By Yvonne Sam
The recent call by the country’s Health and Wellness Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton, for Jamaicans to desist from using bleaching creams as anti-aging formulas, is just another plea in an ongoing maelstrom of pleas.
He implored his aging countrymen and women to revert to healthy diets and exercise, as opposed to bleaching cream for a younger appearance.
The enigma remains, why are women in a predominantly Black culture still bleaching their skin?
Jamaicans are enamored with the idea of being transformed into a ‘browning’ — a lighter-skinned Black person, as light skin is perceived to be the ideal. The yearning for a lighter complexion is not a new anomaly or curiosity for the inhabitants of the island. The snow white complex has even permeated the psyche of the young theundefeated.com/features/why-are-some-jamaicans-bleaching-their-skin-to-get-lighter/.
The desire for a lighter complexion, according to Christopher Charles — a senior lecturer in political psychology at the University of the West Indies and one who has carried out extensive research on the subject — is deeply entrenched in a history of slavery and colonialism.
“It’s about following standards that are dictated by Eurocentrism,” he reasons, “a response to hundreds of years of colonial indoctrination that has been passed down, through socialization, since independence.” www.researchgate.net/publication/259495984_Skin_Bleaching_The_Complexion_of_Identity_Beauty_and_Fashion
Individuals, especially females with lighter skin, are thought to be favoured by the elite, leaving many to seek lightening treatments when looking for employment. It is also associated with privilege.
What skin bleachers are doing, is making a desperate attempt to become upwardly-mobile into certain social structures, which is akin to individuals in North America, who wear blonde wigs and contact lenses, to fit Eurocentric standards of beauty. Incidentally skin bleaching products have been banned in Britain.
On April 11, 2017, detectives assigned to the Counter-Terrorism and Organized Crime Branch (C-TOC) in Jamaica, carried out a raid at an establishment, and seized 78,000 tubes/jars of assorted bleaching creams, and in relation to the find, charged the vendor with Breaches of the Pharmacy Act, Food and Drug Act and Customs Act. Some of the seized creams were not registered with the Ministry of Health, while others were classified as List 2 and List 4 drugs that cannot be sold without a prescription.
The practice of trying to change the skin color must stop, and Blacks must understand that they will never reach, no matter how much they bleach.
Jamaican pop culture has also perpetuated the stereotype that men find paler women more attractive. Reggae star, Buju Banton, created a controversy in the early ’90s with his hit, “Me Love Me Browning.” www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwvaCeoMv84. Compounding the problem is the media, as the country is awash with images of fair-skinned people featured in commercials and media, thereby influencing the natives to desire lighter skin.
Casting aside all semantics, Jamaica is not the only country currently plagued by the bleaching or whitening itch, as similar situations play out daily before our very eyes, right here in North America.
The largest — and most damaging — racism occurs amongst ourselves, although we tend to ignore it. Nevertheless it is omnipresent, as we continue to define each other, or cast negative and denigratory remarks, based on skin color, such as “jet Black”, “Black like tar pot”, “pot Black”, “shades of midnight”, “fair skinned”, “brown skinned”, “high colored”, “dirty red” etc.
On repeated occasions we are reminded, either directly or by subtle means, that light is right. Family members have also been known to remind other family members that lighter girls are prettier than darker ones. In the past, and even today, it appears that these appallingly egregious opinions are still the norm, where some mothers still tell their sons to marry only light-skinned women, so as not to have dark babies.
It is obvious that Blacks have always had a problem with appearance — not being comfortable in their own skin. However, I was of the opinion, and seemingly wrongfully so, that the subject of color complexion had subsided and was no longer a hot issue. However, to learn of its continued existence within the Black community has brought in its wake cause for renewed alarm; naiveté disregarded.
I fully understand that there was a historical period throughout the Diaspora, which necessitated reversion to slogans, attesting that “Black is beautiful”, in order to boost Black people’s sense of identity and self-worth. But this is 2019, and by now Blacks should have moved way beyond that. Will Black people need self-affirming slogans forever?
We must first admit that there is an epidemic of color prejudice within our society. As I read about the bleachings and the attitudes and prejudices involving skin color, the infamous letter of Willie Lynch, the British slave owner came to mind.
In 1712, he delivered a speech that was different from many others, wherein he outlined the teaching of methods that would keep slaves under control. Among the methods mentioned in The Willie Lynch Letter were instructions for pitting the dark skin Black against the lighter one. Lynch stated within the letter that Blacks will continue to perpetrate these actions, by self-refueling and self-generating this thought of self-hatred for hundreds of years.
Below are edited excerpts from the letter that are connected to my opinion on bleaching and the experiences and attitudes of the Black race. I also strongly urge a reading of the letter in its entirety.
I have a full proof method for controlling our Black slaves. I guarantee every one of you that, if installed correctly, it will control the slaves for at least 300 hundred years. My method is simple. Any member of your family or your overseer can use it. I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves.
The Black slaves after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self-refueling and self-generating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands.
You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves.
Some have claimed that the Willie Lynch Letter is a mere hoax. However, for my part, whether or not it is a hoax, pales in revelation of the fact that not only does it seem to have worked, but there is also evidence of a connection between the letter and attitudes on being a dark-skinned woman or man. The letter may be three centuries old, but still holds ramifications that affect Blacks to this day. Sadly we are still doing just those things of which he spoke.
The practice of trying to change the skin color must stop, and Blacks must understand that they will never reach, no matter how much they bleach. Let us learn to embrace our sisters and accept all the shades within our special ethnic pigmentary rainbow, and while we are doing so, let us conquer the self-hatred and the Willie Lynch mentality.
Aleuta — the struggle continues.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.