I grew up in a pretty well-off nook of Trinidad. I didn’t have the same complexion as many of the friends I grew up with in my neighborhood. I remember many a sunny Saturday spent lounging in the pool, when two of my light-skinned or Trini white friends would play a game that I’ll call “I’m Darker Than You.” They would slather themselves with tanning oil, broil like lobsters, and then compare their tans. “I’m darker.” “No, I’m more tan.” Of course, yours truly wasn’t eligible for this game. It always amused me that my friends would try so hard to be something that I naturally was. My mom got annoyed about it. She saw it as a kind of insult that they would strive for a black complexion without the reality of blackness, I suppose. I don’t know. In my opinion, that was giving my friends credit for deeper thoughts than I think they were having at that time.

Prolonged sun exposure is more frowned upon now. More people use sun screen instead of tanning oils that are the basic equivalent of applying I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter on their skin. But still, we’re standing on the opposite sides of a racial fence and admiring what the neighbors look like. Dark skinned people use fade creams, and light skinned people go to tanning beds, or slather tanning lotions on their bodies. I’m skeptical of anything that would turn my palms orange. We might use products that help us achieve the look of the opposite race, but we don’t actually seek to emulate another ethnicity, right? Wrong. Meet the ganguro girls, teens that embody a Japanese fashion sub-culture that adds a new, fascinating angle on ethnic appropriation. Apparently this trend peaked in 2000, but traces of it remain in Japanese culture.

According to this quirky, fascinating Salon.com article by Malena Watrous, Ganguro want to look black and American, like their idols TLC and Lauryn Hill. In pursuit of a color that’s beyond tan, they frequent tanning salons, purchase sunlamps and smother their faces in brown makeup. It’s not uncommon for a girl of limited means to color her entire face with a brown magic marker. For those ganguro with the funds, however, Japan’s hippest hair stylists will coerce usually rail-straight Japanese locks into bulbous “afuro” (afro) perms that take half a day to set and cost about $400.


And we’re over here are paying good money for Japanese straighteners, silky blonde weaves, and bleaching creams. The article continues to explain that these girls (much like my friends from childhood) weren’t thinking on any kind of subversive racist level:

While the color of their skin lends them a group identity and ganguro label, they seem to give little thought to the historical or sociological implications of their so-called blackface. An advertisement for the tanning salon “Blacky” in Egg magazine shows a close-up of a pretty African-American girl, beckoning to the reader with a crooked index finger. The italicized caption reads, “Come wid mi,” — a Japanese stab at “black English.” Asked why they work so hard on their tans, why they want so desperately to approximate “black America,” every ganguro I interviewed gave the same curt and unexamined answer: Because it’s cool, because it’s sexy.

Well, I won’t argue with anyone who calls me cool and sexy. I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It just blows my mind that these girls will take a Sharpie to their face for fashion. That’s just crazy.

