Beauty Per Skin Complexion and Symmetry

Anonymous student post

This blog will focus on beauty ideals pertaining to skin color and facial symmetry.

From Asia to Africa, having a light skin tone makes one more desirable. Colonial invasions have only helped to instil the idea ‘the whiter the better’. Even in Africa skin bleaching is quite popular. Especially in Nigeria where 77% of women use skin bleaching aides (Alonge 2014). While many Caucasians may tan, other races may tend to avoid tanning. According to the media, tanned skin on a Caucasian individual represents fitness and vacationing, yet ads showcasing the tanning of other races is rare or non existent.

Perhaps the desire for lighter skin is due to the “colonial mentality” which preaches that “white is right”. Yet in countries such as Japan and Asia the ideal beauty has been pale and to an extent is still considered the ideal. One only needs to search for images of celebrities to know the standard. For many centuries in Asia the color of one’s complexion has been an indicator of class status with pale being at the top (Wagatsuma 1967).

India also has a status system based on the complexion of one’s skin that has been exaggerated since the invasion of colonialism. The main difference between the availability of opportunities between East Asia, India, and Africa is that in Japan and China tanned skin does not affect job opportunities, but dark skinned foreigners stick out and aren’t treated as nicely as their lighter skinned counterparts (Arudou 2014), but in Korea where a profile picture must be attached to a resume (The Grand Narrative 2010), the discrimination is worse; in India dark skinned people use skin bleaching aides in order to secure a ‘good job’ and/or get a successful arranged marriage partner (Glenn 2008); and in Africa women bleach their skin due to self esteem issues and to get married as the ‘colonial mentality’ still exists along with the racial profiling of black skinned people.

Even in the US and Europe there are issues with the degree of one’s skin color yet bleaching is less common. Being lighter than average in complexion in one’s race gives one special privileges such as receiving discounts, extras, and also better behavior such as in not being profiled (Fihlani 2013). Lighter skinned black people receive extra attention yet being too light or albino excludes one from their race yet they are also excluded from the white race group (Parks 2007). Also bias in treating others differently due to skin tone is a form of internalized racism (Hall 1992).

According to research, facial symmetry is preferred over asymmetrical faces. In Rhodes et al.’s study on facial symmetry, males preferred the perfect symmetrical face more than females, but the preferences of all other degrees of facial symmetry was similar between the genders. In experiment 1, three individuals original portraits were shown along with computer-altered images in the order of low, normal, high, and perfect symmetry (Rhodes et al. 1998). The argument for the reason being that facial symmetry is attractive is due to health in childhood, but such evolutionary claims have been debunked as a myth (Poppy 2014).

In westernized nations a low WHR (waist to hip ratio) is preferred over a high WHR, yet the Matsigenka people, who are isolated from westernization, prefer a high WHR. According to the Matsigenka the low WHR looks unhealthy (Yu et al. 1998).

Also infants responded more to images of symmetrical faces than asymmetrical faces by staring at symmetrical faces for a greater duration of time. Not many studies in facial symmetry have been conducted multiculturally yet current issues in South Korea such as plastic surgery being quite popular may suggest that facial and/or body symmetry is quite important (Chang & Thompson 2014).

Perception bias may also influence the concept of facial symmetry as participants in Little and Jones’s experiment didn’t express a preference for symmetrical faces that were inverted, rather such images were perceived as objects than faces (Little et al. 2003). Overall westernized cultures, (meaning not having been influenced by western media) may prefer symmetrical faces and bodies with a low WHR.

Cross culturally in determining beauty a symmetrical face and clear skin are main ideals that remain (Gaad 2010) while ideals such as having fair skin are of Western (Wade 2014) and East Asian origin (Xiea et al. 2013). If one pays attention to the media, the majority of actresses, models, celebrities and those who appear in the media usually have clear, bright skin, and facial symmetry. Also hierarchy due to skin tone may be a cultural issue, but it is most likely not strictly just a cultural issue alone, but also internalized and externalized racism (Hunter 2007).


Alonge, Sede. “Not all African women believe ‘black is beautiful’. And that’s OK.” The Telegraph 18 July 2014. <>.

Arudou, Debito. “Complexes continue to color Japan’s ambivalent ties to the outside world.” The Japan Times (2014). <>.

Chang, Juju, and Victoria Thompson. ” Home> Lifestyle South Korea’s Growing Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery .” ABC NEWS, 20 June 2014. <>.

Feng, Charles. “Looking Good: The Psychology and Biology of Beauty.” Journal of Young Investigators 6.6 (2002). <>

Fihlani, Pumza, and Thomas Fessy. “Africa: Where black is not really beautiful.” BBC NEWS AFRICA. BBC, 1 Feb. 2013. <>.

Glenn, Evelyn N. “Yearning for Lightness Transnational Circuits in the Marketing and Consumption of Skin Lighteners.” Gender & Society 22.3 (2008): 281-302.

