Friday, June 22, 2007


This has been something that has been heavy on my heart for quite sometime. I first researched this "phenomenon" while in college. Colorism is basically skin color prejudice within a certain racial group. As I flipped though the channels on my television I tuned in to BET (Black Entertainment Television). I can recall hearing at least 3 popular songs using language such as "redbone, yellowbone" which denotes lighter skin. Here in 2007 you still hear people (especially guys) making such comments. Why did they not say the same for darker skinned girls. As I watched closely the lead girls on the majority of the videos where lighter complected. This observation actually started when I was in college. I was raised in a family that had a multitude of skin colors. It was no big deal, no one cared if you were light, dark, brown, purple, green, or blue. However, when I got to college I discovered otherwise. I all of a sudden became this light skinned girl with long hair to people in my dorm. I have always been used to people describing me as the slim girl, or the quiet girl, or the nice girl. All of a sudden I was the light girl. I then experienced jealousy initially from certain girls in my dorm. They would mistake my quietness for conceit. When they got to know me better they would tell me that they thought I was stuck up because I was light skinned. I also remember this stage on campus around 2000/2001 that it seemed "fashionable" to be "mixed with something". I had always defined myself as being "black" but I noticed that people would look at my hair length and asked me what I was "mixed" with. I would tell them that I was black. Some would look at my almond eye shape and think I was part Asian or part Native American. One day I was getting my makeup done and this man (the makeup artist) insisted that I must have been a quarter Native American. I thought I looked like the average black girl. He then implied that I should claim Native American ancestry anyway. And then he begin to proudly give me his family pedigree emphasizing the non-black ancestry. Why do we as blacks do that? I recently did research on my family tree and I discovered different races also, but that has not changed how I feel about myself. I was proud of their character not their "race". It is though many of us want to dismiss our "blackness". It is ok to embrace all of your heritage, but to be obsessed with light skin, or looking exotic in denial of your blackness is not right.


Insightful said...

This obsession with light skin is not uniquely African-American. Africans in the motherland have also been conditioned to think that having light-skin is better as well. In my view I feel that blacks unconsciously feel subordinate to the dominant group in the world, which is white/European-descended people. We were all colonized by the white colonizers—even in Africa and over the generations have come to believe that black means to get back, brown means to stick around, and white is totally alright! Do you realize that women are bleaching their skin right now in Africa because they think it makes them appear more beautiful? It’s so sad because it does not look natural on them. I just read this article that was written on June 20, 2007 (very recently). It highlights the seriousness of skin bleaching in Africa today. Check it out:

Rhoadie said...

Thanks for the article, I'll read it. Yes it is a shame because it is more people (90% of the world) that are "colored" as compared to (10% of the world) being white skinned.

Insightful said...

I think the url got truncated so it might not work. I'll just go ahead and paste it right here. This is the article below:

Self-hatred leads to skin bleaching
The Statesman (Kokomlemle, Accra, Ghana), June 20, 2007

"When you are lighter, people pay more attention to you. It makes you more important and the rich men find you attractive," the sentiments of an Accra-based woman with light skin and dark knuckles.

Yet, the self-hate phenomenon of skin-bleaching is not limited to black women alone. The music fans of men like Michael Jackson and the famous Lumba Brothers, Charles Kwadwo Fosu (Daddy Lumba) and Nana Acheampong, have seen the skin of the stars go lighter and lighter with every album hit. Through multiple surgeries, Michael Jackson has arguably become transracial.

Bleaching is often attributed to extreme low self-esteem, and a misplaced desire to be better appreciated.

But, there is a growing repugnance within black communities worldwide against bleaching.

"Skin Bleaching" is the term applied to the process of cosmetic methods used to whiten the skin. It has for a long time been considered a common practice in dark skinned women in sub-Saharan Africa although increasingly, some dark skinned men have also taken to skin bleaching.

The ideology and implementation of "Skin Bleaching" has been highly criticised throughout its existence as it has negative connotations related to image, identity and race based aesthetics not to mention certain severe skin conditions associated with the long term use of skin bleaching cosmetics.

According to a report last July by Ibram Rogers, however, the European aesthetics of beauty and social rank have reached the shores of Africa, and are wreaking psychological and physical havoc on residents of Accra, Ghana, two studies suggested.

In two examinations conducted in 2005 by Jocelyn Mackey, an assistant professor of psychology at Southern Connecticut State University, more than 200 Ghanaian students aged 8 to 18 consistently equated attractiveness, opportunity, power and acceptance with lighter skin colour.

"The results from this study speak to the impact that the social and cultural climate has on the self-esteem of the Ghanaian students," Mackey says.

Another study reveals that many Ghanaians are turning to harmful skin-bleaching products to lighten their skin in hopes of being perceived as more attractive and successful.

Yaba A Blay, a doctoral candidate in Temple University's African-American studies department, conducted a study last summer in which she surveyed approximately 600 residents of Accra and interviewed another 40 who reported bleaching their skin.

Blay also interviewed government officials, medical personnel and product merchants, and reviewed public documents and media materials as source material for her dissertation, "Yellow Fever: Skin Bleaching and the Aesthetico-cultural Gendered Politics of Skin Color in Ghana."

"Despite attempts by the Ghanaian government to ban bleaching products and the extreme health risks including skin cancer, brain and kidney damage and sometimes death, the practice of skin bleaching is seemingly on the rise," says Blay.

