Thursday, May 15, 2008

Color Me White

I can think of nothing that represents internalized hatred more than desire to lighten ones skin. There is a thriving market for creams that prey upon the insecurity of others. What is not well known is how damaging these products are. In an attempt to lighten ones pigment, the usage of creams will burn layers of skin. The damage is often permanent. Users are left with highly visible scars.

Dr. Persadsingh says some of the products contain steroids and hydroquinone, which are mutagenic. This means they can cause changes in the body that can lead to cancer. Many users, he notes, find their skin gradually becoming darker when they quit using the chemicals, and some develop a scaly layer on their skin. Few return to their original skin color once they have used skin lighteners.

“The prolonged and continued use of these creams will lead to a face looking like a grater,” warns Dr. Persadsingh.

“When we are faced with this type of damage there is nothing that we can do except to advise the patient to live with their condition,” the dermatologist says.

The visibility of these scars match the scars on the inside. Behind the desire to bleach ones skin is not only a hatred of all things black but an elevation of whiteness as an ideal. The body becomes the marker of racial hierarchy that is prevalent in society. If blacks were valued, or even treated as equal, would there be a desire to lighten skin?

Though black bodies may be free, minds are still colonized. This is evidenced through things like the doll test, which I previously blogged about. The desire to view lighter skin as positive is a remnant of slavery. House slaves were lighter skin and often related to the slave master. They had lighter duties and worked largely indoors, whereas the field slaves were of a darker hue and were required to do more physical labor. Light skin became something to be praised, and perpetuated through selective breeding.

This self-hatred is perpetuated by the media. Darker skinned people are commonly represented as the thieves, liars, rapists, murders etc. Through the lens of pop culture there is a daily representation of dark as somehow deficient and or morally bankrupt, whereas whites inhabit clean, pure and successful places. Combine this with a high level of poverty, a high imprisonment rate, and a reduced access to higher education, is it really surprising that there are some that attempt an escape through mutilation? All whites may not acknowledge their racial privilege but it is inescapable, and highly visible to those bodies that are stigmatized due to skin color. When a name can reduce your chances at employment how much more powerful is skin color?

These creams, soaps and deodorants are predatory. They reinforce difference and encourage self-hatred. In the form of a commodity they represent who matters in our society. Self hatred is a disharmony of worth and value. To profit off of this carnage of the spirit, is to actively assert the correctness of racial hierarchy, and highlights the true nature of capitalism -- profit at any cost. In this framework black bodies are for the consumption of others, i.e existing solely for the purposes of exploitation. We live in a racist, patriarchal, capitalist state that is built upon the colonization of brown bodies and until this foundation has rotted to the core, many will seek drastic action to mitigate their positioning as the bottom rung of society. Who among us does not wish for better based upon socialization? If we teach inferiority, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Declare your worth and demand that these companies who profit from the social disease of racism stop producing these harmful products.

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