Bukom Banku, of Ghana: "My name is Bukom Banku aka Africa's Mayweather. I was black and now I want to be fair. How does that concern you?"

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.

bankombanku22Like 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.



  1. Bleaching… a horrid disaster however you think about it. How is it that any human would consider himself or herself not worthy enough until he/she has bleached the skin?

    This is a fascinating piece by my friend Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin. It is my candid suspicion that bleaching starts in the mind and then seeps into the soul. When your mind is bleached, and your mentality follows suit you are bound to look like Bukom Banku in kind and in spirit.

    What do you think?

    • Maame, the pic may be misleading but the article addresses the intellectual Ghanaian or African as well. In a way, reading and writing English is bleaching!

  2. During a university class in Austria made up several different nationalities from Europe and two Africans (Kenya and Ghana), students were asked to give a short presentation on any peculiar topic on their countries. While everyone struggled to sell good images of their countries, the Kenyan decided to talk about alcoholism in a her country. The Ghanaian sitting next to a Russian student, buried his head in shame, asking why that was necessary in front of so many white people who no respect for Africa.
    The Russian looked at the Ghanaian and said: “I know u feel ashamed about how she is presenting Africa. you know why the West is so afraid of Russia? In Russia, we kill such people”

    If Africa had a program like that, that what I think should be done to Bukom Bamku… He is a disgrace

    • The Russians have an expression научить тебя родину любить which roughly translates as teach you to love your motherland. This is not teach in the gentle sense but rather in the sense to beat you so that you will begin to love your motherland. That is what we need to do to people like that Kenyan mental bleacher.

  3. Using European terms and ways of thinking to capture the African narrative is itself bleaching. The African intellectual has been bleaching the moment he/she stepped foot in the classroom.

  4. Lol, “I don’t need black in my life”. On a more serious note I think this whole bleaching thing is not as complicated as it seems. Intellectuals tend to over complicate very simple phenomenons.

    Why do black people bleach? In a lot of ways I believe it’s almost the same reasons why Chinese and Indians lighten their skins as well.

    1). Hollywood and Western media stereotypes. Hollywood will generally give the best roles to Caucasian looking people. The most beautiful, good looking, heroic and influential roles are cast as white. Subconsciously the message is quiet clear, this becomes the standard of beauty and success.

    2). Neo Colonialism. Need I say more in this. The West has transformed from colonial masters into our Geo Political over lords. The West has dominated every aspect of the global economy giving bread crumbs and hand outs to the so called 3rd world. Subconsciously this only reinforces the negative stereotypes we have of ourselves. Yes white is better? These guys are winning both in the cultural and economic arenas. Winning in all aspects of our lives.

    Let me break it down this way. If you were a child and had to choose between 2 sports teams to support. On one hand a team that is often ridiculed that seems to never win anything and on the other a team that is envied, highly regarded and known as winners, what team will you choose? What if the loosing team was your hometown team? What if majority of those team members were actually family? You are forced to side with a team which you know is overwhelmingly inferior. Everyone likes winners. Does the performance of this team actually impact how you project failure and inadequacy on your own self? Yes it does.

    3). Black inferiority complex. All the factors explained above seem to take a heavier toll on black people. We project our self worthlessness on each other. For example even black people view others who have very dark skin complexions as ugly and undesirable. If you have 2 black babies it always seems like the lighter skinned is always given more attention. This self inadequacy permeates black cultures every where in this world. “I don’t want black in my life” quoting the guy bleaching is just an unintended but very acceptable and expected consequence.

    The intellectuals and scholars have misdiagnosed the symptoms. It’s not really self hate but a lack of self worth. Self hate assumes that the problem has everything to do with the individual instead of taking a more critical approach to external factors. Self hate assumes this can be switched off with an opposite force of self love.

    My brief discussion on neo colonialism also has one fatal flaw. It mainly assumes that this is the fault of the powers that be. See, the winning team has no moral obligation to make the losers feel better about themselves. The job of the winning team is to continuously crush and demoralize the losers. You cannot expect Hollywood to fund whole projects and cast you guys in the most desirable roles while relegating the individuals who actually funded the project to an after thought. You cannot expect anyone to act in your interest in opposition to their own.

    No one wants to be on a loosing team forever. Some have literally decided to get off the loosing team.

  5. I think this is a life choice and each and everyone has the right to choose what makes him/her feel good in life. I strongly believe that commenting on Bukom Bankus bleaching is an attempt to invade his privacy and must be put to rest.

  6. Solomon, you touched on a serious idea: We all look like Bukom Banku. Look at us? On FB, reading and writing English, making English references, singing English songs, worshiping God like the English, talking like the English, coveting English lands, admiring English wives and telling, above all, African narratives and thoughts in English. Our ancestors are tossing and turning in their graves. Their toils came to nothing. And we don’t seem to have the sense of agency and urgency to do anything about it. Serious!

    • I dont know if Solomon Azumah-Gomez read the mind of the author but he has just given such deep message in such few words…

    • Narner, about your points raised above, our usage and reference to ‘English and it’s associated component’ what do you believe is the SOLUTION AND WAY FORWARD? in practical terms preferably

    • The abstract is as important as the practice. Because if you neglect or attach less importance to the abstract, you end up implementing other people’s ideas

    • Absolutely!! That was the whole genius of Kemet and of Nubia before her. They were the first to indulge in abstraction – written words (language), painting (art), music, poetry, and above all, a religion that reflected who they were! These are self reflections without which the way forward cannot be chattered for self-improvement!

  7. Let us build Monasteries where brave African men, like Monks, dedicate themselves to reviving African literary works to bring them from back in time to the present and forge a new future. Everything is started by a few good men; every dream by a few good men; every nation, built by a few good men; the universe will be conquered by the ideas of a few good men. By men, I mean, men and women!

  8. Agreed. But my concern is a wee bit about what language that will be used by the African men in these monasteries? I’m wondering if these interventions aren’t too late on the plate, because, due to trade and globalization, somehow there is the need for breaking certain barriers of communication, China, now a world power is learning the English language in order to trade with other people from other parts of the globe, while forcing others to learn their language too especially if you are coming there to school. Yes, we have given too much power to the West by speaking their language, and if we want to reclaim our power, I believe we ought to start doing things to make Africa attractive enough for them to want to speak our languages also and trade in our currency.

  9. Having lost that, Breton wood send small boys and give them the freedom to advice our leaders… they go home the their fathers tap them on the shoulder proud of what they have done to help Africa…. I know a white man who is proud of his son’s involvement in World Bank Sudan reconstruction project

  10. As Narmer Amenuti said, we cant do it all… the few men who can have to take control…. If they decide its Kiswahili, then we have to comply… we can even create a language for Gods sake my brother.

  11. Nice read…. I’m asking myself how many people know about Nubia and Kemet? We have failed to a large extent to document and make available relevant African materials for all of us to know, and African studies even in our universities have become elective subjects that very few take interest in, and rather, meanwhile the colonialists continue to wash our Shores with their books to tell us about our own history, thereby mis-educating us and distorting African history. AFRICAN HISTORY MUSTARD BE MADE A MUST FROM BASIC TO TERTIARY LEVEL, not the shallow social studies that we are being taught at basic and secondary school.


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