might seem a historical fact of the rise and fall of the skin lighteners, but I think this history of the skin lightener is not so important. To me, the most essential part is the hidden desire for people to improve themselves for socio-economic reasons or embedded idea of beauty that can be seen through the use of skin lighteners. The author of the reading (Lynn Thomas) states that the spread of skin lighteners across the world is a result of U.S. commodities and ideologies of race which became a motivation to sell those products. This skin-lighteners market eventually became entangled with economic relations, and racial hierarchies gave a meaning to “whiteness” that it is better than being darker. The reason why the use of skin lighteners were so popular despite the fact that it is symbolizing whiteness=better is because of how society was structured and how society pushed the ideology of skin color through advertisement. As a result, Black women’s concept of beauty became deeply affected by Whites.

The author mentions that “it is difficult to discern whether such valuing of lighter colored skin was rooted in pre-colonial conception of beauty, a product of racial hierarchies introduced through colonialism and segregation, or entanglement of the two,” despite the fact that the author think the concept of skin color is affected by structural forces from advertisement and social hierarchy. When I read the reading, I definitely thought yes, the concept of “being white is better than being darker” is socially created through colonialism. However when I reflected to Japan, my country, I feel little uncomfortable when I think about valuing “Bihaku” (whiteness) is affected by the West.

I personally prefer being white for no reason but I don’t think being tan is not so bad because maybe I lived in America and Americans valued being tan. When I met my friend after summer break, she was really tan, and I said “Kurokunattane” meaning you got darker (not so offensive in Japanese) and she got so upset said “hidoi” (how mean you are). I was so surprised that darkness is considered bad in Japan. Anyway, saying that whiteness is valued in Japan, some people say that Japanese adoration toward the West since Meiji period to become modernized is still affecting our value of whiteness or taller nose or longer legs. I cannot believe that Japanese are affected by historical social structure. However, when I go back to the reading what I am saying is that Black Africans prefer to have light skin not because they are affected by White.

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