Wednesday, November 30, 2016

#WhiteisRight: White Skin, Black Bodies

SuperModel Tyra Banks posed in "white face" in 2013
to honor other Supermodels during New York Fashion Week
and the internet had a fit.
One of the biggests issues I've had with the results, or the outcome rather, of the Presidential election is not that Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, but that Michelle Obama will no longer be First Lady. For the last eight years FLOTUS has been the epitome of beauty, grace, and class; slaying in all four of her VOGUE covers. She may not have created #blackgirlmagic but she's exemplified the phenomenon since she first came on the National scene as the wife of an Illinois Senator who stole the show at the 2004 DNC. I lament daily on the impending absence of FLOTUS from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. These lamentations then turn to shudders when I think about her replacement. Melania Trump. The third wife of President-Elect Donald Trump, a Slovenian immigrant, model, who posed nude in British GQ. But hey ... you know ... white ... or white adjacent (that means you Tila Tequila) is always right. 


Saturday, The New York Times published an article by Helene Cooper about Ghana's new ban on skin bleaching creams. In a country, on a continent, where Black is supposed to be the most beautiful thing this side of heaven, the lie sold about the pure beauty of whiteness still reigns supreme. Skin bleaching is a multi-billion dollar industry on the continent where people with pure African blood, and skin so rich and full of melanin throw it all away for a beauty ideal born out of the evils of slavery, the detriment of colonization, and the oppressive rule of racism's social implications. 

Ethnic ambiguity seems to be as preferred on the continent as it is in the United States and everywhere else in the world. More Mariah's, Amber's, and Megan's and less Lupita's, Chimamanda's, and Alek's. The culprits to this social and mental sickness are as much history as it is advertising; as much our forefathers, and ancestral white owners, as it is our fathers, husbands, sons and brothers. 

The beauty industry is a business. It makes products, advertises those products, and sells them to consumers who buy them. We vote with our dollar or cedi, or naira. Bleaching creams sell because people; specifically people of color, want them. The advertising industry emphasizes our wants by targeting our vulnerabilities, finding our weaknesses and exploiting them for $30 a jar. But these insecure sales don't begin with companies and ad campaigns. They begin with white slave owners and colonizers treating their women as women; too pure to be touched, loved, or raped like the Black women wih asses like elephants, breasts the size of melons, and lips like monkeys. Insecure sales of skin bleaching cream begin with plantation and government caste systems that elevate skin nearest in hue to white. The house slave is the desired slave. Insecure sales of skin bleaching cream begin with paper bag tests and quadroon and octoroon balls that exoticize and fetishize women who aren't light enough to pass but aren't dark enough to be remembered as a nigger. 

However, the sales of skin bleaching creams aren't just rooted in history, a painful past that we must study. The sales of skin bleaching cream are also rooted in our present. The successful Black or African men who want a light wife if not a white wife. 

So, stick by his side
I know its dude's balling and yea that's nice
And they gone keep calling and trying
But you stay right girl
But when he get on he leave yo ass for a white girl
-- Kanye West

This present is evident in Kanye's relationship with Kim Kardashian. Yes, they may actually love each other, but what about the dark skinned Delta girl that he loved before he got on? (Or is that who 30 Hours is about? I no know.) It's the reason Black women give Omari "Ghost" Hardwick the side-eye everytime we think about his wife. The same for Taye Diggs and his now ex-wife Idina Menzel, or Terrance Howard. It's not that we're invalidating the love these couples may or may not share or have shared, but the feeling is why couldn't that be us? That's why Michelle Obama is so loved by Black Women. It would have been business as usual if President Obama had popped up with a white wife and demanded that we say he is bi-racial, not Black. We would have dismissed him as another Tiger and kept the eyes rolling, necks popping, tongues wagging, and voted for him anyway. But the fact FLOTUS is a milk-chocolate skinned Black woman, from the Southside of Chicago (Southside Stand Up), with amazing credentials and she thick ... oh he was going to do two terms come hell or high water, and Black women have the tendency to sometimes be "the hell and the high water" even if we can't swim. 

Black women ride so hard for our men and boys who don't seem to love us back. Case in point, my step-son is tall, dark, and a handsome young man. While he says he likes all girls, his only "girlfriends" are white and or Hispanic. He's 15 and still learning what he likes, but comments he's made are worrisome. He said to my husband and I one day, "All the dark black girls are ghetto." I take offense to this and told him he was insulting me and his own mother with such a statement. He tried to clean it up by adding "at my school," but the damage was done and the hurt for me, no matter how minuscule, was already real. I don't know why he's apparently so color struck, but at 15 the makings of the man he may become are already evident. If his wife is white I won't be surprised, but that doesn't mean I, or some young brown skinned girl his own age, won't feel some kind of way. 

That utter rejection then leads to the imperialist logic: "If I'm not good enough the way I am, then I might as well become what is desired." Right now that is white skin with black features, basically Kylie Jenner. Her engineered body has proven to be better than what is naturally grown on bamboo earring wearing around the way girls. Angelina Jolie's lips, Kendall Jenner's cornrows, Kim's behind, Rachel Dolezal's twist out. It's okay to be Black unless you're actually Black. "So why not be Black, and not be Black at the same damn time." Enter bleaching creams stage left. 

Dencia, Sammy Sosa, Azealia Banks, and I'm sure millions of others have embraced the bleach and not looked back. It's no different than Afro-Brazilians marrying white until the color is erased from the phenotype of their bloodline in two generations. Bleaching creams are only a small part of a larger problem of learned self-hatred. Banning bleaching creams will no more make women of color, no matter where they are in this world, stop seeking them out to fix imperfections that only they can see. The #WhiteIsRight mentality is a sickness, but it's very rare if anyone believes that "BlackisBeautiful is the cure. 
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