Behind the Rise of Skin Bleaching Culture
Blac Chyna has recently faced scrutiny for her partnership with Whitenicious by fashion designer and singer Dencia. While the reality star claims the product’s purpose is to treat hyperpigmentation and dark spots, many point out it seems to be just another skin-lightening bleach cream. Chyna launched the product nearly a year ago in Nigeria, one of many African nations that has seen an increased prevalence of skin lightening over the past few years. This whitewashing trend has prompted the rise of colorism in predominantly black nations.
While some say colorism stems from a lack of self-love caused by the absence of representation in media, the root of this societal issue is much more complex.
Until recently, it was a relatively unspoken reality that lighter skinned people receive better treatment from the hospitality and retail industries, and are favored in professional settings, particularly in Nairobi. When Vera Sidika, a socialite and entrepreneur commonly referred to as the Kenyan Kim Kardashian, bleached her skin in 2014, she faced a lot of backlash from the Kenyan community. Sidika explained that her cosmetic decision was to further her career, and noted that soon after she had undergone the skin lightening, her popularity in the industry spiked. She also stressed, "Looking good is my business. My body is my business, nobody else's but mine."
There was a mixed response to her story, with fans admiring her honesty and critics condemning her for promoting colorism. TV host Larry Madowo, who had Sidika on his show to discuss the matter, called out hypocritical reactions, pointing out that typically “Many men in Kenya do indeed prefer light-skinned women.”
Similarly in Kenya, J’s Fresh Bar and Kitchen also faced backlash for its colorist service. One customer Monique Kemboi took to social media to express her disappointment at the racial biases she had experienced when darker-skinned customers had slower service. A staff member responded to her post explaining that lighter-skinned patrons tip better, “This exists all over Kenya not just J’s. It’s about tip culture, not racism. All restaurant owners know this and it’s important to state the truth.” This excuse didn’t go over well on social media, “Your response to Monique Kemboi is such an ignorant comment. So basically you are saying yes we are racist but it’s only because it’s for tips so it’s OK? Did you even think before coming here to respond in such a way?”
The problem of colorism goes far beyond lack of diversity in the media; it stems all the way back to colonialism. Africans have had much of their identity stripped from theme, forced to convert to Christianity and learn English. Colonial times introduced a racial hierarchy that favored whites and oppressed everyone else. Its lasting effects have, over time, created a current culture that favors lighter skinned people and has thus ingrained colorism into society.
African people are opting to bleach their skin in order to advance their careers and receive better treatment in daily interactions. This trend of skin bleaching is not just a lack of appreciation for darker skin, it is an evolutionary adaption to survive in a racist society. Whitenicious and other bleach creams create a toxic racial divide. While the idea that a lighter skin-tone makes someone more valuable is ridiculous, there’s clearly a need for a global change of opinion and an increase in equality for all.