Hall, Ronald E. “Bias Among African-Americans Regarding Skin Color: Implications for Social Work Practice.” Journal of Black Psychology 2.4 (1992): 479-86. <>.

Hunter, M. “The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality. Sociology Compass” (2007), 1: 237–254. <>

Little, A. C. & Jones, B. C. (2003). Evidence against perceptual bias views for symmetry preferences in human faces. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 270: 1759-1763. <>

Parks, Casey. “Black Woman, White Skin.” N.p., 13 July 2007. Web. 20 Dec. 2014. <>.

Perrett, David et al. Symmetry and human facial attractiveness. Evolution & Human Behavior. 1999 (20): 295-307. <>

Poppy, Brenda. “Facial Symmetry is Attractive, But Not Because It Indicates Health.” Discover 12 Aug. 2014. <>.

Rhodes, Gillian, Fiona Proffitt, Jonathon M. Grady, and Alex Sumich. “Facial symmetry and the perception of beauty.” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 5.4 (1998): 659-69. <>

Saad, Gad. “Beauty: Culture-Specific or Universally Defined? The universality of some beauty markers.” Psychology Today (2010). <>.

The Grand Narrative. “Korean Sociological Image #40: As Pretty as a Picture?” The Grand Narrative: Korean Feminism, Sexuality, and Popular Culture, 16 June. 2010. <>

Wade, L. (2014, May 16). When White is the Standard of Beauty. The Society Pages. <>

Wagatsuma, Hiroshi. “The Social Perception of Skin Color in Japan.” Daedalus 96.2 (1967): 443-97. <>.

Xiea, Qinwei (Vivi), and Meng Zhang. “White or tan? A cross-cultural analysis of skin beauty advertisements between China and the United States.” Asian Journal of Communication 23.5 (2013).

Yu, D W., and G H. Shepard. “Is Beauty In the Eye of the Beholder?” Nature (1998): 396, 321-322+. <>.

White Normality and the Mass Media

by Marcel Koníček

Before I took my international sociology class, I had never heard about skin lightening and the issues connected to it. I did not even imagine that something like that could even exist. Well, my ignorance is not as surprising considering I am a man coming from ethnically uniform Central European country not really interested in recent trends in cosmetics in other parts of the world. However, after reading about the issue I have quickly realized how widely spread and dangerous this trend is.

For those of you who have not heard about skin lightening, it is a practice done in many parts of the world, where people (mostly women) use cosmetics, containing usually either heavy metals or hormones, that change the skin tone towards the fair end of the skin tone spectrum. Prolonged use can lead to many illnesses and can permanently damage the skin. However, many are willing to pay the price.

Of course, people all over the world are doing many different beauty practices that are not good for their health, so this might be somewhat unsurprising. What is so interesting about it is that it is a phenomenon that connects many dissimilar cultures such as Philippines, African countries, African Americans, and even Japan and Korea. Why would people in all these places want to appear whiter, even though import of the whitening substances is banned in their countries?

Evelyn Nakano Glenn is saying that this is comes from mixing of preexisting preferences for fair skin, relicts of colonial supremacy and modern consumer capitalism. Being whiter gives them better chances at getting a job or being a better match for marriage. I agree with this statement and it is quite eminent, that we actually live in an age of “white normality” where any other skin colour than Caucasian white is considered something undesirable, something that you should and can change about yourself. It is true that for example Europe is full of tanning beds but tanning does not influence your racial identity, which does not have to be true for somebody like African Americans.

The huge rise in the industry of skin whitening and the idea of white normality in the current world is in my opinion tightly connected to two things: globalization of pop culture and rising buying power of the middle class in third world countries. The rise of relatively affluent middle class in countries such as India has created hundreds of millions of consumers of skin lightening products, who previously did not have enough disposable income to buy them. The globalized pop culture is what keeps the trend accelerating. All summer blockbusters that Hollywood sells to us are full of unrealistically attractive white women and the smaller entertainment industries all over the world have already adopted the American ideals of beauty – this is clearly visible in the Korean pop scene, where all the young idols have the same surgically altered face – face that is maybe less Asian and more Caucasian.

English: Nicki Minaj live on Femme Fatale Tour...

English: Nicki Minaj live on Femme Fatale Tour in 2011.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We do not have to go as far for a good example – let’s have look at an African American pop star, Nicki Minaj, and the cover of her new single. Her hair looks very Caucasian and her skin tone actually looks almost whiter than my own skin. I am sure that this is not an accident but a careful choice of background, lighting, cosmetics and photo editing. Everything with the goal to make her look as white as she can without losing too much of her racial background. If even the artist of what some people call “black music” has to look white on the cover of her single to give the right impression, how white must be an Indian woman to be considered a good match for a preferably wealthy husband?

