Via the Associated Press:

“KINGSTON, Jamaica – Mikeisha Simpson covers her body in greasy white cream and bundles up in a track suit to avoid the fierce sun of her native Jamaica, but she’s not worried about skin cancer.

The 23-year-old resident of a Kingston ghetto hopes to transform her dark complexion to a cafe-au-lait-color common among Jamaica’s elite and favored by many men in her neighborhood. She believes a fairer skin could be her ticket to a better life. So she spends her meager savings on cheap black-market concoctions that promise to lighten her pigment.

Simpson and her friends ultimately shrug off public health campaigns and reggae hits blasting the reckless practice.

“I hear the people that say bleaching is bad, but I’ll still do it. I won’t stop ’cause I like it and I know how to do it safe,” said Simpson, her young daughter bouncing on her hip.

People around the world often try to alter their skin color, using tanning salons or dyes to darken it or other chemicals to lighten it. In the gritty slums of Jamaica, doctors say the skin lightening phenomenon has reached dangerous proportions.

“I know of one woman who started to bleach her baby. She got very annoyed with me when I told her to stop immediately, and she left my office. I often wonder what became of that baby,” said Neil Persadsingh, a leading Jamaican dermatologist.”

Click to continue.

I wonder what became of that baby, too. And what will become of Mikeisha Simpson’s young daughter, who will grow up with a mother convinced that her own skin is too dark to be considered beautiful, and convinced she knows special, safe skin bleaching tactics.

While skin bleaching remains largely taboo and abhorrent in the United States, the practice remains popular around the world, particularly in Africa, India, and the Caribbean. While oftentimes serums or ointments are sold stateside for fading dark spots and hyperpigmentation, other countries sell products that are popular for prolonged, all-over use with the goal of altering the user’s entire skin tone. Products with names like Crusader, Dermovate, Porcelana and Fair and White. In parts of Jamaica, some street corner hustlers sell home made skin lightening formulas and ointments. And the sale of skin whitening creams remains big business for the companies that create these products. I first blogged about this topic back in 2006. It’s disheartening to read a current AP article that reveals that the practice is just as common as it’s ever been.

Natural hair has become popular and can even in some ways be labeled as a trend nowadays. But while there’s a global movement of women of color who are learning to love their hair as it naturally grows, there’s a persistent and troubling perception right here in America and in cultures around the world that black skin isn’t beautiful skin.

According to that quote from Mikeisha, no matter how dire the warnings from medical professionals there will be those who ignore the messages in their quest to be light and bright. And when artists like Vybz Kartel vehemently defend their interest in skin whitening, it undermines the positive messages to love yourself being sent out by artists like Queen Ifrica.

And that’s just heartbreaking.

I wish I had an answer, for what would make that universal change for women like Mikeisha and others around the world realize their skin color is beautiful as it is. I wish that I could see an end to that kind of mentality. The truth is, I don’t. But I sincerely hope that by encouraging black women to share the reasons they love themselves as this great Madame Noire article does… by discussing these topics and reinforcing to the younger generation that ALL shades of skin are beautiful, we can make a difference that will be felt around the world. I hope.

What say you, bellas? Do you know anyone who’s used skin bleach? Have you? What are your opinions and experiences here?

edited at 4:40 pm – normally I do more research before posting, so I apologize for missing this Black Voices post about the same AP article. The photos there are truly horrific and underscore the true effects of persistent skin bleaching. Awful.

And regular reader and wonderful person SoFroLushes pointed me in the direction of this Mr. Vegas song about bleaching.

Love his voice and the message, and of course the classic Nardo Ranks dancehall tune he remade for this one! Thanks SoFroLushes!


