Colourism and SkinBleaching

Skin bleaching. The use of substances, mixtures or physical treatment to lighten, brighten, depigment and bleach skin colour. The existence of bleaching and Eurocentric beauty standards encouraging skin bleaching isn’t a new trend nor observation. Skin bleaching has existed and developed for quite sometime for the business to be referred to as a “billion dollar international industry”. As of 2012 in India, skin bleaching creams totalled around 258 tons and in 2013 the sales of bleaching cream was about $300 million, according to research, the sales of skin lightening creams was said to hit $19.8 billion based on sales growth in Africa, Indian-Asia and the Middle East. As we can see, this business is a money maker and with the right audience to manipulate into thinking that they need it, the sales and profit from the business would keep on increasing.

Africa will be my focus as it is one of the biggest buyers and where I come from. In Africa, we have a serious colourism issue which a lot of Africans aren’t aware of because it’s seen to be normal to want to be lighter in skin colour rather than embrace the dark skin we naturally have. 77 percent of women in Nigeria use bleaching products making it the number one consumer in Africa, while it may look like skin bleaching is only an African woman problem, it’s not because the men and women participate in skin bleaching. The need to be light skin in order to consider yourself beautiful is as a result of whitewashing, reality and media. The idea of attaching beauty, success and behavior pattern to our different skin-tone is as a result of the white norm, consciously and subconsciously we attach certain behaviors, certain way of living and certain standards to the colour of our skin. If we are dark skinned we continuously have to keep thinking about acceptance and opportunity. The media gives certain roles to certain groups of people which has now formed an ideology of ourselves and what our skin tone can and cannot achieve, this idea of attaching angelic behaviour, success, intelligence, high financial status, hard-work and greatness to those with a lighter skin tone and attaching criminality, poverty, laziness, low-class, dirtiness and underachieving to darker skin tones is one of the many reasons as to why people feel the need to bleach their skin and change who they are completely. We would expect Africa, a continent with culture, so much diversity and skin-tone range to not be affected by such a problem but we are certainly affected by it, as much as whitewashing and the Eurocentric beauty standards have influenced our thought process, we too are responsible for the way dark skinned people view themselves. In Nigeria, the women who seem to be the IT women are the eastern and southern women, the Igbo light skinned women are the “real deal” who always have “good skin”, flawless bodies whatnot and good skin to a lot of Nigerians is fair skin. I wouldn’t want to make an illogical statement but from what I’ve observed in school and the the time I’ve spent interacting with fellow Nigerians is that the Western (Yoruba) women are the ones who are tagged with bad skin, rough skin and ugliness because of their skin colour. We could have a flawless skin and very attractive dark skinned woman in the same room with a less attractive, less flawless skin and scarfaced light-skinned woman but the chances of the light-skinned woman being glorified and over appreciated more than the dark skin woman would still be very high because of their skin colour.

It’s important that lighter-skinned women stand along their darker-skinned sisters when it comes to colourism, and this may involve promoting their voices above the din and centring their experiences. ~Jendella Benson

We differentiate beauty and BEAUTY with our skin colour and while we think it’s normal, it isn’t. In secondary school we often voted for the most beautiful girl and while doing this, we refused to involve the fair/brown girls into the equation because “fairness is already beauty so let’s not add them“, the win was always given to the dark skinned girls (this example is not one of jealousy) but the reason the dark skinned girls were given the win was because “it was hard to find dark skins who were attractive”. When I think about it now, we were uplifting colourism and we had no idea because it was something we had seen, learned and had become part of our opinions and standards on what beauty was, is and should be. Gradually the ideology faded out for a number of us and while it did, it stuck with some. The reason why I differentiated between beauty and BEAUTY is because these words, as much as they have the same spelling and we attach a single meaning to them, they both have different meanings.

