Limited by White

by Ellen Brookes

In a world where the standards of beauty are held explicitly by people of fairer complexion, a damsel, with her ebony hues, would be seen as substandard, under par, or, to put it simply, ugly. Therefore, in order to assimilate into an ideal beauty, she must find a herbal concoction that will lighten her features and allow her to fulfill her destiny.

This sounds like it should be the beginning of a sort of adventure-type fairytale; and yet, this is not the case.
This is the reality faced by many young people around the world today.

This is the reality that many young women feel they have to conform to in order to be successful.

Sure, there are young men who may feel the same, and older women too, but it’s the youth who are having their potential and their self-esteems curbed. Not only is it colorist, but it is gender-based. Women are more likely be targeted by advertising agencies for these reasons; women are more likely to be scrutinized for their looks; women are more likely for their success to be judged on the color of their skin, rather than their individual talents or merit, especially in places like the workplace. Women are the largest target audience for beauty products, because why look at what is on the inside without looking at what is being sold on the outside?

Because of consumer culture, where we are taught to sell ourselves into a market that’s demand is never satisfied, women are turning to any means to become the commodity of the moment. Being beautiful seems to equal employability, marriageability, and long-term success. To achieve this, white skin is a must – in the minds of these affected women.

This mentality of white is right has been around since the times of colonization, the time when the white man decided that having “white” skin was the epitome of civilized, and therefore the lighter you were the more “privilege” you were afforded (Glenn 2009). This mentality still exists today, in its more extreme forms, but this form is rarely ever addressed. The need for cosmetics and procedures to lighten ones skin can be seen as misplaced vanity, or as an unwanted legacy of imperialism, or a strange mixture of both. Despite the fact people realize that discrimination based on looks is universally wrong, there seems to be something keeping this mentality strong in the beliefs of women globally.

Globally is being used here, as cosmetic whitening products are a multibillion dollar industry worldwide. There is effectively no country where these creams and lotions are not sold, no matter legal status (Glenn 2009). This basically implies that, globally, women want whiter skin. This also uncovers a larger problem when someone explains what goes into the creation of the facial scrubs.

The main ingredients include mercury salts and hydroquinone, two highly toxic substances, and a large cocktail of steroids and copious amounts of other highly addictive substances, that work together to artificially lighten the skin (Ravichandran 2013). Women are being told that it is okay to put highly lethal powders onto their faces because society says so. Many women don’t know of the harm they are doing, but many also do. In a twisted form of vanity, these women believe that their health is worth less than their beauty (Anekwe 2014).

These women are vulnerable, already facing different stigmas of being of a darker color in their societies, and the markets are effectively preying on these women. I say ‘targeted’ because that is what it is. These women are being lured into a trap by these marketing agencies and are shown pictures of how their lives could be if they were lighter (Goldstein 2012). If you are put into a position where you can see everything you want in your grasp, you’d naturally do anything to get it.

Essentially we try to preach gender and race equality at the front of the stage, and then we sell the very things we are against at the back stage door. Is the contradiction clear?

But moving away from the social values that dictate the need for light skin and the dangers of obtaining light skin, I came across a speech, given by a woman who, only days later, received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Selby 2014). This speech that took everything that is wrong with what was ‘”safe” and “known” about skin color and turned it on its head. Singlehandedly, Lupita Nyong’o, a Mexican-born Kenya-raised actress who made her film debut in the acclaimed feature film “12 Years A Slave”, managed to raise a question, an opinion, about something that had been shoved under the rug for so long.

As mentioned previously, people never seem to speak out publicly about skin whitening. We never address the often superficial way in which we define what is beautiful. We never speak about the ensuing self-esteem issues, loss of opportunity, false consciousness and stigma that stem from societies where color is more than a shade; it’s a life sentence. Ms. Nyong’o speaks from experience, remembering in her speech a letter from a young girl who was about to purchase whitening cream, because one could not “be so black” in Hollywood, let alone be considered beautiful or successful (Nyong’o 2014). She speaks on the limitations she felt as a young person because she was quite distinctly “not white”, and places a large amount of emphasis on the images she had been force-fed by international media about the ideal beauty. She poses questions about why this is the “reality”, why this is thought to be a “fixed” ideal? For the young girl mentioned in the speech, Lupita Nyong’o was a beacon of hope that girls with “night-shaded skin” could be beautiful, or be a prominent figure in society for reasons other than her body. The message that everyone has potential, that no one standard of beauty is correct, and that is certainly is not worth dying for.

