By Ope Adedeji

Originally Posted on Arts and Africa

I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the whites. There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even an individual, eminent either in action or in speculation. No ingenious manufacture among them, no arts, no sciences- David Hume.


When I was eighteen, one thing I was absolutely worried about was getting darker. I did not want to listen to anyone tell me how dark I was becoming. My belly would tighten into knots when I stood in front of the mirror and examined how I was a different shade from what I was as a younger teenager. I started to carry umbrellas about—attributing the change in complexion to the outrageous Lagos sun. I started to use creams with funny names—this will keep you from getting dark—the sales person would tell me. Sometimes I cringed at how ugly I thought I was becoming; at other times, I tried to deceive myself by taking selfies in front of the sun, so that the sun would bring out my ‘light-skinned beauty’.

It wasn’t until I was nineteen, nearly twenty, that I started to let it go and more still, question the strenuous decision I had taken to be lighter. I found the answer in a word whose seriousness I had never taken before—colorism.

While racism remains one of the biggest problems in the world—having gone through the motions of anti-Semitism, Slavery, Apartheid, et cetera, Colorism is not a new phenomenon in the world. However, advocacy against Colorism, only gained its popularity at the end of the 20th century

Colorism is a form of prejudice in which human beings are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color. According to Baruti (2000), Colorism is a global prejudice that people of African ancestry have toward each other and seemingly use against or to the advantage of themselves and others with relatively similar complexion.

While Colorism is not limited to Africans in Africa or the Diaspora, or African Americans, this short article is limited to the Africans in Africa and America. This article discusses the usefulness of advocating against colorism by promoting the dark skin color, as against all other shades, or complexions, found among African women. The discourse is limited to a trend found on the social network, Twitter, on the 4th of June 2015.

The term ‘colorism’ was coined by Alice Walker in 1982, and it is not synonymous with racism. It differs from racism mainly by making distinctions within a nominal racial group instead of across groups. It can be traced back to the American slave epoch when the lighter-skinned offspring of slave masters and slave women were given preferential treatment on plantations as house slaves as opposed to field slaves, or freed, forming the basis of the early black middle class in America.

This tradition carried on post slavery where, even at black colleges, some fraternities required you to be lighter in complexion than a specific wooden stick, in order to be accepted as a member.

Color preference is closely linked with the urge to obtain and keep power over others. Human skin color ranges from dark brown to white. African skin colors or tones include black, caramel, light brown, brown, dark-brown, dark, and chocolate, light skinned. The actual skin color of different humans is affected by many substances, although the single most important substance is the pigment melanin.

Dark skinned Africans usually suffer discrimination and inferiority due to the color of their skin. Typically, favoritism is demonstrated toward those of lighter complexions while those of darker complexions experience rejection and mistreatment. (Jackson-Lowman, 2013)

The media and social networks have often been a tool for promoting this inferiority as the main trend is frequent appreciation of light complexioned women. Beauty care companies and cosmetic companies often use light skinned women as the face of their brand. The media thus creates a standard for African women—if you’re not light skinned, there is no room for you. And even when the media chooses to appreciate dark skin color, they appreciate the very black, leaving no room for the appreciation of every other color in between.

There are other forms of discrimination in the society. For example, some employers would refuse to employ a woman who is not light skinned. Some men openly declare that they can never marry a woman who is dark- I think many of us have seen or heard, at one point or the other, someone saying that they’d only consider dating light skinned women.

Some tribes in Africa even associate every color that is not light skinned or a close tone to it, with witchcraft or dirtiness.

My friend once tweeted about how someone apologized to her, after she admitted she had always been that dark—as if being dark skinned was some sort of stigma or disease.

This discrimination has superb effects on women and their self-esteem. One of which isskin-lightening. Skin-lightening is the practice of using chemical substances in an attempt to lighten skin tone or provide an even skin complexion by lessening the concentration of melanin. Skin-lightening cosmetics push the idea that beauty equates with white skin and that lightening dark skin is both achievable and preferable. Most people who bleach, have no cultural expressions of selfhood, but rather, depend on physical and psychological characteristics of their oppressors in order to define or validate their human existence. (Fanon 1952)

People’s attitudes toward skin color are shaped in the societies where they grow up. Whether we like to admit it or not, the Lagos society that promotes or praises light skin. Light skinned girls are called sisi, or sweet sixteen. In a society like this, women will do almost anything for light skin, including using skin lightening creams. Thus, while I found it abnormal when I joined the university that a large amount of ladies were using skin-lightening creams, others found it quite customary. It was such an ordinary thing; one lady even explained that it was an aunt that encouraged her to lighten her skin. I once heard an unoriginal joke in a particular hall of residence that what occupied the dustbins of most ladies were not sanitary towels but a particular brand of skin-lightening cream.


Published by Teni Akeju

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