One of the most prevalent but unspoken of issues in the black community, in any part of the world, is colorsim. Even in a day-to-day conversation, we seem unable to escape color references such as, “I’m sure you know Nikki, the tall light-skinned girl”, or, “look at that boy; he’s so dark, he is midnight blue”. We have been demanding for years that the white community acknowledge, address, and terminate racism, but if we continue to point out the differences in our shades of blackness, how do we expect them to overlook it? To make matters worse, some of us commit a truly horrific act. So called “lightening creams” have created one of the most atrocious epidemics encountered by the black community since slavery; bleaching our skin in an unsuccessful attempt to conform to the “norm”. Whose norm exactly? In a recent article written by a New York Times journalist on the issue; he quoted one of the men interviewed, “you have to change yourself, dilute yourself in order to fit into the Western norm and live in White America”. So in order to succeed, one has to look the part. This is the message some black celebrities seem to be projecting. In 1999, North America was mesmerized and captivated as we all watched the home-run record race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire play out. I was on team Sosa and even got the jersey to prove it. There was immense support for Sosa, not only from Chicago Cubs fans, but also from African Americans who didn’t even follow baseball. An athletic brother with a Latin spice, can’t go wrong with that. Then two years ago, pictures of a lighter skinned Sosa surfaced and I was wondering many things, but first was “how?” Apparently, Sosa has undergone a skin-lighting treatment. Well I was flabbergasted. What would compel a successful role model to do such a thing? He is in the spotlight; hell, he is in the record books. His name has been immortalized. I felt so ashamed and let down by someone I once idolized. However, Sosa is not the first black person to do so. Many other black celebrities, Michael Jackson not included, have been accused of doing it, from Roberta Flack, the Jacksons (Latoya and Janet), to Rihanna and Beyonce. Many celebrities do it so they can be more acceptable to White America, therefore having more marketability, resulting in an increase in income.
During the pre-Olympics campaign, US hurdler Lolo Jones was front and center as the face of the US Track and Field team, even though Dawn Harper, the reigning world champion in that discipline, is also an American. But why was Harper commercially neglected in favor of a less accomplished athlete? Was it for Ms. Jones’ closer to European features and olive skin color? We can blame the media for favoring the lighter over the dark all we want, but the ugly truth is; it is not just White America who like it “light”. The Black community is more than culpable. Not long ago, HBO released a documentary about the Ali-Frazier saga. Some of the people interviewed have admitted that one of the reasons Black America was on Ali’s side was the fact that he was the lighter complexioned fighter. “He was prettier,” they said, and Ali himself, kept re-enforcing that notion by referring to Frazier as a “gorilla”, a “big ugly bear”, and saying things such as; “we can’t let the Asians think that brothers look like that”, even though Frazier’s physical attributes had no merit nor bearing on the sport of boxing. I do not have to go as far back as the 1970’s to cement this fact. In the recent history of Hollywood, Pop, and Hip-Hop cultures, the lack of women of darker complexion has been noticeable in those arenas and we would only see them in roles such as slaves, overweight maids, prison inmates, “crack-whores”, and so on. None of the women of darker complexion are given a chance at the glamorous roles which portray beauty. Many rappers for example, including Kanye West, have declared that they prefer women of mixed races, hence lighter complexion as models in their videos. Since the targeted demographic for Hip-Hop music is predominately African American, it leaves us with one conclusion; we like it “diluted”.
Last year, a close relative of mine was gazing through my modelling portfolio and said, and I quote verbatim, “why don’t you use some lightening creams like ‘Fair and Lovely’? Your pictures would look so much better and that would help your career. You know magazines don’t like dark women.” So hearing that I was wondering, were the likes of Rihanna right in choosing magazine covers and higher record sales over their own skin color? Is bleaching the route to follow in one’s journey toward success? Or am I being too self-righteous for thinking that what they did cannot be justified? Should the Black youth listen to the lyrics of Vybz Kartel urging them to use the “Cake Soap”? Is “fair” really “lovely” and should my sisters shed their skin to be considered attractive and marketable? My answer to all of these question is a resounding N-O!. It is time we faced this problem head on, shed the self-hatred, and say enough is enough. I will stand up and may my sisters and brothers help me shout it to the heavens, “I’m black, I’m dark, and I’m beautiful”!