zenzele says:
April 19, 2011, 12:42 pm
The last time I ever heard of anyone bleaching their skin in my family, was in the late '70's, and when I told my mom I wanted to do the same thing, I got a lecture. I'm glad I did. These days, I can't imagine why anyone would want to bleach their skin. Then again, I still don't get the need to perm.
Nikia says:
April 19, 2011, 12:55 pm
My mom's had that "Black is Black" poster hanging in her office forever! Strange to see it outside that setting for some reason... Mikeisha's bleaching her child reminds me of a quote I read recently about how its more dangerous for someone to do something harmful when they think their actions are for the greater good vs. causing harm knowingly and intentionally...I wish I could remember it!
mandy says:
April 19, 2011, 12:59 pm
This is so sad, but its not at all surprising, and this coming from a Caribbean person. Especially when you still hear kids teasing their peers for being "black like pitch" and often hear adults say in disgust about a young woman or man whom has expressed interest in them, that"they too black" to be considered "nice." Its not only in the african community, but also among the indian community too. I've seen my friends rebelliously apply these creams, its not even seen as a big deal, and its not just the darker ones. I have had lighter skinned friends stop playing sports that they loved because they were getting too dark. Each and everytime I think how crazy it is, but I never say anything, because I know its pointless.
SoFrolushes says:
April 19, 2011, 1:18 pm
Tyra Banks did a show on this. I live in the UK and see all types who bleach their skin. I even know of a guy I work with who took injections to darken his skin. Neither look right. With bleaching people start of with fade cream which is the same thing supposedly to do spot treatment and then move on to the whole body. Its very bad and shameful Growing up in a Jamaican household you hear and see both sides celebrated and hated. While the likes of Kartel are enjoying the attention others like Mr Vegas are celebrating black skin Please look up Mr Vegas song Black and Proud. The video tells the story so well and yes there is a baby in the video so has a message worth seeing. So where as roots artist like Ifrica making a stand Dancehall artist are doing so too.
Jacqueline Lewis says:
April 19, 2011, 7:20 pm
I recently; actually just last week watched a video where young ladies and young men, were talking about how that don't like dark-skinned or black ladies. Well everyone was black, some where Dominican, other African mixtures, but they all stated they hated black people. I mean really, how did we go backwards with this. What are we not doing to make sure that our children love themselves. I lived in a household where my mother was pretty light, and my father was dark. I'm brown, and my sister is dark and absolutely beautiful. My mother would never ever bring up the difference in complexion, actually she was the opposite of my dad who preferred like-skinned (ridiculous), but we as parents set a precedence for this foolishness. I once heard my son refer to his brother, who is barely a shade darker that he was black, excuse me, I immediately put a stop to it, and keep reminding them about beauty is inner and outer, and it doesn't have anything to do with color. It's funny how people will say she's dark, but beautiful, or she's dark but she's sweet, like she has to be sweet because she's dark. Sickening.
b. says:
April 19, 2011, 7:39 pm
Thanks, Afrobella for highlighting this story AND speaking in a thought-provoking way about it. I've seen it mentioned often lately but many times there's just a url link. I like the fashion and make-up posts but I hope you continue to do more social posts as a compliment (long time reader here so I know you've done them often in the past).
Cat says:
April 19, 2011, 9:09 pm
I remember reading about this in South Africa many years ago. Although its not a trend here, the mentality is still the same. I think its a shame that society, all over the world, believes that light is right and don't celebrate the skin tones of all people. Not in our makeup, not in our movies or videos and at work and school the discrimination is still present. And for women its the hardest b/c we already have so many standards of beauty to fight to get attention from the media and many men. the natural hair movement came b/c we started acknowledging the beauty and versatility in our kinks and curls. I wish we could do the same with our skin.
Temple says:
April 19, 2011, 11:09 pm
Last week I went for a facial to a new place, recommended by a friend. Before the estetician started, she asked me if I wanted her to use skin bleacher on (only $5 extra). I looked at her like she was crazy and told her my brown skin is beautifully perfect, thank you very much. From the moment my children were born, I've told them how beautiful brown and black skin is. So is white, 'yellow,' 'red,' and every shade in between. We've got all shades in our family and I let them know that each is beautifully perfect. I'm a university professor and I'm blessed to have classes filled with students of nearly every hue and ethnicity. I make it a point to often talk about skin color and beauty - always have, always will. The only way to end this damaging belief system is to call it out, talk about it, and 'walk the walk' in our personal lives. Yeah, sometimes that's not enough for me either. Sometimes it seems like it's not changing fast enough (maybe even getting worse at times). But I firmly believe that one voice can make a difference...
butyizhrnm says:
April 19, 2011, 11:11 pm
it seems backward, really. white ppl spend Bizillions of dollars trying to get darker. nevermind skin cancer and looking like a nice worn pair of boots by the time they're 40. My mother is very fair, white people don't even realize half the time that my aunt is black they grew up in the 60's and they don't talk about it much but they wish they were darker. they covet my caramel skin and i wouldnt mind being a shade or two darker myself. I think that caribbean girls didn't have the racial esteem building that came to america during The Movement. Dizzying, i kno! wtf ladies BLACK Is BLACK and we are beautiful in EVERY shade of it. I can get shallow about it too. technical human beauty is about proportion and symmetry. what's your nose look like? are your eyes too close together or far appart? are your lips even? THESE are the things that make us beautiful. NOT how light or dark we are
bella says:
April 19, 2011, 11:34 pm
thanks for that, b. I strayed from social and opinion posts because they can be so draining to write and research. But I am coming back, I promise!
keishua says:
April 20, 2011, 10:25 am
