AFRICAN BLACKNESS IS BEAUTIFUL; The motivation for using skin lighteners is linked to Colonial History

The word “yellow bone” has gained popularity in the US as well as countries like South Africa. It refers to a lighter-skinned black person, perpetuating the lengthy racist Eurocentric tradition which propagates negative images and aesthetics of black people and people of colour in Africa and Europe.

“Yellow bone”, as a popular word amongst the young people in South African today, it projects self-hatred amongst darker skinned people of Africa. In an American setting this is a psychological abnormality called “Post Trauma Slavery Disorder” or PTSD. In South Africa, it could be equated to what we call “Post-Apartheid Inferiority Disorder” or PAID . The most visible global symptoms include:

  1. Use of skin lightening or bleaching creams
  2. Preference for white or light-skinned friends and children
  3. Wearing of blond hair or blond wigs
  4. Internalised inferiority and a lack of self-love or veneration
  5. Lack of group unity and trust.

The motivation for using skin lighteners is linked to colonial history. Lightening one’s skin is perceived to come with increased privileges, higher social standing, better employment and increased marital prospects. This, coupled with influential marketing strategies from transnational cosmetic houses using iconic celebrities, increases the allure – primarily for women, but increasingly for men.

Skin lightening is described in many different ways across the continent. In Mali and Senegal, the terms “caco” and “xeesal” are used while in Ghana, the term “nensoebenis” describes the condition of the skin after chronic skin lightener use.

With its political overtones, South Africa has a distinctive history with skin lighteners. Various ethnic languages describe the practice. In isiXhosa it is known as “ukutsheyisa” which means “to chase beauty”. In isiZulu it is known as “ukucreamer” meaning “applying creams on the skin”.

There’s no denying that Africa has some of the most talented artists, musicians, athletes and actors in the world. By making hit after record-breaking hit, these artists have proven that the continent’s musical talent stacks up against the best in the world. The black actors win awards one after another at the Grammies, at BETs and at many MTN awards continentally and globally. The athletes as well are doing better, wining gold medals after another at Olympiads competitions worldwide.

South Africa is marketed to the world as Mandela’s rainbow nation, where everyone is proud of their race and heritage. But for some black South Africans there is such a thing as being too black. We see our young women, mothers and girls flocking in salons and beauty shops to buy skin lightening chemicals, just to change how they look.

A recent study by the University of Cape Town suggests that one woman in three in South Africa bleaches her skin. The reasons for this are as varied as the cultures in this country but most people say they use skin-lighteners because they want “white skin”.

Local musician Nomasonto “Mshoza” Mnisi, now several shades lighter, says her new skin makes her feel more beautiful and confident. So she does not feel confident as a black woman? So deep that she decided to change how she looks?

Our TV personalities and celebrities are doing just fine. But there’s just one problem: too many top artists and personalities seem to be promoting the warped impression that true beauty only comes in one form: light/white skin. Is this a wrong-headed marketing ploy or are these artists truly blind to the negative body image attitudes they are promoting, anti black?

If a mother of 5 years old black girl is already bleaching her skin it means she would teach her child that bleaching her skin to a lighter is how she should look. She would probably tell her 5 years old girl that your skin is not beautiful because it is black and dark, and we need to change it to a brighter skin. Logic tells a black child you were born not beautiful since you are black and dark, it is better if we change your skin and you look lighter and white. This at the same time brings inferiority complex to the black child vis a vee a white child.

Let’s talk about something. We’ve noticed it and we know you have too. Unless you live under a rock, you must know that the music industry in Africa is going through a bit of a “golden period.” Artists from Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda (you name them) have taken Africa and the world by storm. That’s meant lots of flashy music videos popping up almost every day of the week. But why are all these artists appearing white? Why are they brighter while we know naturally they are as dark as me?

Creativity flourishes but, unfortunately, so does something else: many of the artists seem to prefer using white or light-skinned models to dark-skinned ones. Even African artisist would employ the lighter skinned models rather than darker ones. Why? If you went on YouTube right now and cued up ten of the latest music video offerings from top artist in West, East and Southern Africa, this would quickly become apparent.

This is self-hatred and should be looked at deeper into why Africans wants to become whites in Africa? It should be banned. With up to 70% of women using skin lightening creams in parts of Africa, Cote d’Ivoire has led the charge in tackling skin lighteners and has banned the practice nationally. It is time for the rest of the continent to follow.

Skin lighteners have become a common part of life in communities across the continent which is home to an estimated two thirds of the world’s darker-skinned population. In the late 1960s, 60% of urban African women reported using skin lightener formulas. It became the fourth most commonly used household product after soap, tea and tinned milk.

These days, 75% of Nigerian women and between 52% and 67% of Senegalese women use skin lightening products. A survey conducted in South Africa’s administrative capital Pretoria showed that 35% of women use them.

Demand is also high in Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya where buoyant economies and advertising have targeted young women of marriageable age. There has been a marked shift in male preferences toward women with light-coloured skin emphasising the idea of “racial capital”.

But skin lighteners are damaging. The World Health Organisation has banned the active ingredients of skin lighteners – a chemical agent called hydroquinone and mercury – from being used in any unregulated skin products.

These chemicals too courses cancer among men, who sleeps with women who uses these chemicals. During sex a male would lie face down on a woman. In the process a male would kiss a woman on the chick and then on the neck, sucking the chemicals with their tongues from the woman’s face, neck and chin. This results in over 13% of males suffering from colon cancer unnoticed and thereby resulting in severe damages in men’s health.

So we should ban all these skin lightening products if we really would want to build a Pan-African society and move Africa forward!