Bleaching Black Skin: Haute or Hate? (Poll)

Back in the days prior to the Civil Rights Movement, bleaching black skin was an accepted taboo. Advertising in major black magazines like Ebony and Jet, use to extol the benefits of using bleaching creams. The message was clear: You were prettier, more acceptable to society and desirable to men if your skin was lighter and brighter.

But the tumultuous 60’s rolled in. Coloreds and Negroes discovered their black was beautiful.  The expressions Black Power and Black Pride stirred up America like a tornado. “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” was heard from sea to shining sea. For the first time, African Americans gazed in the mirror without shame and embraced their dark hues, kinky hair and fuller features. Finally, they would overcome the hatred, perceived inferiority and unworthiness that 400 years of negative propaganda perpetrated.  As a daughter of a civil rights activist, I thought Black is Beautiful would last forever.

But then the  Oo-La-La 80’s emerged. The European look was back in vogue for black people.  Keen features and lighter skin were once again the desired look.

Vanessa Williams, The first Black Miss America 1984

Super model Iman

In the 21st century, we are still  grappling with skin color.  In the age of multiculturalism, whitening creams are making a comeback. People of color all over the world are bleaching their skin including Africans, West Indians, Latinos, Asians and African Americans. Did biases against dark skin people ever really go away?

Evelyn Nakano Glenn, a professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a NYTimes.com post on skin whitening. “…It is not as if dark-skinned women are imagining a bias…Sociological studies have shown among African-Americans and also Latinos, there’s a clear connection between skin color and socioeconomic status. It’s not some fantasy. There is prejudice against dark-skinned people, especially women in the so-called marriage market.”

Don’t fit in, you don’t get in. How that standard crept back into African American culture baffles me. I still can’t believe Black is Beautiful is the exception, not the rule.

Woman wearing bleaching cream

Woman with bleaching cream on her face

There is a price to pay for bleaching your way into societal acceptance. Skin lightening creams are dangerous to your skin. Many brands contain steroid corticosteroid and mercury, which over time can cause blemishing, burnt marks, thinning of the skin, eroded protection against UV rays, hypertension, cancer, liver and kidney failure, even death.

Skin damage from using bleaching cream

Many celebrities are alleged to be bleaching their black skin…

Lil' Kim's en"lightening" transformation

Vybz Kartel, rockin' that zombie look

Sammy, Say it ain't So(sa)!

Beyonce, is this bleaching, Photoshop or both?

Is this a new statement of haute style and beauty or a retreat into self hate?Are we going backward instead of forward? What do you think of Blacks bleaching their skin? Would you do it?

Then

Now

Take our poll.

10 comments

  1. Darryl Hughes

    Unfortunately, we are still hating on ourselves. We have white people sitting in the sun all day and getting skin cancer to be darker and we have black people lightning their skin with creams to be lighter, that’s causing different kinds of skin rashes and weird discolorations.

    It’s not the color of your skin that makes you who you are. It’s your personality, your knowledge and your creativity that will set you apart from others. Embrace the gifts that God gave you, including the color of your skin to make a difference in this world.

    I have a poster in my office by Joseph Campbell that states “Diversity- the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are”.

    Love thy self before you can love others.

  2. Lynne

    I agree with Darryl that we see both white and black folks are trying to change their skin color (even if it means risking ruining their skin or a cancerous death!). Some of my white girlfriends lay in the sun til they are cooked well-done every summer, then get botox injections to get rid of the wrinkles the sun has caused, go figure. Or look at all the white folks getting spray-painted with those fake orange tans, they look like oompa-loompas! Well-to-do whites used to value fair skin and now it’s a tan that represent a life of leisure.

    The standard of beauty always changes for everyone over time, regardless of race or skin tone. I was so happy in the 70s when it was “in” for everyone to look more natural and casual. Hair, make-up and clothing changed drastically from previous, uptight eras and I was thinking that humans (especially women) would keep evolving into this new comfortability with their natural look. Unfortunately, the 80s came along and an era of excess in all ways! And now, due to the easy availability of so many cosmetic procedures I fear we are a loooong way away from my dream of us all accepting who we naturally are.

    All that being said, it is much more complicated than just the fashion of the times when it comes to how black people might interpret the “ideal” look our culture pushed at us for so long (light skin, fine features, blonde hair) and how others interpret a black person’s decision to change their look to match this ideal. For hundreds of years blacks in America were given favor based on having these European features or were told that their own look was inferior, so I can see why their intention comes to question. A white girl with a broader nose gets a nose job to narrow it down or bleaches brown hair blonde and she doesn’t have to worry about whether she might be judged for trying to look like the majority (self-proclaimed superior) race, yet she might be judged for changing to become more “acceptable”. Does it always mean that a black person is dissing their heritage or that they desire to be white or to be more accepted by whites if they try to get closer to this “ideal” American look or are their intentions more like the white girl’s…just to be closer to that ideal look? Possibly, probably, or not? Deep.

  3. Pingback: When Politics Mirrors Real Life: Solving Race Relations In the US « A Spoonful of Suga
  4. Des Chisholm

    What’s wrong with being what you really are?

    As a kid I was tortured by bullies who stupidly criticised me for my lighter complexion as though it was a fault/my fault. So-called black people (brown actually) who obviously bleached their faces or use ‘lightening’ make-up still do it while wearing braids, hair pieces and ill fitting wigs. Why?

    Be yourself, or at least don’t try to make yourself look big by trying to make someone else feel small. Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours shine any brighter.

    It’ our *brain* content that we’re responsible for, not our shade, so either way it shouldn’t be used as a weapon..

  5. cupkate26

    Black women have been told for many years that black is not beautiful. Go to your local market and you will only see Caucasian women on the front of magazines. Hardly any commercials advertise for black women hair products. Black men tell black women they are not beautiful. So it’s no wonder they are trying to mimic their white counterparts.

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