This question is very worrisome and I do not know how to solve this problem or even if it can or should be solved in some reasonable way. However, it shows the ways how media, economic development of third world countries and perception of beauty can influence the behavior of people worldwide.

Mythologies of Skin Color and Race in Ethiopia

Slave Market

Slave Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Keb Meh

Blumenbach…singled out a particular group as closest to the created ideal and then characterized all other groups by relative degrees of departure from this archetypal standard. He ended up with a system that placed a single race [Caucasian] at the pinnacle, and then envisioned two symmetrical lines of departure from this ideal toward greater and greater degeneration… his ideas have reverberated in ways that he never could have anticipated… (Gates, 2013, p. 5)”

The often told myth of creation in Ethiopia is that God, when He went to create man, placed a lump of clay (or dough) into His oven. God’s first effort was a failure, He had taken out the mixture too early and it was white, and from it white-skinned peoples were created. God, not happy with that creation, would try again but on this occasion He kept the mixture in the oven for too long. Contrary to His previous effort, it was black and from that God made black peoples. God, unhappy still, would place a third mixture in His oven. On this occasion, it would appear that the oft-repeated cliché ‘third time’s a charm’ rings true even for the God of Abraham. It would seem that having learnt from His previous failures that God knew when to take the clay-dough out of the oven and from this well-baked specimen were born the Ethiopians.

Hermeneutical approaches have typically (and rightly) recognized that this creation story should be read as a metaphorical explanation rather than a literal explanation (the literal explanation accepted by the Northern Highlanders of Ethiopia was and is the Orthodox Church’s Genesis Story). However, in this creation story there is an obvious rhetoric vision; the Ethiopian as the racial ideal with two symmetrical lines of departure, on one side stood black people and on the other stood white people – both below.

Slavery had been a custom in Ethiopia since antiquity as it had been for all of the trading empires of antiquity. However, the institution evolved from being a product of trade with other empires of antiquity (Rome, Greece, Egypt, Persia) to a consequence of warfare between the Muslims of north Sudan and the Christians of northern Ethiopia. Slavery, or rather slaves, was tied to warfare as opposed to racial constructs. Nonetheless, the Middle Ages and Early Modern would see Ethiopia enveloped in the extensive Arab slave trade and it is here one can trace the racialization of slavery.

From the Middle Ages, Ethiopian “people made careful distinction between themselves and Negroid people,” this was a consequence of Ethiopian merchants having been at the forefront of fulfilling the insatiable demands of the Indian Ocean slave trade. Ethiopians by being Christians were (technically) not to enslave one another. The result of Ethiopia’s participation in this international slave trade was the creation of what was to become a firmly entrenched pseudo-scientific racial hierarchy which placed the black peoples hunted for sale (denigratingly referred to as barya), who lived on the periphery of imperial Ethiopia’s then expanding boundaries, at the bottom and justified that brutal exploitation. Their intellect, religious customs, civilizations, and, most importantly, appearance would all come to be a racialized phenotype that could not be ‘cleansed’ by being included in the Ethiopian empire nor through inter-marriage.

So potent were these phenotypical delineations that a linguistic culture of slave/non-slave dialectic emerged to describe barya physicality (very dark skin, nappy hair, flat nose, thick lips) and behavior (oversexed, jovial, child-like, stupid). Furthermore, a complex (and ridiculous) racial classification came to be to categorize the children of mixed-heritage (slave and that of their Ethiopian slaveowner). There were names to describe those of 1/16th black heritage.

It is tempting for Western scholars to relate these racial constructs to Western ones. P. T. Tucker described Ethiopia’s racial distinctions between their brown, yellow and red selves from the darker peoples they enslaved as “peculiar kind of prejudiced” because it existed “in both America and Ethiopia”. Tucker makes a truly false comparison, ignoring that Ethiopia’s peculiar prejudices extended to the ‘poorly baked’ white races. The disastrous Jesuit efforts in the 16th century and the interactions of Ethiopian slave merchants with Muslim Arab traders as early as late antiquity had crafted an image of white peoples as ungodly, untrustworthy, mischievous and oversexed. Blackness was equated with a filial piety comparable to beasts of burden but whiteness with jackals, and that was so much worse. Furthermore, in Tucker’s determination to relate Ethiopia’s prejudicial racial structures he ignores the nuances that existed between the dominant ethnic groups of Ethiopia’s Empire (Tigrayans, Amharas, Oromos) and the minority castes that inhabited the middle ground between the black slaves, and the Northern Highlanders.