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Shonquayshah says:
September 17, 2006, 5:47 pm
they are buggin!
jerseybred says:
September 17, 2006, 7:29 pm
So being Black is in. The Japanese never cease to amaze me. You learn something new everyday.
Coffy says:
September 17, 2006, 8:14 pm
they definitely have a different way of thinking of things. these are also the people that have more whitening creams on the market than anywhere else, it is also popular to dye the color of their nipples from dark brown to the lightest pink.that to me was just too damn deep.
beautiful&black says:
September 17, 2006, 9:33 pm
It kills me that after all this time, all the oppression, racial slurs, superiority complexes, etc...that now (they have been doing this forever)whites and others are really trying to be Black. It's very amusing. See, they wanna be black but they don't really wanna be black. They want all the fashion, looks,etc...but they don't want any of the drama that comes with being a person of African descent. They pull out their race card to keep you in your place. Such phonies. Sometimes I wanna scream out loud because I'm so sick of it.
Brunsli says:
September 17, 2006, 11:25 pm
I have a labor theory. It's more attractive to look wealthy. Back in the day, when laborers worked outside, it was in to be a blue-blood. Now that you must have access to beach vacations or at least a tanning salon, and the free time and disposable income they require, tan is in. Personally, I like being tan. It evens out my skin tone. That simple.
70ssoulchild says:
September 18, 2006, 12:46 pm
Wow, I never knew about this..so Black is in..at least for now anyway...the Japanese are so busy trying to imitiate Americans, black and white but never take the time to learn about our culture..It just goes to show that we're not the only ones with image issues..Very enlightening.
jerseybred says:
September 18, 2006, 4:55 pm
"it is also popular to dye the color of their nipples from dark brown to the lightest pink" ^^^^^^^^^^ I didn't even know that was possible.
augusta says:
September 18, 2006, 9:47 pm
was that pun intended seventies soulchild ;)?
old friend says:
September 19, 2006, 11:36 am
Well if it isn't Patrice Grell from Bishops High doing big tings in the '06! Love yuh site, dahlin. Keep up the good work!
Julia_Claudine_Deveraux says:
September 19, 2006, 3:42 pm
The Japanese are a funny culture! I've heard and read that they are fascinated with Blacks...paying $1000 for "dreadlocks"! I didn't know it had gotten this extreme. I'm sure once Gwen Stefani gets on her feet, she'll exploit these chicks like she did the Harajuku Girls.
Alicia says:
September 21, 2006, 9:40 pm
A lot of the younger Japanese generation imitate several cultures they think are "cool." It isn't just black people. There are several Japanese subcultures there that borrow from a lot of American people and practices. It isn't anything to be up in arms about because it isn't just us. In a society where individuality and monotony reign, it's exciting to do something completely against the grain. I don't think they mean to be disrespectful. The real "problem" is who they are modeling themselves after and how they portray black people. "Come wid mi" didn't originate in Japan...
ghettofashionista says:
September 23, 2006, 5:53 pm
Your blog is so well written and filled with such interesting tid bits- I have 3 words for the ganguro in this pic- lord have mercy! :) I guess to your point, imitation is flattery, but can you say sambo? All that's missing from this picture is a watermelon and a wide, toothy smile!
DaHoodzPRMaven says:
September 24, 2006, 4:58 pm
Im really afraid now....
blobby87 says:
September 29, 2006, 4:54 am
thats really freaky!
Yana says:
September 30, 2006, 3:34 pm
Yeah, like they don't know it's blackface. I've been to Japan and there are coon and sambo charactures EVERYWHERE. Cultural appropriation at its worst. And they consider Blacks subhuman. Nice. Let's break out the buck teeth, big glasses and start speaking engrish and see how the Japanese like it.
sannajohanna says:
October 30, 2006, 5:48 pm
Hello, I come from Nordic countries. I can sign the comment of "we’re standing on the opposite sides of a racial fence and admiring what the neighbors look like". The TV here is full of tanning lotion ads. They have now even caught my mother - she can´t stop hurraying for Dove Summer Glow. I think tanned skin with light eyes (blue, green, grey etc.) looks kind of silly for it hides them and is unnatural on a Scandinavian type of face. Off topic: ironic thing is that though this seems to be a site for georgeous black girls I´ve found more reasonable tips here than other sites desinged for caucasian girls.
LOLA says:
December 13, 2006, 7:11 am
Auragirl says:
April 25, 2007, 3:05 pm
WOW...I know I'm a little late with this, but I think they should be happy being who they are! (Although it's kind of cool to know that people on the other side of the world would love to have hair like mine!)
:P says:
August 3, 2008, 7:39 pm
uh i'm like that too. :P i change my skin color and dye my hair and put in colored contacts to imitate other cultures. i dont really give a shit about racism, if it's pretty, i'll do it.