OH, this is so sad. While skin brightening is not popular in the america, I do think some people have a crazy idea that certain tones of brown/black are better than others. That is sad because we are all so lovely in our ways. I love that blk people(and people, in general) can range in color. Who wants sameness!
maggiep says:
April 20, 2011, 12:37 pm
Dark-skinned people really need to accept their skin b/c bleaching makes people look alien. It looks awful and unnatural. However, I do feel sorry. I am medium tone but I see and hear too many black people celebrate light skin. And the biggest applause is when black poeple mix with other races, hence the high incidence of black men with white women. I can't tell you how many times a black person assumed I was into white men b/c I am in medical school. The comment I get over and over "but you and a white man will have beautiful mixed children." And all these black men with non-black or light-skin women in their videos? And the 'sexy' woman in a sitcom or movie is not dark. Black boys show preference for light and bright from a young age. It goes on and on and has been going on for a long time. yes, it started from slavery. And I am clueless as to how black people express such surprise at examples like bleaching. It is comical that some black people are so clueless to the numerous mental ramifications of slavery.
Mishara says:
April 20, 2011, 8:10 pm
Although this is disheartening, I hope we continue to challenge our people when they make comments about the preference of light skin and ways to achieve it. As an extremely light black women (most people don't even believe I'm black) with hazel eyes, I have often been offended by how black men make dispariging remarks about darker skinned sisters. My closest friends have always been much darker than me. More than once I have heard a man say, "Your friend is beautiful for a dark skinned woman..." I told him about himself. It's self-hatred. But sadly in 2011. I still hear black men make comments about darker skinned sisters assuming as a light skinned woman I will feel more secure or superior in my position. It is sickening. It's also paradoxical since the light skinned women in my family have always sought darker skin and tried to "marry into color" with the hopes of achieving at least caramel colored children. Colorism is still alive and well.
Monica says:
April 21, 2011, 1:57 am
Just as we condemn skin bleaching for the vile practice it is, we also have to acknowledge the pain of rejection most young black women with chocolate brown skin experience before they learn to embrace and celebrate the color of their skin. In a landscape where multi-racial exotics with tawny skin are lauded, chocolate sisters are rarely put on a pedestal. Rejections like the one depicted in the Mr. Vegas video are real. Yes, black women with light skin are still prized by some men. We all know that their are plenty of men in the world, but it takes time to realize that the one fawning over light-chick might not be the one for you. It takes time to realize that's about him. Women of color with dark skin who bleach their skin are not insane. They are reacting in an ineffective manner to the world as they see it. If this was merely an aesthetic choice, I don't think bleaching would be so pervasive. Bleaching taps into the search for a better life. Banning bleaches will not stop women from wanting that.
Denise says:
April 21, 2011, 1:51 pm
Lil' Kim...Sammy Sosa....I'm sure there are others...sad beyond words that we still HATE being Black and allow others to tell us that we should HATE dark skin....It makes me want to cry.
Cmoni says:
April 21, 2011, 4:04 pm
This is very sad, I will never endanger my well-being for the price of being accepted or deemed beautiful by society. My grandmother always told me "the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice." I am multiracial with a caramel skin color and my own mother ( God Bless her) out of ignorance told me I was getting too black or that I was a black a** mexican because as a kid I was always outside and I played soccer. At the ripe age of 9 I told her thats what I am! She said nothing after that. We all have to do our part by instilling a sense of pride for ourselves whether we are brown, black, red, yellow or whatever.
Liz says:
April 23, 2011, 2:59 pm
Hi Afrobella! First of all, I want to say I've been following your blog since 2006 now. I've finished college, I'm moved from NYC to California, things have really changed... and you're still here! It's just awesome. Please, continue doing what you do! I am a lifelong fan, now :) I usually do not comment, but seeing as though this is a topic that hits close to home, I felt motivated to do so. I think colorism is a particularly big issue within the Latino community. Many Latinos refuse to believe how racist and prejudice we really are to our own people in the community. It is not a coincidence that in Colombia, where my parents are from, the urban centers of the cities are all very poor, Afro-Colombians. Yet, for example, Brazil, want to promote the image of racial harmony amongst such a variety of people and skin colors and races. I hope that soon we can really start being honest with ourselves, free ourselves from the trappings of self-hatred that come along with colonized mentalities.
zindzhi says:
April 25, 2011, 11:50 am
I live in Haiti and this message of dark ugly skin is drilled in our head ! just the other day my Grandma told me that most people told her not to marry my grandpa because he was too dark. jokes on them cause we are a nice looking bunch ( not tooting my own horn) black people are beautiful in all shades.. but light skin is right even in Asian communities . Some South Asian women working in Haiti spoke so derisively of dark skin that i stop speaking to them for them it was akin to being a ugly monkey.
shannon says:
April 25, 2011, 11:01 pm
My parents are from the south, and I remember my aunt and mom having a conversation about a young light skinned girl who was in their opinion unattractive. The phrase they used to describe her was "wasted yellow". Even as a young child, and hearing this I was hurt and offended, because I knew that they meant that "light skin" was valued above brown, or darker skin. When I questioned my mom later, on this she just kinda shrugged it off... How sad that those ugly things white people embedded deep within our people is still present today...
Crys says:
May 8, 2011, 7:05 am
This is truly sad! There are people of other ethnicities who are trying to darken their skin like ours. God said everything/everyone he made is good. Rock the skin you are in. It has been blessed and sun-kissed by God! We are gorgeous and phenomenal!
candiew says:
May 13, 2011, 2:47 pm
For those obsessed with lightening their skin and wondering what you'll look like: Two words: Michael Jackson One word: Ridiculous Need I say more?
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