If only Ms. Nyong’o’s message could have come earlier, before the whitening industry became so large, and before the creams and powders and lotions became such a pivotal point of young women’s lives. Yet starting with this one girl, and maybe many more since then, the message that Lupita Nyong’o sends may revolutionize, or even save, many lives – we just need to let it be heard by the over one billion potential users of skin whitening creams for it to work and then we can start to take the “color” out of “colorism” and put it into “colorful”.

References

Anekwe, O. N. (2014). The Global Phenomenon of Skin Bleaching: A Crisis in in Public Health (Part 1). Voices in Bioethics. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://voicesinbioethics.org/2014/01/29/the-global-phenomenon-of-skin-bleaching-a-crisis-in-public-health-an-opinion-editorial-part-1/

Glenn, E. N. (2009). Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade. In E. N. Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference (pp 166-187). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Goldstein, R. (2012). Time for a reality check on skin lightening creams. The Conversation. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/time-for-a-reality-check-on-skin-lightening-creams-7770

Nyong’o, L. (2014). Lupita Nyong’o Delivers Moving ‘Black Women in Hollywood’ Acceptance Speech. Essence (Magazine). Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.essence.com/2014/02/27/lupita-nyongo-delivers-moving-black-women-hollywood-acceptance-speech/

Ravichandran, N. (2013). Skin whitening creams can cause long-term damage, doctors warn. The Daily Mail. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2384456/Skin-whitening-creams-cause-long-term-damage-doctors-warn.html

Selby, J. (2014). 12 Years A Slave star Lupita Nyong’o on racism in beauty: ‘Every day I woke up hoping my skin was a little lighter’. The Independent. Retrieved on October 12th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/lupita-nyongo-on-racism-in-beauty-every-day-i-woke-up-hoping-my-skin-was-a-little-bit-lighter-9171487.html

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Colorism within the black community in the U.S.

by Nami Irikuchi

When I first read “A Colorstruck World” by Verna Keith, I could not believe that there was/is a discrimination against black people by black people. As most of us know, white people have discriminated against dark-skinned people, African-Americans in the U.S. People have thought that white people are superior to black people. The lighter skin black people have, the better life they can have.

What I want to say is that the differences of their skin color occurred because of genetics. The activation level of melanocyte is different between blacks and whites, and its activation level is decided by their genes. Even dark-skinned people who did not do wrong things to others have been discriminated against.

In the reading, Keith writes that dark-skinned mothers try to protect their daughters from sunlight not to have darker skin. I thought that if I were a dark-skinned women and had a dark-skinned daughter, what advice would I give to my daughter? If it is now, then I would not, but I would have advised if it was the past, when there was more discrimination against blacks. When I advise my daughter, I would not tell why I would try to protect her from the sunlight. They do not need to know the fact that dark-skinned women would not be preferred, and also black people did not do anything that was worth discriminated. Just because they have the darker skin, they would get discriminated against.

Some black males now also think that black females are less attractive, though they have the almost same color. I think that it is related to not only racism or colorism, but also gender issues. I found an internet article which said that black men try to date light-skinned women because they find them more beautiful than darker-skinned women. Furthermore, if they got married and had children with those light-skinned women, there is a possibility that they could have children who have “favorable features,” such as lighter skin and eye color. Those children might face less discrimination.

However, in that article, there is no statement about women’s preferences. As we can see, women are distinguished by their appearance at first, and if the appearance did not match to the preference, then men do not try to have a relationship with them. Somehow most people have the prejudice for dark-skinned people, and women still get hurt not only in the white community but also within the dark-skinned community.

Slavery is over. Colonialism is over. But there are still or more discrimination against black people. I think that the situation is very similar to the Japanese people’s attitudes toward Korean or Chinese people. Those people were colonized by Japanese government in the past, and although that period has ended, there are still some Japanese people who think that Korean or Chinese people are bad and they have to get out of Japan. I think that they have stereotyped thinking, and maybe do not know the facts. I also do not know the reality both in the U.S. and Japan, so I really want to research about those problems when I go to the U.S., or encounter some demonstrations for Korean and Chinese in Japan.

When I hear the word “discrimination”, I came up with “against black people” at first. Unconsciously, people tend not to be an attacker and that is why Japanese people try to think about “discrimination against black people”, but not “against Korean or Chinese people.”