The first word, beauty: This is when we as a society refer to dark skinned women as beautiful but purposely exclude them from participating in beauty pageants and contests that features women with different skin-tone, the underlying meaning is to be dark skinned is to be second position/lesser than a person with a lighter skin. The second word BEAUTY: This is when we as a society make unprogressive quotes such as “fairness is beauty” and when we purposely use light skinned women/women with a browner shade as the standard and representation of beauty, making them the norm and face of what ideal beauty is. It is when there is a difference between Miss Ebony and Miss NYSC, the continuous selection of lighter shades over darker shades.

The continuous discrimination of dark skinned women and fetishization of light skinned women has got to stop!

Colourism: Discrimination based on skin color, also known as colorism or shadeism, is a form of prejudice or discriminationin which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.

It is not a myth that being brown/fair woman in Africa awards privileges, to be of a lighter complexion will award you with pretty girl privilege, you automatically have someone willing to give you something whether or not you earned it because of your skin colour. In Nigeria, it is a shame to bleach which I think in any African country it is. You can’t do it out in the open because you would be laughed at and mocked. I know a lot of people who started bleaching when we were in secondary school because of their obsession with being light skinned. The need to be light skinned/brown/fair in order to attain bigger opportunities and feel loved, being light skinned and unconscious would prevent you from seeing just how much your skin tone is a privilege. We had a lot of students who came to my school dark skinned and graduated with 4/5 times lighter than their actual shades and of course, the bleaching wasn’t professionally done neither was it well financially funded, it was done with creams like FunbactA, Carotone, Carowhite, and White Express Lotion, creams that had a very high amount of hydroquinone which exposes these children to cancer and other long term diseases. Parents also encourage their darkskinned children to bleach and would supply them a good amount of these creams and soaps to lighten them up. I understand the need to want your children to be favoured, privileged and accepted in society but at what cost? The problem with Nigeria on the colourism and bleaching issue now is that the masses would rather insult the victims of colourism rather than what prompted the need for bleaching in the first place. I don’t see the need for shaming the people who bleach their skin not continuously humiliating them, I would prefer we educate them on why they shouldn’t. Let’s face it, the reason for bleaching in the first place is as a result of conditioning, society’s low expectations and perception of darksinned individuals. I see Nigerians on social media mocking and trying to insult Ghanaians for the colour of their skin which is appalling, making colourist jokes isn’t funny, it’s 2018 and it’s shameful if you still think colourist jokes are entertaining .

“While feelings of dismissal and the perceived lack of nuance about the variety of experiences – good and bad – that lighter-complexioned black women go through when it comes to issues of skin tone are valid, all of that pales (no pun intended) in comparison to the deep and at times rabid dehumanisation that black women with darker complexions have faced and continue to face. We’ve got to keep perspective.”~ Jendella Benson.

I also think it is the responsibility of light/brown skinned women to educate the masses on their skin-tone not being superior to people with a darker skin-tone. My younger sister told me something which I won’t be sharing with you all but what she said basically meant “light skinned women have got to listen to the voices of dark skinned women”, light skinned women should talk about the darker skinned women issues while giving them the room to be seen and to share their own stories.

Blac Chyna. I’m going to keep this as simple as I can. The people aren’t pressed over the sales of bleaching cream neither are they pressed over Blac Chyna’s celebrity status. The people are angry and very much annoyed because Blac Chyna and her partner, Dencia seem to be exploiting off of the average Nigerian’s ignorance, insecurities, little or no education on their skin tone and the dangers of skin bleaching. Nigeria has its fair share of bleaching products and statistics shows us as one of the highest consumers but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be angry enough to hold Blac Chyna and Dencia responsible for their actions. European, Asian and American countries exploit African countries all the time, the African government also exploits its citizens but does that mean those countries deserve a pass? I guess not.

I would love to keep going on about colourism but I guess I’m going to have to save it for the next time.


INSPO Behind the quotes:

Colourism- Jendella Benson

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Skin Bleaching Picture By: Ng’endo Mukii 


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