Colorism and Black Women
Becky Olu-Alabi | @rimmasnaturals
“Brown Skin Girl, Skin just like Pearls…the best thing in the World…won’t change you for anybody else”. This song from Beyonce’s latest album, “The Lion King: The Gift” dominated the airwaves in 2019, and was fiercely popular, but not only among the “Beyhive”. It was the new anti-colorism anthem; suddenly, everyone wanted to be a “Brown Skin Girl” and it was cool again to be Black! However, despite several empowering songs on Colorism and inclusion, such as “Brown Skin Girl” some Black women continue to have self-esteem issues surrounding their skin tone.
Colorism is a form of racial discrimination based on the shade of an individual’s skin tone, typically favoring lighter skin; and it can occur both within a specific ethnic group and across ethnic groups. Specifically, it is the discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, meaning that darker-skinned black people have to fight prejudice even within their own community because lighter skin is considered more desirable. Colorism has long served as a psychological divide among black people across the globe.
The World Health Organization has reported that Nigerians are the highest users of skin lightening/whitening products in the African continent at 77%, followed closely by Togo at 59%, South Africa at 35%, and Mali at 25%. It is particularly alarming in the continent because users mix various hazardous and harmful agents such as automotive battery acid and bleach to achieve even faster results. A report from Global Industry Analysts declared skin lightening a billion-dollar industry and is poised to reach USD6.5 billion by the year 2025.
This is an alarming usage rate of skin bleaching products which would no doubt, lead to side effects and several health conditions. Black people are prone to hyperpigmentation, due to the harsh rays of the sun, pregnancy hormones, and other endocrine factors. While some skin lightening products are used to treat skin care issues such as hyperpigmentation and melasma (dark patches on the skin and mask of pregnancy), others use it indiscriminately to lighten the skin by inhibiting and suppressing the production of melanin, the pigment which gives us our black skin. This prolonged usage causes side effects such as ochronosis, dermatitis, impaired wound healing, skin cancer, and even renal failure. These dangerous skincare practices can be potentially life-threatening which is why skin health deserves our utmost attention, especially since black women are the highest consumers of the products across the globe.
Why do people continue to bleach? Simply put, most people believe lighter skin is associated with beauty and success in life and there are several such underlying factors that continue to motivate a preference for fairer and lighter skin which we cannot cover in this article. Some others are simply unaware of the health consequences.
The continued use and even increase in usage of skin bleaching products highlight a failure of public health campaigns. It is one of those areas where, no matter how much health professionals advise against it, people continue to do it anyway. I can point to a hundred beautiful black women such as Lupita N’yogo and Serena Williams doing great things in their careers and excelling in their various fields of endeavor until I am blue in the face, but it would not stop skin bleaching.
"Most people believe lighter skin is associated with beauty and success in life"
Unprotected sex is potentially harmful because you can end up with sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, Chlamydia, or gonorrhea. Drinking can be enjoyable when enjoyed socially until you overdo it and damage your liver. I highlight these examples because safety measures have been put in place to curb the menace. If you’re caught drunk driving or high on drugs and stimulants, you will end up in jail in most countries around the world. Condoms were created to protect people from potentially getting infected with sexually transmitted infections because the knowledge that you could end up with a life-threatening disease is clearly not a deterrent for abstaining from unprotected sex for most people. In my opinion, the same should be done with skin bleaching because it has equally damaging, far-reaching effects. Perhaps if more women and men (men also bleach) were made aware of the dangers and consequences of skin bleaching, and if healthy alternatives were offered it would reduce the damage in the long run. All-natural plants and fruits such as papaya, orange peel powder, and lemon juice are all healthier alternatives which have the effect of evening out the skin tone gradually over time without the harmful side effects of chemicals such as hydroquinone, mercury, and steroids found in skin bleaching products.
In addition, the focus should be on healthy skin- healthy skin is better skin -brown, black, or tan. Take care of your skin and use natural, plant-based soaps and creams such as your shea and mango butter. Eat foods and fruits rich in vitamins and collagen to brighten and firm up your skin. Free radical damage is really what you should be avoided because it weakens your skin’s immunity and can trigger inflammatory reactions that destroy collagen, resulting in thin, wrinkly, and blotched out skin. Tomatoes, oranges, citrus fruits, bell peppers, pineapples, ginger, chia seeds, oatmeal, cinnamon, turmeric, salmon, and egg whites should feature regularly on your grocery list if you want to maintain healthy skin.