Skin Deep

“The most anticipated party of the year. Fair-skinned versus dark-skinned.” So read a party invite that was being circulated all over social networks. Apparently all roads that weekend should lead to a bar in Windhoek where this event was taking place. On the poster, two young women are displayed, one
of fairer black skin and the other of darker skin. It was quite difficult to find out what the party was all about. Was there going to be a type of modeling contest and the prettiest girl wins or how was this competition between fair and dark going to be judged? But it is not the method that puzzled me, it is
the objective. What is the purpose behind such a party? I doubt that this social gathering was meant for socio-scientific research purposes. So, I wondered if the organizers of this were merely people who had run out of themes to attract people to their gathering or was this really a thought-through event whose
provocative idea was meant to lure people there. However even if this was just supposed to serve as another party-theme, it shows that this is something that in one way or another has crept into our collective social psyche.

There is a song by Kanye West’s where he raps: “She got a light-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson. She got a dark-skinned friend, look like Michael Jackson.” We all know the story of the famous and talented Afro-American who made us sing along to “It don’t matter if you are black or white” whilst
at the same time he was changing from black to white himself. As a black person, I would love to believe that this was mainly due to his vitiligo universalis, but I have deduced that these issues are more than just skin deep.

In a country that has been divided along racial lines, I wonder, how quickly we forget. How quickly do we forget that it was the oppression and racism towards Africans that got us placed into Bantustans according to colour and tribe. 21 years later and we are willing to move back into the mental Bantustans
of our own enslavement. Yes, and I am convinced that these young organizers are not necessarily aware of how they fall into the trap of colourism, that rather quiet stepchild of racism. Colourism basically divides people along skin complexion with superiority increasing as one moves from darker to lighter.

What makes this so tragic is that a lot of things that we may proudly declare as preference are actually the regurgitation of all the spoon-feeding we received. If most magazines have a light-skinned woman as their cover girl, almost every movies’ leading lady is light-skinned, the adverts for all great products
on TV are advertised using women of fairer skin, how much of your preference that light is right is really your own? And if you always experienced people of other races faring better than you in the world eye, then how much of wanting to be like them is really first choice?

This year, the Afro-Latina actress Zoe Saldana is making headlines for having being chosen as the actress
to play Nina Simone. Saldana has proven herself as a talented actress and her blackness can in no
way be doubted. The attack here is directed at the Hollywood machine that tends to produce light-
skinned women as leading roles in movies. What makes this case astounding is that Nina Simone, who
remains an important figure not just as a musician but also for her role during the Civil Rights Movement was proud of her afro-centric features no matter how much she was rejected because of them. She addressed racism and race in a number of her songs and stood firm throughout her struggles of which many were based on the fact that she was a dark-skinned woman. Why then is it so difficult in a pool of great dark-skinned actresses in Hollywood to find no one suitable except for the lighter-skinned Saldana to bring Simone’s truth about her life across?

We have people hating themselves and their race all because they believe that they need to look a certain way to be accepted. Mainstream media is breeding self-hate that gets masqueraded as personal preference. These “preferences” range from skin tone to body size and all in between. Africa readily
accepts all skin-lightening creams and methods that we see also destroying the confidence of darker-skinned Indians. In some African countries, these cosmetic products are easily affordable to everyday women. Women that go to the marketplace in the morning and return with fresh tomatoes and chemical poison for their face. All in an effort to fit in.

People all across the world showed their courage by preaching Black Consciousness, Black Power,the New Afrikan and other ideologies based on equality. From Nina Simone to Robert Sobukwe we were reminded that we are not an inferior race. How many more Bantu Steven Bikos need to risk their
lives before we start believing that black is beautiful. All shades of black. All shades of us. Africans took hundreds of years of subjugation and even now when freedom is ours, we still behave like slaves wanting the masters approval. We need to stop dividing ourselves further into artificial groups. There is
much more that unites Africans as one people and it is this unity that we need to reach mental freedom.
We need to take the shackles off our minds.

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