When Rwanda banned skin bleaching products in 2018, the nation was responding to what we in the Black Conscious community have come to understand: that Mentacide, White Supremacy, and Colorism is our new collective fight.
To illustrate that point, pregnant women are taking bleaching pills in Ghana…to lighten their unborn babies. You read that right.
The cause may be sadder than the effects. If you truly want to understand the nature of the colorism beast, take time to read this article.
Examining The Roots Of Black Self Hatred
Lets go back to an age where Black Men and Women were waking up to their new relationship with white supremacy.
Most nations had legally abolished the slave trade by the end of the 19th Century. But although the chains were removed, Abolition created a new problem for freed slaves. Namely: how to integrate into a society where power was concentrated in the hands of a white ruling class.
Some — like Marcus Garvey — advocated for a complete separation from white society. Those proud Black activists were in favor of repairing Black collective self-esteem that slavery had destroyed.
But others saw separation from the United States, France, and other nations as unrealistic. They instead pursued upward mobility within white power structures. Even on the African continent where whites were a “market dominant minority”, people with deep and rich histories abandoned their cultures and put on white masks.
Blacks who tried to integrate found themselves surrounded by images and subtle messages that whispered ‘White is right’. They were told that their people were savages and they had no civilization until the arrival of the white man.
These messages were not just passively expressed by systems of white supremacy — white supremacy was enforced as a matter of policy. There are four notable cases where the skin color was used as a mechanism for societal control.
Rwanda: After World War I, Belgium was given control over Rwanda. Using skin tone as the primary basis for their actions, white Belgians turned the light skinned Tutsi ethnic group into a buffer class between themselves and the darker skinned Hutu ethnic group.
India: In 1901, a British colonial administrator named Herber Hope Risely used skin color as the basis of creating the 7 castes of India. The darkest skinned members of society were labeled the ‘Untouchables’, and were barred from positions in government, law enforcement, or corporate governance. Anything touched by an Untouchable was ‘impure’, and no member of a higher caste would touch that same item.
Brazil: Almost immediately after slavery ended in Brazil, a policy called blanqueamiento was introduced to whiten the population. This policy of racial whitening saw the Portuguese ruling class subsidizing immigration to Brazil from European nations for one reason alone — to ‘breed out’ Black and brown skin.
The United States: During much of the 20th century, many U.S. churches, fraternities, and nightclubs used the “brown paper bag” test for entrance. People at these organizations would take a brown paper bag and hold it against a person’s skin. If a person was lighter or the same color as the bag, he or she was admitted.
In every nation that has opened its borders up to white influence, the same pattern has emerged. Darker skinned members of society are marginalized, lighter skin is glorified, and whites become the ruling class.
The Impact of Being Black In A System of White Supremacy
The seeds of Black self hatred had been planted during colonialism. By the 20th Century, they were deeply rooted in the Black psyche.
Centuries of social, political, and economic disenfranchisement on the basis of color led many members of darker groups to do everything in their power to avoid the stigma of being associated with Black.
Black women and men tortured themselves with relaxers and a painful process called ‘conking’ (derived from congolene, a hair straightener gel made from lye) to straighten their hair.
In his autobiography, Malcolm X reflects on his own efforts to ‘look white’:
The congolene just felt warm when Shorty started combing it in. But then my head caught fire. I gritted my teeth and tried to pull the sides of the kitchen table together.The comb felt as if it was raking my skin off. My eyes watered, my nose was running. I couldn’t stand it any longer; I bolted to the washbasin…
“The first time’s always worst. You get used to it better before long. You took it real good, homeboy. You got a good conk.” When Shorty let me stand up and see in the mirror, my hair hung down in limp, damp strings. My first view in the mirror blotted out the hurting. …And on top of my head was this thick, smooth sheen of shining red hair — real red — as straight as any white man’s. How ridiculous I was! Stupid enough to stand there simply lost in admiration of my hair now looking “white,” … I vowed that I’d never again be without a conk, and I never was for many years.
This was my first really big step toward self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man’s hair. I had joined that multitude of Negro men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that the black people are “inferior” — and white people “superior” — that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look”pretty” by white standards.
The mutilation didn’t stop with hair. When color contact lenses were introduced in the 1960s, Blacks took out expensive insurance packages to change the color of their eyes. Plastic surgery was used to reduce ‘Black features’, and even mannerisms and speech patterns were changed for the sake of cultural assimilation.
But the holy grail of Black defacement was lighter skin. To save their children from the Black curse, Black women and men alike would seek out white sex partners with the intent of having a baby with ‘good hair’.
For those who were born dark, there was — and still are — skin bleaching creams and pills.
In fact, the skin bleaching industry generates more than $10 Billion globally with no signs of slowing down. According to a report from Global Industry Analysts the skin-lightening industry will mushroom into a $23 billion business by 2020.
And this brings our conversation full circle — those who can neither find a white partner and are not willing to bleach themselves are taking pills to bleach their children while they are still in the womb.
The Truth About Skin Bleaching
The truth about skin bleaching is that no amount of effort to stop the practice itself will work.
Every behavior is the result of a belief. Thus, if we wish to change the behavior we must change the belief.
Skin bleaching, hair texturizing, plastic surgery, interracial dating, and cultural abdication are all the results of self hatred. And this self hatred is fueled by a system of white supremacy that suggests to be Black is to be disadvantaged. Nowhere is this more evident than in all too common social media posts like the one below. *WARNING* GRAPHIC LANGUAGE.
Carter G. Woodson was an American Educator and the founder of Black History Month in the United States. His words punctuate the real reason Ghanaians and Black folk globally have taken up their own destruction.
“If you can control a person’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action… If you make them feel that they are inferior, you do not have to compel them to accept an inferior status, for they will seek it themselves. If you make a [people] think that [they are] justly an outcast, you do not have to order them to the back door. They will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his or her very nature will demand one.”