ACCRA — Perhaps, apart from Bukom Banku and a few norm-defying outliers who do not care much about stereotyping, most black people who bleach their skin do not readily admit to bleaching. They are toning, lightening or brightening their skin, usually to maintain their natural colour. Incidentally, those euphemisms appear to have undergone some form of ‘linguistic bleaching.’ Why brighten your skin if you are proud of it? Wouldn’t a fire lighter be a better idea if they actually want to lighten up their skin?
At least, the Bukom boxer has been sincere about the origins of his sudden change of skin colour: “Yes I am bleaching, I am changing myself because I make black too much. I don’t want to come black again. I don’t need black again. People shouldn’t be worried. I am changing my system for a while. I want to tell Ghanaians not to worry about me.”
Apart from the damage it poses to the skin, Ghanaians have a few things to worry about why many of our ladies and some men are bleaching their skin. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that cosmetic companies in Africa are making huge profits because bleaching is a common practice among African women. According to the global health body, 77% of women in Nigeria use skin bleaching products, 59% in Togo and 27% in Senegal. In Ghana, less educated market women are usually known to bleach but white-collar professional women also use bleaching creams.
Like Banku, they believe that a lighter skin is more beautiful than dim black. Banku, real name Braimah Kamoko, revels in his new appearance: “I look fresh and people call me Bukom fresh. So if you see me now, you will see that I am from Germany. I want Ghanaians to know that I am now a German. If I don’t bleach they won’t give me that position.” He also reports that his new look has earned him a lot of women admirers.
Mr. Banku does not carry that intelligent voice of authority, but the pidgin-speaking Bukom fighter has exposed our collective hypocrisy about our admiration for light skinned women. On my last visit to my bank, I noticed the ‘lighted and toned’ appearance of my relationship manager, a beautiful lady who has collected good degrees from England, Canada and Ghana. She was a dark-skinned woman who exuded great confidence and uncondescending professional poise.
She had not become as white as Samy Sosa, a baseball retiree who transformed from black to white, citing a facial cream as the excuse for his new look; she had only toned up. Sosa’s reason for his white appearance was more plausible than Musician Akua Boahemaa, who miraculously transmogrified into a white woman after gulping down a few pints of milk. Michael Jackson would have found the milk bleach cheaper than laser.
Self-loathing among black people is a popular subject. It is a genre of its own, attracting lots of commentary from intellectuals across both sides of the racial aisle. On Tyra Banks’s talk show, Lawrence, an African-American young man confessed that he hates being black. When he looks into a mirror, he sees an ugly face, thick lips and a wide nose with two big holes. Lawrence feels white trapped in a black body.
To give him a temporary relief from being black and ugly, Lawrence agreed to undergo extensive makeup painting, and made to look as white as red powder and colour pencils go. He wore a wig and stepped into town, celebrating his new white look. Being white, he was able to say hello and even play with the dogs of white people without any incident. On any normal day, black Lawrence would be painfully avoided by the same people he met. They would call for his arrest if he was found in a white neighbourhood. The Zimmermans have killed our Trayvon Martins for being black.
Tricia Goddard, another African-American talk show hostess, has featured black ladies who openly declare their disapproval and hatred for the black race. One of them, Tanisha, loathed the ways of the black people in her Chicago neibourhood so much that she moved away to a purely white area in Ohio. She was happy to see her kids play and mingle with white kids. When she threw parties in her home, she served her white guests first while her black sisters and cousins waited. They eat too much, she says.
“Honestly, who would want to be black? Who would want people to be terrified of you and not want to sit next to you on public transportation?,” asks Orville Lloyd Douglas, a black Canadian. He has experienced a lot of discrimination in what he describes as Canada’s façade of multiculturalism. Black men usually fit into three disciplines: sports, crime and entertainment. Orville likes Tracy Chapman and has no criminal record. He doesn’t fit into the stereotypical black boxes. Yet people are scarred of him.
Do blacks hate being black? Do we wish we were white or we just pretend to like our blackness to buy back our pride and humanity? Long ago, French psychiatrist Frantz Fanon made some disturbing observations in his book “Black Skin, White Masks.” He said black people internalise the perspectives of white society and are not multi-dimensional. He reveals that the negative thoughts of white people towards blacks invariably affect the thinking of blacks. This is where our self-hatred comes from.
Is it why Bukom Banku and my very enlightened relationship manager are bleaching? It is not just a ‘cosmetic’ matter of mixing chemicals to yank away the top layer of the skin; bleaching is a big cocktail of prejudices, low self-esteem, disappointment, and self-hatred. A beached skin doesn’t look healthy. We even hear it leaves a bad odour.
Black people have a lot to prove to ourselves that we do not hate our colour. Like Rev Jamal Harrison Bryant, I was astounded when 100 black preachers agreed to meet and endorse Republican nominee Donald Trump after the tycoon had described black people and other minorities in unprintable language. Trump called blacks lazy hooligans whose only business is to fight and have sex. Has he forgotten the rape at the plantations?
Are we lazy? Black intellectuals are quick to wax poetic and recount theories that explain why people like Donald Trump can openly threaten to take our humanity away. However, they have failed to tell us why there is so much self-loathing among blacks and whether black people are happier when they are accepted by whites. The intellectuals themselves are mostly unaware how white they are on the inside. They are just as thankful as Tanisha when their kids bring home their white friends.
Like the black spots on Bukom Banku’s knees, and the rough patches on his elbows, we refuse to appreciate our collective complicity in the ‘ugly blackness’ of Lawrence, Samy Sosa, Orville Douglas, Tanisha and my relationship manager at the bank. Bleach on, Banku. While at it, though, let’s ensure that he does not bleach off his nails. At least, they look just as white as the nails of the Germans.