Skin lightening: Part Two…individual decisions affect nations

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AFTER last week’s piece, I had an interesting conversation with one mwana wekumusha.
I will call her Maud.
She laughed at the fact that I seemed perturbed that as a community, black people were putting pressure on each other when it comes to skin lightening.
Maud was amused by all this ‘condemnation’ of African women who were taking to skin lightening and dismissed assertions that it has to do with users’ inferiority complexes.
According to her, those who use these creams, injections, pills and portions do so for their own happiness and it has nothing to do with ‘following standards that are dictated by Eurocentrism’.
She even pointed out that even men back home were following into the footsteps of their female counterparts and embracing skin lightening.
After some research, imagine my shock when it was brought to my attention that even some leaders were taking to ‘kuzora’ as it is called back home.
The one that had me shaking my head was that even my MP, in one of the leafy Harare suburbs, has also joined the bandwagon.
Given that its election season, this got me thinking: Is this individual suitable to receive my vote if he stands in the coming election?
Why should I vote for a man or woman who is not comfortable in his/her own skin and is yet to embrace his/her blackness?
If such an individual believes that by turning yellow he/she is bettering oneself, how many steps away is he/she from selling out the revolution?
While Maud might brush aside assertions that skin lightening issues can be traced to social and psychological challenges, the negative health effects of skin lightening cannot be jokingly brushed aside.
The regulation and banning of products that tamper with one’s skin are intended to protect citizens.
Most creams sold on the market are a dangerous cocktail of compounds like steroids, hydroquinone and tretinoin; the long-term use of which can lead to lethal health concerns like permanent pigmentation, skin cancer, liver damage, mercury poisoning and others.
The formulations of these products are shrouded in mystery and awareness of their hazardous effects is low.
The majority of skin lightening creams can contain between eight to 15 percent of hydroquinone. The use of hydroquinone in cosmetics has been banned since 2001. Hydroquinone is used in large quantities in paints and as a photographic developing solution.
Coming back to my dismay, that even legislators have jumped onto the skin lightening bandwagon.
The dangers that come with the prolonged use of these products will prove to be not only a burden to the users, but to the state in the long-run.
In the long-term, the burden of providing medical treatment, possibly at low cost, for the users of skin lightening products will become a reality to most African governments.
Cancer treatments, kidney transplants and dialysis are just some of the provisions that the state has to invest in if this skin lightening craze is not curbed.
Not only are governments going to be forced to divert much needed resources to provide health care for these users, but at times they might have to scramble for limited medical attention with persons who have genuine need for treatment.
In Shona they say: ‘Kurumwa nechekuchera’ and this is precisely what is likely to happen in the near future.
The word ‘yellowbone’ has gained popularity in the US as well as countries across Africa.
It refers to a lighter-skinned black person, perpetuating the lengthy racist Eurocentric tradition which propagates negative images and aesthetics of black people and people of colour.
Although individuals have started speaking out against skin lightening, such as the Senegalese models who took a stand at the Dakar Fashion Week, governments need to take action.
Cote d’Ivoire has led the charge in tackling skin lighteners and has banned the practice nationally.
Jamaica makes an interesting case study when it comes to the socialisation of the use of skin lightening creams.
Young girls have grown up in communities where those with darker skin are made to feel inferior.
They have grown up in communities where skin lightening has been accepted as the ‘cure’ to being brown.
One’s natural colour is seen as an abomination and the only way to gain acceptance is by skin lightening.
Society has re-inforced the notion that the lighter you are, the better you are, or the more acceptable you are.
Jobs are offered to those with lighter skin and beauty is measured by the skin tone.
Historically, ‘brown’ Jamaicans were the product of relationships between black Jamaicans and white slave-owners or colonial rulers and often received greater access to land and resources as a result of their white ancestry.
Today, lighter brown skin is still read as a marker of privilege and access – class is often divided among racial lines, with wealthier and more powerful Jamaicans generally being white and brown, while poor Jamaicans are mostly black.
In this context, Professor Christopher Charles says, skin bleaching becomes a strategic choice.
Jamaican novelist Nicole Dennis-Benn, whose book Here Comes the Sun features a teenage character who bleaches her skin, wrote an essay on how the fair complexions of most of the winners of the Miss Jamaica pageant influenced her ideas of beauty as a child in Kingston. Photos of these Miss Jamaicas were everywhere, from supermarkets to liquor stores.

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