Sometime in 2011, Mshoza, real name Nomasonto Mnisi, a South African Kwaito artist announced to the world that she had begun skin bleaching treatment. She said she wanted to look like Michael Jackson.
“But yes, when everything is said and done I will look like a white person from head to toe. I might have to redo the rhinoplasty to fit my new skin,” she said. Mshoza said a lot of things that made no sense like how she was “tired of being ugly”. What she told the world was; being black made her feel ugly and she is not some sort of ground-breaker in the self-hate endemic, a lot of people came before her and more came after. A World Health Organisation study reported by New Zimbabwe showed that 77% of Nigerian women use the products on a regular basis, followed by Togo’s 59%, South Africa at 35% and Mali at 25%. Who is feeding the inferiority complex?
Demonization of black skin and self-hate
The story of the demonization of black skin started back in the Slave Trade, back in the colonial period and now is being perpetuated by the media. When the whites came to Africa, it was essential to institute feelings of inferiority so as to make blacks feel they owed service and loyalty to whites. Beauty came to be defined in one simple term; white. The whiter, the lighter the righter! A 1930 ad for a French soap, Dirtoff showed a black man washing his hands with the soap and it washed off the blackness too. It is such subtle messages that found their way into the minds of the people and they stuck. Common sense shows that establishing a European psychological supremacy was a necessity in order to sustain the European empire. In America, bi-racial offspring of slave masters and black slaves were promoted to be house-slaves leaving their darker ilk in the fields. Anything with a strain of white was thus asserted to be superior.
Self-hate as a phenomenon that is age old has morphed and hidden itself in words such as “yellow-bone”. Males have been the major culprits in spreading the self-hate as they all seem to favor yellow-bones and veil their secret hate for darker women by claiming it is a matter of preference. They appear to condemn women who bleach yet right after, they praise the lighter women as the perfect partners. This starts a vicious cycle of hate for the self particularly in women who feel they have to be lighter to get anyone’s attention. It is unfortunate that in 2016, women are still judged based on appearance while men have a more inclusive metric ranging from wealth right to education. Men can afford to be dark and successful while women feel they have to be a little lighter to be on equal footing.
It is no secret that apart from the yellowbone phenomenon, the media has equally fed insecurities by elevating lighter black women at the expense of their darker counterparts. Women like Lupita Nyong’o, Genevieve Nnaji and Alek Wek are the exceptions in a light woman dominated industry. Addressing the 7th Annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, Nyong’o revealed that she had loathed her dark skin and prayed for a lighter countenance. She said women like Oprah Winfrey and Wek showed her black was just as beautiful. The media has tended to elevate lighter women like Beyonce, Halle Berry and Rihanna who are even photoshopped in magazines to make them look even lighter. For that girl who grows up looking at the definition of beauty and how she is so far from it, self-hate is inevitable. That self-hate is big money for the cosmetics industry which is projected to sell $19.8 billion by 2018. Oprah Winfrey on her show once said to Alek Wek, “If you had been on the cover when I was growing up, I would have had a different concept of who I was.” The media cannot be underestimated in this dirty conspiracy to reap benefits from the self-hate syndrome.
Jamaica, though not African has a lot of black women and the same problem. One of the major issues has been with the health and safety aspect as women are using unsafe products in the pursuit of whiteness. Unregulated products, which are cheaper, have high quantities of hydroquinone and mercury which potentially result in liver and kidney failure or hyper-pigmentation and skin cancer. Even on the face of such risks, the African woman will not be deterred. In April 2015, Cote d’Ivoire led the charge against harmful skin products by imposing a ban on all products with mercury, some steroids, Vitamin A or hydroquinone levels above two percent. Ivorians have however ignored the ban which entails a fine of anything from $83 to $585 for violators. This begs the question of what should therefore be done? It is up to the African woman to start loving the self because the media and cosmetic producers profiteer from the hate and are not going to put an end to it. It is up to the black man to tell the black women how beautiful she is and stop this fanatical madness about yellow-bones. It is up to Africans to start on the rehabilitative path to self-love and realize they are enough without modifications.