What is the meaning of the term “black beauty?” is it a compliment meant to flatter people who are dark-skinned and look good, or is it in fact meant to downgrade darker women? Thinking about the possible meaning and origin of the word, it occurs to me how light-skinned people are not given this “presumed privilege”. That is to say, if you are light-skinned, you are simply accepted as beautiful, but if otherwise, then your beauty needs to be stressed!
Like telling someone “You look good today” when in fact saying “You look good” alone is sufficient. The person may at first feel happy and complimented but may begin to wonder if he/she looked less good on other days. Likewise, if you tell someone that he or she is a black beauty, it may mean the person is beautiful despite being black. So instead of telling people, they are black beauties, simply address them as “Beauties”.
It is almost as if dark-skinned people are not expected to be beautiful and in the event that they are, it calls for a special celebration. I believe this discrimination is one of the few effects of colorism in our society today.
Colorism arises from a difference in skin tone colour and skin tone colour is dependent on melanin; which is responsible for determining skin and hair colour and is present in the skin in varying degrees, depending on how much a population has been exposed to the sun historically. Other factors such as geography and genetics then play another role in differentiating the skin tone colour of people of the same race and climate.
Colorism; an offshoot of racism, is discrimination based on skin tone between people of the same race where lighter-skinned people are treated better than dark-skinned ones. It originated during the times Europeans enslaved Africans. During that period, the darker-skinned slaves were put to work in the fields while the lighter-skinned slaves with more European-like features took on more domestic and easier tasks within their masters’ households. This was done to cause separation within the enslaved community.
In 2002, Nigeria had over 99.5 million users of bleaching products placing second globally after India.
If you observe, Nigerians are constantly in the habit of mocking Ghanaians and Kenyans for being too black just because they are darker than us in complexion. In Northern Nigeria, there is a popular saying that goes:
Farar Mace Alkyabbar MataUnknown
Meaning “A fair lady is a cloak to other women” and in a deeper context simply means fair women are better and more attractive than darker women.
But what are the consequences of these bold claims thrown in favour and on the face of light and dark-skinned women in Nigeria? Below are among many of the negative effects of colorism especially for Nigerian women:
1. Increases Preferential Treatment at Home and School
Sadly, the roots of colourism have taken deep into the fertile soil of our domestic lives. In our homes, neighbourhoods, and schools, children of lighter skin tone are treated better than their darker skin tone peers.
At home, lighter-skinned children are preferred when it comes to accompanying the mother to outings. Sometimes they are even given less stressful chores because they are deemed more fragile and precious. In large gatherings like weddings or ceremonies, light skin children are more adored and carried than darker ones who are told immediately to go to their parents.
Likewise, in school, lighter-skinned children are picked for parades, plays, and sometimes even quizzes to represent their respective classes, houses, or schools.
This personal preference may lead to loss of child confidence from a young age; promote sibling or peer rivalry and also break the trust between guardian and child.
2. Leads to False Sense of Identity and Superiority
One of the effects of colorism is, it gives fair people a feeling of superiority. When you constantly show people that they are better or more attractive than their peers, you might as well just have issued them a blank check or lottery ticket to do whatever the hell they want. Their egos rise and some of them automatically feel they have made it in life due to their skin tone. When this happens, they gain an added rise in ego, self-praise, and shamelessness resulting in them belittling those that they feel are inferior to them through physical and emotional bullying and degradation.
They feel it is their place to pick the more attractive garment since it will flatter them more. The more attractive men approach them and their friends is their birthright. They can even go to the extent of thinking they cannot do belittling works or chores despite their financial status.
3. Colorism Narrows Beauty and Societal Standards
When the measure of attractiveness is continually narrowed down by the day until it comes down to the level of melanin one possesses, the standard of beauty diminishes, and unrealistic societal standards are set. This affects other factors including class, intelligence nobility, and even hygiene.
In a glimpse, a light-skinned person is by default expected to possess more class, intelligence, and nobility than a dark-skinned one. Children of the rich are expected to be fairer than those of the poor to reflect their luxurious lifestyle and proper hygiene. A recently married woman is expected to grow lighter in complexion and the white races have been officially stamped to be more intelligent than black people.
In short, people feel they need to be fair to be beautiful, or else they also lose some of their societal respect and perception.