References

Garrell, M. Colorism in black community still prevalent, unacceptable. The University Star. Retrieved July 1, 2014 from http://star.txstate.edu/node/1047

Huff Post. (January 13th, 2014).  Retrieved July 3, 2014 from http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/4588825

Keith, V.M. (2009). “A Colorstruck world skin tone, achievement, and self-esteem among African American women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Skin Whitening as Social Uplifting and Achieving the Ideal “beauty”

by Moe Miura

There are many skin-whitening products in global markets today. One can easily purchase skin-whitening products even without knowing it, because whitening one’s skin tone is already a big phenomenon in the 21st century all over the world. However, South Africa has significant story about its history of the phenomenon of skin whitening.

In Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters (2009), author Lynn M. Thomas focuses on the history and the use of skin lighteners in South Africa. Today, 35% of the South African women are said to be using the skin-whitening products. Then these questions pop up: why do South African women try to whiten their skin tone? Is there a history behind it?

South Africa is widely known for its history of apartheid, where black and colored people did not have the same political or economic rights as white people, and also were forced to live separately from white people. This policy led to the further discrimination of black and colored people, segregation, and the skin color preferences influenced by the European colonialism (Thomas, 2009). Thus it created the idea of lighter skin equals more liberty and less/no discrimination. Historically, the use of skin whitening products had a lot to do with the fact that there was a significant racial discrimination against black and colored people.

pictureAnother reason of using the skin lighteners was “technology of the self”, meaning people decorate themselves to transform themselves, so that they can achieve happiness or perfection. This can range from concealing blemishes to bleaching their faces. Advertisements have played a big role in informing people about this idea that whiter is more beautiful, using musical stars and beauty contest winners. Capitalism also pushed this idea because the more difficult the thing to achieve, the harder people try; concealing flaws and having lighter skin was difficult thus people would purchase more stuff to achieve this “ideal beauty”. The market of skin lighteners had become multimillion-dollar-per-year endeavor.

As it can be seen, reasons of South African women purchasing skin whiteners ranged from racial uplifting, capitalist commerce, to making themselves look better as a “technology of the self”.

Reference

Thomas, L. M. (2009). Skin Lighteners in South Africa. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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From Ebony to Ivory: Colorism in the Philippines

by Jiyang Shin

The ever-expanding skin whitening market in the Philippines seems to have distinctive characteristics compared to the markets of other countries that also value lighter skin tones. In the discourse of colorism, many tend to conclude that the phenomenon of skin whitening obsession is largely due colonization by European conquistadors; however, that is not always the case in the Philippines.

I would like to raise an example of skin whitening advertisement, featuring Jinky Oda, an African American comedian in the Philippines. The advertisement is composed of before-and-after pictures of Oda. On the left hand side is Oda’s torso before she went on the skin whitening pill. She is in a white tank top, wears gold hoop earings, and has her natural curly hair all swept back with bandana like hair band; a casual style of a typical African American woman that we can easily relate to.

On the right hand side is Oda after finishing the pill, in her brand new bleached-up skin. However, that is not the only significant difference that one can tell from the picture. Other noticeable features are that her attire is considerably more dressy than the left side (you can notice it although the ad only shows down to her chest), but even more importantly, the texture of her hair has turned silky and straightened like the East Asian look that a vast number of Filipino women crave.

One can observe sinister motives behind this marketing. In the book Shades of Difference, Joanne L. Rondilla argues that there are generally three major messages that are conveyed in skin whitening advertisement in the Philippines:

1. Darkening can and must be stopped.

Why? Because having dark skin does not make you good enough.

2. Lightness comes from “within”.

This message misleads people into thinking that their natural color is lighter than they expected, thus their desire to turn white is achievable.

3. Lightening can happen instantly.

The advertisement that featured Oda is unethical because it links having darker skin with wrongness by dressing up her in casual attire. In addition, she seems to have more weight in her before picture, implying she was sloppier when she had a darker skin tone (fatness is often linked to laziness). Such indirect messages have the great potential of stirring up or further encourage racism and discriminations against certain groups of people.

As for why many women in the Philippines opt for a Chinese or Korean look, I argue that it is due to racial hierarchy that exists among Asian countries. For example, in South Korea, people of Southeast Asia origin encounter difficulties renting rooms and searching for jobs. Moreover, in Japan, Filipino people are often referred to as “Pina”, which is a derogatory term used against women who perform in sex-related work. Such unequal treatment might have gradually developed a sense of inferiority towards people of lighter skin color in East Asian countries. I argue that people attempt to escape from such discriminations by assimilating into those who discriminate against them.

