“You’ve become darker”
“Wow your lips are so full”
Those were two statements I heard so many times while I was growing up in Nigeria. They were not necessarily derogatory comments, after all they were facts about me, but they were spoken with such negativity. My parents would say it with a hint of disapproval and worry, while my peers would express disgust. Apart from these undertones, I, and every other black child had been conditioned from birth to feel inferior about our features.
Every supermarket carried bleaching brands: from covert ‘toning’ creams to straight up ‘get rid of your blackness because it’s ugly’ creams. Every black celebrity was unbelievably light skinned, with slim noses and small lips. Moreover, most of the white people I saw were TV personalities and fashion models, who were beautiful by default, so I developed the mindset that all whites were beautiful (certainly more so than blacks). Even after travelling, and seeing regular whites, I still retained this toxic mentality.
The most shameful memory I have of the effects of colorism I remember asking my mum when I was younger, “Why didn’t God make me white?”. This is a question that I suspect majority of black kids, especially girls have asked. It is a testament of the destructiveness of the colorism that takes place in colored societies, so much so that the word ‘light skinned’ is synonymous to attractive.
Blackness is regarded as an affliction that should be corrected if possible. And corrected it is from the thousands of women who apply bleaching creams (although they are aware that it may potentially destroy their skin. To them there is nothing worse than being black), to the thousands who relax their hair (I’m guilty of this), from the makeup tutorials that show blacks how to slim their noses, to the filters that lighten pictures
ON THE BRIGHTSIDE, I didn’t write this article to dwell on negativity. Instead I wrote it to exalt at the new found love and acceptance that I and many other black women have discovered. The eschewal of self hate and skin negativity is the direct result of knowledge and awareness: The knowledge of why colorism, which is concomitant to racism, exists. I gained this knowledge very recently about five months ago but in its wake is an ineffable feeling of elation.
No skin colour is better than the other. No physical feature of one race is more attractive than those of another, there are only standards, put in place by the white man. But why were they created, why was so much effort put in depressing all colored races. To stroke their egos perhaps, or just because of their spiteful nature, but it is neither. Money and power are the strongest incentives for the most of the despicable acts committed by humans. The case is the same for racism.
Through the seventeenth to eighteenth centuries blacks were taken to America to work without pay, with little food and water. They worked for ungodly hours and were whipped at any sign of fatigue. Back in Africa the whites stole our resources and exploited our labor. The perpetrators of slavery and colonialism knew that blacks were equal to them in every way; they were logical, intelligent beings and would eventually revolt against their oppressors.
Any human put in such intolerable conditions would before long seek freedom. In order to prevent this for as long as possible, these individuals inducted racism. Make the black man feel like an animal, make him hate himself, hate his color, and detest his heritage, and he will become submissive like a dog to his master. Make the average white man feel superior to blacks, give him the mentality that blacks are merely monkeys, and he will whip and oppress them with no mercy or compunction. After all they whip their horses.
So it is: centuries of oppression, vituperation, and self hate all for fiscal gain. Discovering this truth, realizing that there is truly nothing wrong or unsavory about you, that all your insecurities were just a result of human greed and callousness , is just…… Well everyone deserves to feel it. It is the first and most important step in dismantling racism. Of course there are other challenges: Wage gaps, mass incarceration of colored youth, racist cops and neo-colonialism, but the first step to being equal is feeling equal.
The second step for me after accepting myself was the normalization of black features, and other features considered as exotic. Another strategy adopted by the whites to further disenchant us with our features was the normalization of Eurocentric ones. Apart from emphasizing the beauty of whites and their lookalikes by featuring them on TV, they also sought to standardize these features, putting them on screen so often that anything contrary seemed unnatural. And we all know that unnatural or odd to humans means bad or in this case ugly. Thus, the blue black skin, the wide nose the full lips, the voluptuous body became anathemas.
The process of demolishing this particular vein of racism is pretty straightforward. Appreciate blackness! Spam the hell out of every one with black appreciation tweets. Normalize extra dark skin, 4-c hair, full lips and they will lose their anchor weights of racism.
It is ironic how resilient, yet fragile racism is. It has thrived for so long enduring, and permeating every aspect of life around the globe, yet with the slightest consciousness of it and its workings, it falls disintegrated and wingless to the earth. It simply takes a few twitter/Instagram pictures and some reflection on history to its annihilation.
There is also an incredible amount of support and solidarity from not only the black, but the colored community. People work hard to spread awareness about social injustice, create safe black-only spaces and create a sense of belonging among black people. For the first time in my life, I can look at myself without wanting to change anything. For the first time I feel truly privileged to be black.