By Jeremy Bamidele
Skin bleaching has grown increasingly common among celebrities, and the general populace is following suit. Traditionally skin whitening has been viewed as originating from a feeling of self-hate and a desire to appear as someone else. This in combination with the negative health consequences of skin whitening has given the process a bad rap. While self-hate may motivate some to lighten their skin, a far more interesting proposition may in fact be true. By whitening one’s skin, minorities may be seeking to make the limiting constructs of race disappear altogether.
Minorities are individuals first and foremost. Consequently, they desire to distinguish themselves not by their race, but by their likes and interest. Since the majority of cultural subgroups are represented by Caucasian or light skinned individuals, in the media, whiteness becomes not only representative of a cultural subgroup, but also representative of the power to choose one’s identity. As whiteness increases, the externally imposed restrictions on one’s identity decreases. It is this ability to be seen for one’s identity as opposed to their race that minorities seek to attain when they engage in skin whitening. Skin whitening may not originate from a feeling of self-hate, but rather from the desire to be seen by others how one sees themselves. Perhaps, skin whitening is an act of political independence and self-expression.
Skin whitening can be traced back to the Elizabethan Era. It is practiced disproportionately within communities “of color.” The power of whiteness can be traced back to the under-representation and stereotypical representation of minorities on television and in films.
According to the 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report by Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, in 2011-2012 only 15.4 percent of lead roles on Broadcast television went to minorities, while only 13.2 percent of lead roles went to minorities on cable television. The US census bureau has estimated that 36.6 percent of the population is minorities. The amount of lead roles on television played my minority actors is less than fifty percent of their respective national representations. These numbers become even more exaggerated when looking at the percentage of minorities in mainstream films. Furthermore, many minority roles pigeonhole based on race. As long as the aforementioned continues, minorities will continue to utilize skin whitening products as a way of being seen for who they truly are, individuals.
Jeremy Bamidele was born and raised in California and often resides in New York with his family. He is a former faculty member at Rancho Santiago Community College in California and currently lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he is completing graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. He can be reached at email@example.com.