inconnu(e) says:
August 23, 2008, 6:49 am
C'est vraiment trop moche, on dirait une barbie passée au four !!!
somebody says:
August 30, 2008, 4:22 am
I've heard about this, I've always thought it looked a little.. creepy? Not that I don't mind tanned skin or fake flowers- but its just odd to me to see a asian chick with a darker skin tone then mine. The light hair, dark skin, and the gallions of white make up just doesn't look right to me.
Rebecca says:
September 26, 2008, 8:48 am
Japaneese fashion culture is very interesting. I have to say, I like it. They express themselves through there fashion. So some Japaneese girls want to be black. Let them be black. It's there choice. I think the reason some people want to be a different (or a slightly different) colour of skin is that they think it will some how make there life better. They think that some how if your a different colour you will experience life in another way, a better way. Life on a whole will be more enjoyable. It can result in the craziness of everyone to look like anything but themselves. But, Our society has always been beauty obcessed. Like the Japaneese ganguro girls say "It's because it's beautiful". Bex
toe-key-oh says:
November 12, 2008, 3:21 pm
These girls are just useing there bodies and faces as a canvase. I don't think there is anything wrong with that, if chooseing to have dark skin is your own definition of beauty, why woulndn't you reach for it if it's at your fingertips? Wearable art. I personally would LOVE to be a traditional Japanese girl, pale skin, straight hair, the works. If I can find a way to manage that, I will. The Japanese are very open minded culturally diverse, they see the beauty in cultures, that sometime even the said culture dosn't see in itself. Although I doubt sharpies are good for the skin...
hai says:
April 2, 2009, 4:40 am
No one wants to be Black because they always complain about every single thing, and then when someone tries to be nice they consider it racism, now look at the comments here someone is being racist against a culture they know nothing about. I'm sure half of the people here will complain about what other people do saying this or that is ugly, you don't even know why they're doing it. The only racism comes from somebody who knows nothing about their culture anymore, I bet if you went to the continent you came from you wouldn't know a damn thing, so STFU, especially you YANA, you're the only sub-human person I see here.
maram says:
April 4, 2009, 6:35 pm
Lol I read every single comment and I have one thing to say: What should Whites say about Black people making their skin lighter? why black people in general always wish they could be lighter? And being tanned (not black) or wanting it has nothing to do with blacks because many races out there are tanned, latinos, arabs and so on and they are damn gorgeous, Japanese should perhaps look somwhere else because unfortunately blacks always see thing badly while themselves are those who started whities imitations ehm, anyways i don't see why Japs wanna be black? wrong choice lol and they are fine the way they are they should appreciate their own selves. they are unique and beautiful their own way. please don't delete my comment, i have black friends and thanks god they are not seeking to be white or whatever, they accept their own selves very well and that is what everyone should do.
cherry says:
July 9, 2009, 6:53 pm
Ohren says:
July 16, 2009, 12:03 am
The article is actually WRONG they are not trying to emulate Black People they are doing the Californian Beach Girl and (different variations) look to the EXTREME not black people at all! This look shown above loosely translates to "Mountain Hag" ... If they really wanted to look like black people they would and they would take that to an extreme as well I'm sure! -And yes I am BLACK
lisa lynell castoon says:
August 16, 2009, 3:17 pm
hey! ganguros are really cool! and they have very nice make-up! there are so many ganguro girls so thats why I ask you to show more pictures! thats cool.. okay? show more pictures!!!!
Erin Anon says:
October 11, 2009, 5:33 am
I personally find their culture to be very interesting- if you do a little reading into it, you'll find that they have lost their traditional sense of self since WW2. During that time, we would all know that they were occupied by America. During that time and the sudden and dominant influx of foreign culture left them confused as to who they are, and who they're supposed to be. Are they who they always were? Are they supposed to be like the "others"? Are they supposed to create something new? Who are they? Since the A-Bomb, this has been the cloud that has hung so low on their culture for so long. They are not dressing like this because they're trying to be black, they're doing so because they're trying to find out who they are and what works for them. They're grappling for an identity.
Caribbean Girl says:
November 12, 2009, 10:47 pm
That was beautifully said Erin Anon...


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