I came across an article in the NY Times a few weeks ago that featured a picture of the ever-lightening Sammy Sosa. Have you noticed that over the past few years Sosa has gone from a rich mocha-brown complexion to a pale, sallow pink? According to the NY Times article, Sosa used a cream to ‘soften’ his skin but it also bleached it. Really Sammy, really?
The article said “creams that offer lighter skin may also bring risks.” Doggone right it does. In addition to the risk of thinner, more sensitive skin, it brings the risk of perpetual ignorance. Lightening your skin perpetuates the same slave mentality that ‘light is right’ and ‘black is whack’. I really thought that line of thinking was played out. Clearly, it isn’t.
Remember when the New Yorker published a front page political caricature of Mrs. Obama as a militant, fist bumping, black panther-like, AK47-toting mama? If her complexion had been more like that of Alicia Keys, would she have been portrayed as such? Just curious… And what about President Obama? I’ve heard men (usually darker-skinned black men) say that if he had been darker, he never would have been elected. Think about that. If Barack Obama’s complexion looked more like Wesley Snipes, would white people have felt comfortable voting for him? Probably not, huh? But what about black people? Would the espresso Barack have had to work twice as hard as the cafe’ au lait Barack to get the black vote? Clearly, America, both white and black, is still color struck.
Unfortunately, it is us darker-skinned people who perpetuate that ‘light is right’ school of thought by altering our looks to comply with this Anglo standard of beauty. Now, Michelle and Barack Obama have not (as far as we know), but Sammy Sosa, Lil Kim, Vivica A. Fox and millions of other unnamed people have.
Here’s the problem, we have been so brainwashed by our pasts as slaves and images in the media, that we now think the lighter we are, the more accepted we are. When actually, the more comfortable we are with who we are, the more accepted we are. Read that sentence again and think about it.
Back in slavery times, the house slaves were treated far better than the field hands. They also had a tendency to be lighter. The conclusion was drawn that house slaves were treated better because of their lighter complexion. This caused a great divide among the slaves on the plantation widely based on skin tone. While the field slaves got scraps, poorer living conditions and more frequent whippings, the house slaves got better food, better clothes, better housing and more respect. But the real reason house slaves were treated better was not because of the fairness of their skin, but because they were probably Massa’s children. And quite naturally, people treat their own a little better than they do others. (Is your light bulb going off?)
Needless to say, the better treatment of house Negros caused a chasm among the slaves; a chasm that still exists today even after the ‘Black is Beautiful’ and fist-pumping ‘Black Power’ rally cries of the 60’s and 70’s. And now today, we are resorting to harsh skin-lightening, nose jobs, relaxers, weaves and wigs trying to be something we are not; trying to be more like them and less like us. Why can’t we just be happy with who we are? Round noses, kinky hair, rich deep skin hues and all.
On Monday, January 18th, many of us observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It has been almost 50 years since King delivered his famous “I Have Dream” speech in which he fancied a world in which people were judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Forty-seven years later, we still are not there.
Instead of working to build a more positive character, we are changing the color of our skin. What if instead of fighting for equality, King just lightened his skin so he could be more accepted? What if instead of marching, he just got a relaxer and a thinner nose? Don’t you see, when you change your features to match the world, you are not changing the world… just the world’s response to you. That may make things a little easier for you, but it does nothing for your children and others like you.
My challenge to you is to take bold defining steps to change the world, instead of merely changing yourself to be of world. (And I guess I can do the same since someone had no problem pointing out to me that I probably wasn’t born with this golden blond hair.)
Wise up dark-skinned people. Accept and love yourself for who you are. The rest of the world will follow.