In our classes, we have critically discussed the use of historical narratives as explanations for the transnational constructs that exist in modernity. In these classes, we have touched upon authors that have discussed the historicity of lightness and its valorization in India, Korea, China and Japan. In this short essay, I wished to discuss the historical narratives behind Ethiopia’s beauty ideals (or rather the beauty ideals of Northern Ethiopia). Ethiopia in many ways makes for a fascinating discussion on beauty. The infrastructure of domestic slavery, black peoples as serfs tasked with menial and agricultural tasks, in Ethiopia existed until the overthrow of the ruling Imperial House of the Ethiopian Empire in 1974. The head of Ethiopia’s Stalinist Junta Mengistu Haile Mariam said, “In this country some aristocratic families automatically categorise people with dark skin, thick lips and kinky hair as ‘Barias’. Let it be clear to everybody that I shall make these ignoramuses stoop and grind corn!”

That system of enslavement was inextricably tied with a racial hierarchy and pseudo-racial myths for many centuries. It is, sadly, still a well-remembered institution among Ethiopia’s war generation, baby boomers and Generation X. Therefore, it still reverberates throughout society. Ethiopia is only now beginning to industrialise, its middle income minority is slowly burgeoning and consuming foreign media content. It is here, at this cross-roads that it will be interesting to see how beauty standards informed by Ethiopia’s centuries old racial hierarchy will evolve.

Skin Lighteners and the African Illusion


Nigerian and Cameroonian singer Dencia

by Allan Kastiro

“White means pure. Not necessarily skin but in general, that’s how I look at it, it means pure.” This is a statement made by Nigerian and Cameroonian singer Dencia, who created a controversial skin-bleaching cream called ‘Whitenicious’. In a Television interview with the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 News in March 2014, the singer responded to the criticism that her skin lightening product had received. Dencia claimed that her product was not a skin lightener but a dark spot remover however; many of the Whitenicious’ campaign ads presented Dencia’s skin tone as being lighter than her original color and this created a contradiction with her claims.


Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o

Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o, who has on numerous occasions discussed the issue of standards of beauty and why girls should not find the need to use skin lighteners, also addressed the issue of products like Whitenicious in her acceptance speech at the ESSENCE awards. In the speech, Lupita Nyong’o talks about how she has been able to inspire and empower dark skinned girls around the world by showing them that black is indeed beautiful. She talks about one particular girl who wrote to her to thank her for inspiring her to love her natural skin tone otherwise she would have resorted to using Whitenicious since society and western standards of beauty make it seem as though anything less than light is not beautiful.

I think that the biggest problem in Africa today is the illusion that lighter is better. This illusion is rooted in colonialism, western-dominated capitalist culture and western standards of beauty. Many African people believe that they need to have a lighter skin tone in order to improve themselves and their status in society. That is, most African people desire lighter skin because they believe that this will change people’s outlook on them and they will be able to attain their desired jobs, get spouses or elevate to another class in the society. These beliefs stem from the fact that whiteness is viewed as being symbolic capital whereby being white or having a light skin tone is equated to competence, respectability and honorability. African people have unconsciously been taught by the west to dislike their dark skin and instead strive to achieve a lighter skin tone because they believe that it is much more accepted and desired.


South African musician Nomasonto ‘Mshoza’ Mnisi

A number of people who use skin lightening products argue that desiring a lighter skin has nothing to do with self-hate or wanting to be white but is as a result of insecurities and low self-esteem. An example is that of South African musician Nomasonto ‘Mshoza’ Mnisi who changed her skin complexion and is now lighter than she was originally. To her, skin-bleaching is a personal choice and is no different from breast implants or a having nose job. Mnisi says that the main reason she bleached her skin was to see what it would be like to be white as she had been dark for a long time. (Pumza Fihlani, 2013) Although Mnisi says that she is not self-hating and does not aim to be white, her attitude towards her natural skin tone says otherwise. It also leads me to question why she would feel less confident or have a low self-esteem if she was indeed proud to be black as she so often claims.

In conclusion, I believe that Whiteness or in this case, lightness as a symbolic capital has created a generation of African people who lack self-worth and confidence in their natural skin tone and this has resulted into the use of skin lightening products which in the long run damage their skins and might ultimately lead to severe diseases like cancer. I think that this trend will not end unless the people who use these products change their views on what they perceive as the standard of beauty and develop a sense of self-worth as dark-skinned African people.


Fihlani P. 2013. Africa: Where black is not really beautiful. Retrieved on 13th 2014 from

Chinese as “honorary Whites” in Apartheid South Africa

“For use by white persons” – sign from the apa...

“For use by white persons” – sign from the apartheid era Español: “Sólo para blancos” – letrero de la era del apartheid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Krishna Vanstraelen

If assimilation theory seems to oppose the general trend for first generation Chinese migrant in recent years, it however sheds light and corroborates segmented assimilation theories for the second and third generations. The first wave of Chinese migrants in South Africa in the early 1900s has followed a so-called typical way of integrating a culturally foreign society. Though what drove Chinese migrants in South Africa to follow classic segmented assimilation theories is the succession of two distinct historical events, their entrepreneurship and desire to access the higher sphere of South African society, which is striking and somewhat unusual, given the political and social nature of the host country.