4. Collapse in Self-esteem Is One of The Effects of Colorism
One of the effects of colorism is, it reduces self-esteem. When a person grows up feeling rejected or treated differently by his/her family, peers, and society in general due to his/her skin colour, that person may fall into self-hatred and feel ashamed of his/her appearance. This mostly happens when the person does not understand the true origin of colourism and fight against its effects.
Also without having people accept him/her for who they are, depression kicks as they begin to feel discomfort in their own skin. For a woman, constantly having her fair friend admired and picked over her by her crushes due to narrowed beauty standards makes her feel ugly and unattractive.
This may lead to her having a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence.
5. Encourages Production of Harmful Skin Bleaching Products
If everyone feels beautiful and is comfortable in their own skin despite their skin tone, then cancer and other skin ailments will go a long way in being reduced worldwide. On a global scale, some skincare products are made up of bleaching products, many of which are harmful as you use them or later in life when you stop.
Although, it is a choice to bleach. When people refuse to genuinely see and feel beauty in all skin tones, many lose self-confidence and are cajoled to begin bleaching their skins. A woman who feels her marriage is dependent on her skin colour will not hesitate to bleach as she has seen her peers do it successfully and feel she is doing it for a greater cause.
As Nigeria continues to boast a worrying amount of bleaching experts with famed male crossdresser “Bobrisky” as one of them, they are cashing in on the desperation of people especially women to acquire a lighter skin tone.
6. Colorism Promotes Discrimination in Work Places
Another effect of colorism is that it promotes discrimination in the workplace. People especially women seeking job opportunities have suffered the effects of colorism. This is especially true of jobs where part of customer patronage may depend on their attraction to people offering them services.
Because of colourism, potential air hostesses, waitresses, hotel room service, models, bank tellers, product adverts, and many more have been dismissed and disqualified for the job as their less attractive dark skin is less preferred to satisfy customer’s aesthetic satisfaction. Their other qualifications may come second in their Employer’s requirements.
7. It Reduces Moral Values Among Women
Just like how many students throw away a handout once they are done with a course, many women feel they have gotten their life distinction because of their skin tone. They ignore other personal and moral values especially regarding themselves, relationships with people, and marriage.
For a woman who lacks a stern upbringing, this is an opportunity for her to throw her manual out the window. Don’t completely blame her though, society has already given her a life certificate. As a saying goes in Northern Nigeria:
Farar mace ko mayya ceUnknown
This is commonly said by men who have a desire to wed a fair woman. The phrase literally means “A fair woman even if she is a witch” which means that they don’t mind any kind of woman so long she is light-skinned.
While darker women strive to be personally, educationally, and morally upright, the societally right egoistic ones fall deep into the pit of shame and illiteracy.
8. Enhances Divorce Rate Among Men
This is also one of the numerous effects of colorism. Of course, when you marry a woman solely for your attraction to her skin colour while throwing other values out the window, you yourself are bound to be valueless. As such, any small mishap in your relationship or marriage may lead you to send her back home. From there, you either become aware or move to the next bus stop of alighting fair women.
Women of lighter skin should beware of such kinds of men as they only care about themselves. No! More preferably, light-skinned women should have other values that will help them throughout their lives and give them a compass.
9. Colorism Promotes Prostitution
Even in the prostitution industry, perceived beauty values make light-skinned women have higher market value than light-skinned ones. This is a call for desperate light-skinned women out there to join the industry as an easy way out. Also, those already in the business strive to bleach and increase their market worth. So-called friends wanting to initiate others could be heard easily advising their friends and saying:
…After all, you are fair and men like fair women, this industry is meant for people like you.
Ask for my advice and I will tell you even if you are fair, look for another job and keep your dignity.
10. Lastly, Colorism Promotes Racism
Racism has already eaten us to the buds. Colourism is serving as a catalyst. When we don’t accept and embrace our skin tones, nobody will. No one will feel threatened or intimidated to discriminate against our race if we ourselves don’t embrace and protect it fiercely.
Now looking at these ten troubling effects of colorism, this goes to everyone involved in the rising pandemic.
Look at your hands and try picturing all your fingers becoming equal. Next, imagine which one would be most useful. If you can’t give yourself an answer, then simply know that everything was created differently to serve a unique purpose. Are all your teeth exactly similar or is everyone you know rich? What if everyone became a doctor or all the people you know are lawyers. Crazy right? So why should everyone be of the same colour?
In uniqueness lies in beauty and beauty lies acceptance. Accept who you are and imagine everyone else as a finger or a tooth that needs to be different and accept them too.