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Color complex and constant degradation

Sign for "colored" waiting room at a...

Sign for “colored” waiting room at a Greyhound bus terminal in Rome, Georgia, 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Miho Tanaka

In our class on racism and colorism, we have been talking about how light skin is considered as one of the crucial elements of beauty in and how the idea is fostered all over the world. Not only people with dark skin but also all people, especially women, try to lighten or whiten their skin color without any specific necessaries and reasons to be light. Overall the main issue is how the idea of colorism is getting fostered then racism has taken its place on this capitalism world. As everything can be bought by money, wealth is literally measured by how much economic power people have. “Power of consumption” (Rondilla 2009, p.78) is then directly connected to “economies of color” (Harris 2009, p.1).

Under this condition, people with dark skin would try to be lighter by consuming skin lighteners if they had money to consume these. Therefore impoverished people would stay in a lower status since they wouldn’t be able to buy skin lighteners, and it is the problem that people with dark skin are often needed to stay in poor communities where many problems such as crimes, drugs or robberies exist. According to Rondilla (ibid), “controlling images are designed to make racism, sexism, poverty and other forms of social injustice appear to be natural, normal, and inevitable parts of life” (p.65). Regarding African American communities in Detroit, I’ve heard from my friend the images are so natural that even inhabitants of the community cannot get rid of them. “People are so caught with personal aesthetic and social positions, than actually embracing their own features, cultures and talents” (Brandosoul 2013), and I would call it a “constant degradation of certain racial people.” As Atlanta blackstar (2013) shows, unfortunately it might be true that young African Americans are often targeted as people who resort to violence but the system in which they are stuck should be transformed.

As Angela Harris explains in the introduction to the book Shades of Difference, “[o]ne of the challenges for scholars and activists concerned with colorism is thus to disrupt―and if possible prevent―’Latin Americanization,’ in which color hierarchy is pervasive yet its relationship to racism denied” (Harris, 2009, p.5). Racism exists and the first step we could take is not to deny it and not to be ignorant.

References

Atlanta blackstar. (2013). 5 reasons young black men resort to violence. Retrieved on November 29, 2013, from http://atlantablackstar.com/2013/11/26/5-reasons-young-black-men-resort-violence/2/

Brandosoul. (2013). Colorism: the jaded mystery of race and skin color. Retrieved on December 9th 2013 from http://misedublack.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/colorism-the-jaded-mystery-of-race-and-skin-color/

Harris, A. P. (2009). Economies of color. In Glennn, N, E. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference: why skin color matters. Stanford University Press.

Rondilla, J. L. (2009). Filipinos and the color complex : ideal Asian beauty. In Glennn, N, E. (Ed.) (2009). Shades of difference : why skin color matters. Stanford University Press.

Lighter skin as an escape from discrimination

by Chris Leung

In Hong Kong, it is also popular for women to lighten their skin. Since in the old days, having lighter skin has meant a woman did not have to work, so she was more noble than those who had darker skin. As the result, lighter skin signifies higher social status and eventually it lead to the definition of beauty.

However, in most cases, no matter where you are, I think that instead of saying lightening your skin is a choice, it is more appropriate to say that it is just an exit door in order to escape from discrimination. Let’s say if you have dark skin and you were discriminated against, can you say that skin lightener is a choice for you? Or is it a path towards salvation for you? Can you proudly say that you chose these products ‘freely’? People who want to have higher social status lighten their skin. Although there are exceptions that some dark skin people could also enjoy higher social status, or some of them chose to keep their darker skin even if they would have a poorer life, the outcome of having darker skin and lighter skin are obviously different because of colorism. If most of the people think that lightening their skin could benefit them, can it still be called as a choice?

Further, I think that money cannot justify everything especially moral values. It is true that because of development, we might have to lose some of our traditional stuff in order to fit into society. For instance, we have to give up building traditional architectures in which few people can live, instead we build skyscrapers because of increasing population and limited lands. But lightening our skin is definitely not because of evolution or development, but to fit into a society which is full of discrimination.

In conclusion, I think that reducing the yearning of lightness is not because keeping diversity is important, but the values of everyone living equally is essence. Even though there are people who are rich and people who are poor, the way to wealth you have should be based on your own efforts and abilities, but never should be based on your racial appearances. The main issue about skin lightening is not the huge industry that many people live from it, but fundamentally, it is devaluing certain skin color, which is an act of discrimination.