Much like current Chinese migrants to South Africa, first generation migrants tended to send their offspring to China, both to learn and preserve Chinese tradition and culture and to receive what parents viewed as a “proper” education. However, in the early 1950s, the Immigrants Regulation Amendment Act enacted by the newly established Communist Party, along with the strengthening of institutionalised apartheid in South Africa, made it increasingly difficult for Chinese to travel in and out of China, hindering thus education in the home country.

When examining the case of first, second, and third generations, Yoon Jung Park, the most cited scholar in this specific field, refers to them respectively as shopkeepers, fence-sitters, and bananas. Shopkeepers because these children born in the 1920s and 1930s usually received Chinese education, had little to no English proficiency, and typically ended up helping their parents as shopkeepers or working in unskilled or semi-skilled positions in factories, retail shops, or offices. Though second generation children as well, fence-sitters were born from the 1940s through the early 1960s, and were labelled as such due to an ambiguous identity.

Although growing in a climate separating whites and non-whites, Chinese migrants and their children were given concessions and privileges as their social status shifted progressively towards “honorary whites”. Hence, most Chinese children born during this time period attended private white church schools by means of a progressive loosening of discriminatory rules and heavy financial sacrifices made by their parents. Ineluctably, as children were gradually losing their Chinese language ability and increasingly conform to western culture, their identity and place in the South African society became equivocal.

Lastly, the bananas refer to the physicality of the fruit; yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Born in the late 1960s through the 1970s, these children had little to no experience of Apartheid-era discrimination, as Apartheid and its institutionalized rules were gradually fading away—at least for Chinese residents/citizens, who enjoyed a full primary and secondary education alongside white children in government and private white schools. As a result, most children of this generation developed a strong affiliation to western culture, low relations to China and its language, and an ever-growing number completing tertiary education allowing them to climb the social ladder (Park, 2009).

The crux of Chinese assimilation that trails segmented theories is found in the early 1950s, when regulatory rules hamper Chinese migrants to follow customary patterns in regards of their low integration and their offspring. When returning to their home country became less of an option, Chinese migrants generally estimated that providing their children with better/white education will facilitate and increase their social mobility. Through massive financial sacrifices and the withstanding of discriminatory rules and societal norms, parents of children born from the 1940s through the early 1960s (and onwards) were able to send them to white schools, allowing these children to access tertiary education and gain a foothold and recognition in the South African society.


Park, Y. J. (2009). A matter of honour: Being Chinese in South Africa. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Skimming the surface of a little known migration

by Krishna Vanstraelen

When discussing international migration, many groups of immigrants came to mind; coming from Europe, I am myself familiar with a large immigration population being entirely or only partially part of the society I found myself in. Additionally, as I live in Japan, I am lucky enough to experience immigration from another angle, from the other end. In turn, the latter has helped me to understand to a greater extent issues and complains voiced by first, second, and even third generation immigrants back in my country. Yet, one particular group has peaked my curiosity from the onset; the case of Chinese migrants in Africa, and particularly in South Africa (as I have come to realise that the overwhelming majority of Chinese is found in South Africa (Park, 2009)).

The reason why the case of Chinese migrants in Africa caught my attention stems from my inability to have considered the latter phenomenon. As mentioned earlier, as a European, I viewed migration from a Western perception (i.e. Migration in Europe, United States, Australia, New-Zealand…). When I first heard about Asian migration to Africa, I was surprised. However, later, I found myself comparable to the narrow minded people I have encounter in my life having difficulties accepting or even considering international migration. My astonishment turned into frustration and I now believe it is a moral duty to increase my knowledge concerning the aforementioned focus.

South Africa has had 2 waves of Chinese immigration in the past and one currently happening. In the early 1900, Chinese families migrated to South Africa, approximately 10,000 individuals, followed by business motivated Taiwanese in the 1970s and 1980s (approximately 6,000). The current wave which has started since 1990s is sourcing from mainland China (over 500,000; Park, 2009).

Four categories can be depicted when examining Chinese immigrants to Africa: temporary labor migration linked to Chinese development and investment in Africa, small-time entrepreneurs, in-transit migrants, and agricultural workers (Politzer, 2008). The second group, small-time entrepreneurs, is currently gaining in popularity as an increasing number of mainland Chinese are migrating to South Africa in order to pursue self-employment dreams, experience a slower pace and comfortable life, an improved weather, and a healthier environment.

Though mostly found in urbanized area, Chinese migrants are increasingly settling in poorer rural areas where the economic sphere is minor or inexistent in order to maximize their benefits by taking advantage of further favourable economic situations. They tend to open shops where everything from clothing to travel accessories, from everyday household appliances to toys and games for children can be found (Park, 2009).