"It appears that in the context of global White supremacy, skin bleaching represents an attempt to gain access to the social status and mobility often reserved not only for whites, but for lighter-skinned persons of African descent."

This psychological phenomenon of extolling lighter skin is prevalent in black communities worldwide.

"These perception are the result of learned behaviour and beliefs due to social factors and opportunities," Mackey says. "Many Ghanaians who I spoke with believe that lighter skin is associated with wealth and power."

In the study on skin bleaching, Blay found that Ghanaian women tend to bleach their skin at a disproportionately higher rate than Ghanaian men. That"s because the white ideal is consistently promoted to female consumers, Blay says.

Furthermore, Blay says the rational for skin bleaching is different for Ghanaian men and women.

"Ghanaian women often admit to bleaching in order to look more beautiful, noticeable and fashionable, while Ghanaian men who report bleaching do so as a means to appear of higher status and to gain more respect," she says.

Ultimately, Blay says that a form of "commodity racism - the practice of using Whiteness to sell products to predominately Black consumers" is the underlying reason for the practice of skin bleaching.

"It has greatly influenced Africans’ perceptions that with the assistance of particular products — bleaching creams — they can approximate Whiteness, and as such reap all of the benefits, whether actual or perceived, afforded to Whiteness," she says.

The origin of skin colour derives from a substance known as Melanin. Melanin determines areas of uneven pigmentation. It affects most people, regardless of ethnic background or skin colour. Skin may either appear lighter or darker than normal; there may be blotchy, uneven areas, patches of brown to gray discolouration or freckling.

Such skin pigmentation disorders occur because the body produces either too much or too little melanin. Melanin is the pigment produced by melanocyte cells and is triggered by an enzyme called tyrosinase.

Increasingly, people are becoming preoccupied with blocking the production of Melanin, thus are finding treatments which inhibit the production of tyrosinase, namely Hydroquinone, steroid and Mercury based treatments.

Hydroquione treatments are considered safe, however if too much is applied, then irritations on the skin can be caused. However, in countries such as France the use of Hydroquione has been banned due to the fears of cancer risk that it can potentially cause.

Although highly popular, the use of skin whitening products has come under heavy criticism due to the results that they can cause. One of the most detrimental effects that skin whitening products can have is the effect towards ones IQ. Skin whitening products, often contain neurotoxins such as Mercury and the aforementioned Hydroquinone as the main active ingredient.

Some bleaching creams also contain steroids of medium-potent to potent strength such as betamethasone or clobetasol. These steroid containing creams tend to cause thinning of the skin, making it more prone to disorders and breakage on parts of the body where friction occurs.

In some cases, skin lightening creams have been reported to cause acne and caused skin to become so delicate that it could be damaged even through a simple scratch. In other cases, these bleaching agents have ironically turned the skin black when applied over a long period of time.

Although skin whitening may provide personal satisfaction in the form of perceived beauty, what should perhaps be readdressed is the negative effects that they can have both on body and mind.

If they must be used either to treat skin discolourations, tone down dark spots or to cure other disorders, then users must be cautioned to keep off skin lightening products with hydroquinone, mercury and steroids and to apply only to affected areas of the skin.

Rhoadie said...

Very interesting read, especially about the male superstars bleaching their skin.

Insightful said...

This reminds me, the reason Michael Jackson bleached his skin is because he has Vitiligo (true story). And he did so in order to even out his color rather than have all those patches of no color on his body

Rhoadie said...

Well in Michael Jackson's case that would be understandable...

Insightful said...

...when I got to college I discovered otherwise. I all of a sudden became this light skinned girl with long hair to people in my dorm...I also remember on campus around 2000/2001 when it seemed "fashionable" to be "mixed with something".

Did you go to an HBCU?

Rhoadie said...

No, but there was a large black population (40% is a good estimate)

Insightful said...

I can recall hearing at least 3 popular songs using language such as wanting a "redbone, yellowbone" girl which denotes lighter skin. Here in 2007 you still hear people (especially guys) making such comments. Why did they not say the same for darker skinned girls? As I watched closely the lead girls in the majority of the videos where lighter complected.

Well, if you’ve been brought up in a ‘Eurocentric society’ and you can’t get the real thing then having light skin is the next best thing because it ‘indicates’ white or non-black ancestry, and as you know, even Africa itself is losing its afro-centrism or black /cultural pride if you will. ‘Colorism’ is tied to racism, which goes back into slavery. By the way, it wasn’t racism that made slavery possible but instead slavery that made racism possible. Slavery was all about economics and among the best foreign resources for New World economies came from Africa. When slavery started it wasn’t about having black skin. What it was about was indentured and then bonded servitude—regardless of skin color. It was only later that slavery in the New World came to be seen as something linked to an entire race of people when all white people saw every day were people of a darker complexion in subjugation. So the European-descended people came to believe that black people were below them because of there enslaved status. And when slavery became tied to having black skin that is how racism and then colorism started. Remember, when people saw a black person that person was usually a slave and so they felt superior. If Europeans and Africans had crossed paths in some other way that was not a master/slave relationship but on more equal terms and they had done so for generations, then white supremacy and racism against black people would not be anywhere near as prevalent as it is today. But take a hint because it would also mean that there wouldn’t be that many black people in the Americas today either.

Rhoadie said...

I'm going to continue this conversation in a new blog, since it has brought up another question for me...

alicia banks said...


love your blog!

see more on colorism at


alicia banks

Rhoadie said...

thanks, I'll check yours out.

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