Last month while traveling in Ghana I saw billboards and ads touting various skin-whitening products along the sides of the avenues, highways, and roads. The sale of bleaching creams is booming business in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as men and women blindly reject their own natural beauty for the artificial standards of white supremacy.
So now, with the advent of the 21st century, the visible signs of the “colorline” of which Du Bois spoke over a century ago have morphed into a more insidious expression of Colorphobia. No longer do we see “white only” warnings posted in the front of restrooms and water fountains. Instead, advertisements for skin bleaching creams scream “BLACK GET BACK” louder than any placard or signboard. They have been deployed by the media as viral weapons of psychological warfare, seducing and reducing the witless and clueless into caricatures of themselves—ghost-faced minstrels wearing store-bought complexions (and store-bought hair) while pretending, like Topsy, it jus’ grew.
The false message promoted by these products and their advertisers is light skin and straight hair are desirable because they are superior physical characteristics. The subtext of their sales pitch, the subliminal message is: You can afford to be white … You cannot afford not to be white.
That is a Madison Avenue restatement of the two fundamental principles of white supremacy: (1) Be White … (2) Don’t be Black.
That’s what those “signs” signify (the packaging and billboards with the faces of bleached out zombie queens leering out like barbie dolls from hell)—their message is: even if you look like shit … it’s white shit.
But is it really white … or just a pigment of our imagination?
When did “white” people become “white” in their own minds? The answer is when it became profitable. When “blackness” became a marketing brand for labeling and selling African people as beasts of burden it immediately enhanced the value of even the lowliest of Euro-American peasants who could then claim “whiteness” to distinguish themselves from the Africans harvesting tobacco in the same Virginia plantation fields.
Prior to the transatlantic slave trade, Northern Europeans rejected the idea of being “white.” They did so based on their readings of ancient Greeks like Aristotle who held an environmentalist view of human physical appearance. As peoples living in the Mediterranean (the “middle earth”) the Ancient Greeks saw humans with very light complexions to the cold, far north as barbarians and cowards. They viewed peoples with very dark complexions living to the hot, far south with similar disdain. They saw themselves, the humans who lived in the temperate middle, as the most civilized and handsomest of human beings. So, Northern Europeans (the English, in particular) had no use for “whiteness” until they found a use and market for “blackness” via slavery. It was then that it “paid” to be “white,” and it cost dearly to be “black.”
But why do so many people around the world, even in (re)emerging China, continue to succumb to the false consciousness of “white” supremacy? One answer is that a “slave” or “colonized” mentality remains a significant problem in many cultures across the globe. European colonialism ended but Europe has maintained its hegemony over the hearts and minds of billions of people. This tragedy is compounded by the fact that you can free the enslaved (or they can free themselves) but you can’t free their minds. Mental slavery, moreover, has proven more violent, insidious, socially destructive and pervasive than actual physical bondage. As the great South African revolutionary Steve Biko put it: “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
The brief statement above, however, is only one explanation. There are other explanations for forms of Colorphobia that predate the transatlantic slave trade. Some come down to simple somatic preferences on the part of certain societies. Other cases have to do with social status and the fact that darker complexions are associated with outdoor physical labor (farming, etc.) In those instances skin color signaled that the darker person was of a lower class that had to do menial tasks.
But apart from those historical explanations, it is clear a self-hating predilection for “white” skin has been fueled in Asia and Africa in recent years by a western media that promotes western aesthetics, values, and standards of beauty. I’ve provided a number of links to articles and videos to illustrate further this problem. Some of the selected resources date back several years.
View the items below and repeat after each one: White is a Pigment of the Imagination.
Fair & Lovey Ads – India