Black skin

We can­not blame women for light­en­ing their skin, writes Rather, we need to take a long, hard look at why it hap­pens

CityPress - - Voices -

‘It’s not my fault, so you can’t blame me. I didn’t do it and have no idea how it hap­pened. It didn’t take more than an hour af­ter they pulled her out from be­tween my legs for me to re­alise some­thing was wrong. Re­ally wrong. She was so black, she scared me. Mid­night black, Su­danese black. I’m light-skinned, with good hair, what we call high yel­low, and so is Lula Ann’s fa­ther.”

So be­gins God Help the Child, the lat­est novel by No­bel prize lau­re­ate for lit­er­a­ture Toni Mor­ri­son. It fol­lows Sweet­ness, an African-Amer­i­can woman who has no idea how she has brought such a dark-skinned baby into the world. Re­pelled by Lula Ann’s dark­ness, she dis­tances her­self from her daugh­ter, who grows up scarred by not hav­ing her mother’s love.

Sweet­ness’ story is a fa­mil­iar, re­cur­ring one whis­pered at sa­lons, cack­led by aunts, bla­zoned across head­lines, trend­ing on Twit­ter time­lines. Re­cently, we found our­selves heart­bro­ken over pic­tures of US rap­per Lil’ Kim’s trans­for­ma­tion from the “dark beauty” who rhymed sex pos­i­tiv­ity in the 1990s to the lit­eral fig­ure of a white woman, aided by a heady pro­ce­dural mix that in­cluded skin light­en­ing, nose job, eye­brow lifts, lip thin­ners and cheek­bone im­plants.

A few months be­fore, we read of lo­cal TV per­son­al­ity Khanyi Mbau’s pro­fessed love of skin light­en­ers. That was pos­si­bly the same month that for­mer kwaito star Mshoza tweeted a pic­ture of her­self at a reg­u­lar der­ma­tol­o­gist ap­point­ment. To this post, her friend, singer Kelly Khu­malo, re­sponded with a plea: “Wangishiya! [You went with­out me!].” In turn, Mshoza gen­er­ously replied: “[S]thandwa senhliziyo yam I’ll make an ap­point­ment for us next week is it ok?”

Sweet­ness is right. It is not her fault. Sweet­ness – like Lula Ann, like Lil’ Kim, like Mbau, like Mshoza, like Khu­malo, like me, like all of us – is scarred by not hav­ing the world’s love.

Why doesn’t the world love us? Why does the world hate our mid­night blacks and tol­er­ate the high yel­lows?

I wish, like Sweet­ness, we could say that we did not know how it hap­pened. But we can; it is not a mys­tery. It is a ba­nal two words: white supremacy.

If we had to be more thought­ful and delve deeply into the con­tents of this five-cen­turies-old bag of white supremacy, we would find the in­ter­twin­ing sys­tems of pa­tri­archy and cap­i­tal­ism that have built them­selves on the backs of black women and their bod­ies, and de­manded that they con­form to stan­dards of white fem­i­nin­ity.

Do I wish Sweet­ness did not have the de­sire to lighten her skin? Yes. Do I blame Sweet­ness for the de­sire to lighten her skin? No. Do I think it fair to keep mak­ing black women such as Sweet­ness, Lil’ Kim, Mbau, Mshoza and Khu­malo the punch­ing bags for white supremacy that has taught the world to hate black beauty? No.

Sweet­ness’ de­sire to lighten her skin is not the base­less pathol­ogy the world likes to pre­tend it is. Rather, it is the log­i­cal re­sult of a world that also de­sires that black skin was re­lieved of its mid­night blacks and saved by high yel­lows. Mor­ri­son ex­plains that “this is re­ally skin priv­i­lege – the rank­ing of colour in terms of its close­ness to white peo­ple or white-skinned peo­ple, and its de­val­u­a­tion ac­cord­ing to how dark one is, and the im­pact that has on peo­ple who are ded­i­cated to the priv­i­leges of cer­tain lev­els of skin colour”.

In a world where a favourite pas­time is to hate black women for their per­ceived de­fi­cien­cies, I will not re­in­force those blows nor make black women like Sweet­ness the punch­ing bag that we so of­ten love to hit when we lament the use of Brazil­ian weaves, Yaki hair pieces, Le­mon Lite and all other hate­ful prod­ucts that erase the mid­nights from our blacks.

In­stead, my punch­ing bag of choice is that 500-yearold bag of global white pa­tri­ar­chal supremacy and cap­i­tal­ism that con­tin­ues to break black women’s backs.

Un­til we de­cide to un­bur­den Sweet­ness of that, I will wish that she came to love her own black, that she made an­other choice. But I will not blame her; I will not hate her. I will un­der­stand that she too wants relief from that bur­den of white supremacy and pa­tri­archy.

TALK TO US Why do you think that black women, in in­creas­ing num­bers, are turn­ing to skin light­en­ing pro­ce­dures?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word SKIN and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

US rap­per Lil’ Kim

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