The Chinese migration to Africa and particularly to South Africa can be depicted likewise Edwin Lin’s analogy referring it to a “small pond migration” (2014). The analogy stems from the English idiom “Big fish in a small pond.” Though the idiom connotes a rather pejorative meaning, the small pond migration refers to migrants purposely choosing a lesser developed country where their human capital will foster their ability to take advantage of the social environment. The migrants’ ability to conduct unchallenged business through their comparative advantage confers them the title of Big fish in a small pound.

Chinese Migration to South Africa is characterised and made possible through social connections. Most recent migrants had relatives or friends present in South Africa that helped them accessing and facilitating their migration in the country

Reasons for Chinese to migrate to South Africa have been depicted as such: for adventure, for self-employment, and for a comfortable lifestyle. Perhaps the effect of globalisation, access to international media and contact with international parties have promoted a desire for adventure and experiencing a life outside China. Most Chinese migrants that have moved to South Africa describe lifestyle in China as chaotic and stressful. Hence, moving to South Africa not only allowed them access to a slower pace of life associated to their environment, but also to start a self-employment type of business that, in time, will grant them enough capital and resources to “sit back and relax”.

When discussing assimilation theory, the case of Chinese migrants in South Africa seems to oppose the general trend usually associated with migration. First, most Chinese migrants seem to move to South Africa with the clear intention to return to the mainland once their economic goals are met. Second, as their migration is firstly seen as temporary, most Chinese immigrants do not speak the local language and very few of them have English proficiency (most of them come from a lower social strata with limited education background). Time and motivation to learn a language that would ease their living in South Africa is hampered by their aforementioned assumption. Third, the crime rate and the Chinese target some gang seems to favour, has pushed Chinese migrants to adopt a life style with very little interaction with the local population and heavy withdrawal into their own community. Most of them do not go out after sunset, fearful of aggression and robbery. Chinese migrants do not see social structure as a medium or an alleviation of this issue as police seem to be corrupted and do not protect them as they should. Assimilation seem thus to be unlikely as very little social structure are in place to promote a safe environment. The premise most migrants hold in regards of returning to their home country after meeting their objectives is also an important drawback to their assimilation. Though Chinese South Africans have been living in the country for few generation (this will be extended in the second post), most recent Chinese migrants opt for sending their offspring back to china where family member would take care of them.

Transnationalism can be viewed and explained through a progressive migration of Chinese individuals following example of their relatives, friends or even clan and village members. Remittance, charity, and Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) are also part of the transnationalism phenomenon that reaches Chinese migrants in South Africa.

Racialization is common and affects immigrants in their assimilation endeavour. The label “Jews of the East” hamper Chinese to further commit to an assimilation progress as in most cases, they are treated as outsiders and often scapegoated as the reasons behind a society’s ills.


Lin, E. (2014). “Big Fish in a Small Pond”: Chinese Migrant Shopkeepers in South Africa. International Migration Review, 48(1), 181-215.

Park, Y. J. (2009). Chinese Migration in Africa. Occasional Paper No. 24, Johannesburg: South African Institute of International Affairs.

Politzer, M. (2008, August 6). China and Africa: Stronger Economic Ties Mean More Migration. Retrieved May 30, 2014, from

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Skin Lightening in South Africa

by Yutaro Nishioka

The trend of skin lightening, especially among women, is getting increasingly common all over the world, including South Africa, where the major part of its population is black. According to a study from the University of Cape Town, as many as one in three African women use bleaching products to lighten their skin.

Skin lightening products often create serious medical complications; many patients suffer from diseases caused by a combination of use of lightening products and sunlight (
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also mentioned the negative effects of some skin lightening products. Mercury, one of the common ingredients in lightening creams, is said to have harmful effects and could also lead to kidney damage, as well as other side effects such as “skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections” (

Why is skin lightening becoming so common in South Africa despite its negative health effects? Professor Lynn Thomas, co-author of the book Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, mentions the history of South Africa being colonized by Europeans. The Europeans and South Africans were not treated equally, and there was the notion that light skin was somehow better, not much unlike Hitler’s idea that Jews were inferior. More recently, apartheid, the government policy of racial segregation against black Africans in South Africa, was renounced officially only in 1992.

The effects of the history of discrimination can still be seen in the current South African society. For example, Nomoto “Mahoza” Mnisi, a famous South African musician, is known for her extensive use of skin lightening products. She says, “I just want to be light skinned… I was tired of being ugly.” She is assuming that dark skin is “ugly” and light skin is not.

People that have heard of this news have reacted differently, but the majority of the comments on the internet do not seem to approve of her changed appearance: “she was so much prettier before; her husband must be blind”, “God created her black and she looked so pretty. She looks pretty now but she looked better before”, “She is insecure and that’s bad.”

As there is a difference between Mahoza’s view and that of her fans, it is questionable to say that the history of the colonization and discrimination is the sole cause of the contemporary trend of South Africans’ skin lightening, but it is probably one of the factors that have contributed to the trend.


“Not Happy Being Black?” – Posted by Editorial Staff.

Thomas, Lynn M. 2009. “Skin Lighteners in South Africa: Transnational Entanglements and Technologies of the Self.” Pp. 188-210 in Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E. N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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Mzungu and Colorism in Africa

by Miho Tanaka

Reading “Skin Lighteners in South Africa: Transnational Entanglements and Technologies of the Self (2009)” by Lynn M. Thomas, I was reminded of and reflected on my experiences in Africa. It was inconsiderable that South African care so much about their skin color even though skin lighteners sometimes bring problems to their skin.

However it is true that the people I met in Kenya put value on light skin and they connect it with high social status very much. The other internship students from Europe, the United States, and Asia and I were called Mzungu by Kenyans. I saw Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans, Americans, Brazilians, Swedes and Germans all called Mzungu. Mzungu is the Swahili word that describes rich and White people from African people’s perspectives. More specifically, not only Caucasians but also people from developed countries with light skin of color are Mzungu. It seems that many Swahili-speaking countries use the term Mzungu, as some websites and blogs show on the internet (Hoff n.d.; Duara 2008). Both Hoff and Duara write that Mzungu is used in central and Southern Africa. When I visited Rwanda this summer Rwandan also called us Wazungu, the plural way to call Mzungu.

Interesting are those African people who are eager to have networks or connections with Mzungu people. For instance, while I and the other internship students were in a community in Kenya and belonged to a Community Based Organization, some Kenyans suddenly joined the organization and many HIV-positive people started to attend our meetings as well. However according to local members in Kenya, they began to be absent from meetings after all of the Wazungu left. However, some of them have tried to maintain their connections with Wazungu. Most importantly, they strongly connect idea of economic and social status mobility with being Mzungu. If they could have been married with a Mzungu woman or man, they would not have to be in trouble of impoverished in Africa anymore. They would be able to get out of their homeland and have a better life.

Considering the case of South Africa, the tendency that they would like to have lighter skin color must be much higher than the other countries since they were harshly segregated by skin color during the period of apartheid. Even though they might have skin troubles from using skin lighteners, upward mobility would be more important for them since it would determine their entire life and success. Therefore, they care more about their skin tone rather than their health. However the status in South Africa must be changed since the abolition of apartheid. Nowadays there are poor Whites going begging in South Africa, and it also might be a factor that changes preference of white or light skin. I suppose the tension between Mzungu and Black Africans, which connects social upward mobility with light skin color, would not change because Black Africans regard Mzungu as coming from totally different background and statuses. However, it might create new black movement as their economic status changes with economic growth.


Duara, D. (July, 19th 2008). The Mzungu term : get it right! Retrieved on November, 22nd 2013 from

Hoff, W. (n.d.). Mzungu Design. Retrieved on November 22nd 2013 from

Thomas, M. L. (2009). Skin lighteners in South Africa: transnational entanglement and technologies of the self. In Glenn, N. E. (Ed.), Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Skin Color and Beauty: Historical Bias and Social Change

by Cindy Seo

For a long time there have been dolls with white skin but there were no dolls with black skin. The princesses in a fairy tale or Disney animation always have had white skin color or blue eyes. How did white skin and blue eyes come to be the factors that decide the beauty of human beings? Everyone knows that the beauty standard changes by the transition of cultural value, but how come it became so hard to jump over the wall of beauty standard for white people?

Every standard is determined by that era’s powerful nation or advanced country. The standard of beauty is not an exception, so I have to explain how the white people became to gain supremacy. Considering that Africa or Asia were all cradles of civilization in the past, we can imagine that they had rich soil, abundant resources, and calm weather unlike today. In contrast, the European countries were disadvantaged in these things, so they felt the ‘necessity’ to pioneer and find new country. This ‘necessity’ became the driving force so helped them to accumulate experience and capital, leading the Europe to the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution triggered the developed use of steel, and this eventually increased the productivity of food. This caused dense population and system maintenance, and led to superiority of power. The white people who became superior by this set of process became to assert the racial ideology which justifies their superiority and domination. This wrong ideology which made through long term colonized era is now still dominating the black people, even though they are virtually liberated.

The culture hegemony which uses media as its method is now even fixing the beauty standard of whole world. Since the characteristics of white people which emerge in movies or advertisements are directly connected to the beauty standard of white people, the non-white people who consistently keep in touch with mass media come to internalize that as their beauty standard. Then the non-white people who lost their own standard of beauty should always feel sense of inferiority and take discrimination for granted?

In the book World hunger explained to my son, Jean Ziegler says that hope exists in public awareness that slowly changes. Therefore, the long-term fixed beauty standard is hard to change but is not an unchangeable thing. As the ‘Black is beautiful’ movement once spread in the United States and endeavored to remove the wrong ideology of thinking the black people’s feature as essentially ugly, people who are living in current days should also self-examine from cramming themselves into biased beauty standard which is made by white people.

In order to change deeply fixed and rooted standard, influential stimulation is needed. The Miss Bronze competition was one of the endeavors and stimulations to change people’s perception on widespread beauty concept. In this case, the Civil Rights Movement was the driving force of the stimulation. As the black people’s right became an issue due to the Civil Rights Movement, people increased their thought to the discrimination that black people receive, and eventually became to challenge on beauty consciousness which has been the most discriminated part. Through this endeavor, people’s beauty consciousness on black people, which seemed immutable, wriggled, and positive outcomes began to appear.

As an example of these positive results and transitions, there are Barbie dolls and Disney animation. The Barbie doll has been controversial due to the problem of racial discrimination. The first black Barbie was made in 1967, but this was criticized since it excluded the black people’s indigenous characteristics. The early black Barbie was just colored in black, maintaining the features of white people. Until 1980s, the Barbie doll company adhered to its method of production regardless of the criticism of being called as white supremacy. However starting from 2009, the company finally began to produce black Barbie which realistically describes black people’s features. In addition, in the Disney animation ‘The Princess and the Frog (2009)’, people could see the first black princess coming on. Also in 2008, the United States chose a black man as their president. These series of events show how the world became more generous toward black people. This, in a manner of speaking, shows the miracle of hope that has been built through gradual change in public awareness.

What has decided the superiority and inferiority of civilization in the first place was geography. White people could be the white people of today since there was ‘necessity’ which came from poor geographic condition. If they did not have to worry about climate and foods, did they have to go out into the world enduring danger? It is hard to say so. Maybe non-white peoples’ features would have been the beauty standard if they had been able to grab hegemony. Therefore, there is no superiority and inferiority from the first time. It was just the results of historical coincidence and inevitability.

In the context of beauty concept as well, it is not important to think which color is superior and inferior. It is useless and meaningless since these things do not exist from the first time. The beauty standard should be rather established above the acceptance of the phenotypical differences among people. What makes this possible is an endless endeavor of awakening unbiased consciousness on race and beauty.

From racism to colorism

Anonymous student post

In today’s society, anti-racist movements have been gaining support, to the extent that in most Western countries racism is punishable by law. Discriminating by race is starting to be acknowledged as a social taboo and discriminative actions such as declining  applicants a job opportunity due to race will not only bring negative image but can even lead to jail time. With such improvements in racial equality, one might expect that we are going towards a world without discrimination. Even though this would be truly wonderful if it were to be true, there still is room for improvement—as even in the most non-racist countries racism is still happening beneath the surface—not to mention the social phenomena (or, in other words, social problems) that are replacing racism.

One of the most widespread occurrences is racism changing to “colorism”. Colorism, is a term originally coined by Alice Walker in her 1983 book “In search of our mothers’ gardens” as she used the term to describe discrimination by color excluding factors such as bloodlines or ancestry. Even though racism also includes skin color, in colorism skin color is the sole factor behind discrimination. Especially present in Latin America, Africa, East and Southeast Asia and India however recent trend among various scholars are studies about how colorism has started to replace racism in most parts of the globe.

One could argue that change to colorism has brought several positive effects. Before it might have been impossible to break out of your “racial class”, for example if you were born to a black parent but had very light skin, you would have been deemed black nevertheless and thus discriminated against because of the bloodline. Even if you would not look that different from people around you, the race alone was enough to justify discrimination. Therefore the withdrawal of racism and change to colorism arguably brought some positive effects, as your birth would no longer decide your position in the social hierarchy.

However, when it comes down to comparing racism and colorism, rather than colorism being the cure, it is more like a “pick your poison” kind of a situation. In the 2009 book Shades of Difference, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David R. Dietrich depict that colorism causes there to be competition even within the race while there still is competition between different races. For example, in the past blacks have been discriminated against because of their “race”, but now they are being discriminated because of the color of their skin. Not only that, but they also are discriminated among what used to be their “race”, depending on whether their skin color is lighter or darker, not to mention that colorism might take out the vocabulary to describe discrimination (Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich 2009).

So, is colorism the right direction? With colorism replacing racism and racism becoming a widespread social taboo, are we heading towards a less discriminating world? We can see that there is movement towards removing discrimination, as colorism is proof of that; however it is disturbing to see that discrimination still has its place strongly rooted in our everyday lives. It is hard to say if colorism is a proof of improvement, or if it’s just a way to sweep the problem under the mattress. Time will tell, is what I’d like to say, but then again just waiting patiently to see whether the situation gets better or not is a bad excuse not to take action.


Walker, Alice. (1983). In search of our mothers’ gardens: womanist prose. San Diego: Harcourt Brave Jovanovich

Glenn, Evelyn Nakano (Ed.). (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford: Stanford University Press.