IT’S no secret I’m dark-skinned. And since that should be the least interesting thing about me, it’s not something I would normally consider noteworthy.
But I remember taunts from other kids at school, the vast majority also black, for being much darker than them.
I remember going home in tears at age 11 having decided the only solution was to buy skin-bleaching cream, and logging on to my mum’s computer to do that.
I didn’t — I was 11, I didn’t have a bank account, and what was I thinking, anyway?
Prince Harry and Meghan recently launched a partnership with Procter & Gamble, one of the world’s largest consumer-goods corporations, in an effort to focus on “gender equality, more inclusive online spaces, and resilience and impact through sport” — whatever that means.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a UK household that doesn’t have a P&G product. It brings us classics like Fairy Liquid, Daz and Pampers.
But few will know P&G also sells “skin-whitening” creams to black and brown people around the world. And P&G is not alone. “Skin-whitening’ is an industry forecast to be worth more than £6billion globally by 2027.
It makes its money selling black and brown people the idea that the whiter they are, the better they’ll look. It’s estimated 60 per cent of women in India and nearly 80 per cent in Nigeria use these products.
So, when Meghan — who has hardly shied away from issues relating to race — was silent on how her new business partner was a key player in this industry, she was rightly accused of hypocrisy.
But when I tweeted about this, I was met with bemusement: “What’s the difference between a black person whitening their skin and a white person tanning theirs?”, people asked.
So let me bust some myths. No — skin-whitening is not equivalent to skin-tanning. The reason we tend to prefer a tanned look is because it gives others an impression about your lifestyle — a false one, often.
Victorian women would paint their faces white. Being pale was a sign you were well off and could afford to not spend hours toiling in the sun.
For similar reasons, women today wear fake tan. Our modern minds associate being tanned with a life of lounging on beaches.
But tanning is also a natural process — our bodies’ way of protecting us from the sun. The darker you are, the more protected from UV rays.
And even I, and indeed all black people, tan whenever fortunate enough to bask in the sun for long enough.
Tanning, then, is nothing to do with race — but the same cannot be said for skin-whitening. The creams are different from those that “correct” minor blemishes and dark spots.
They are full-blown, put-this-on-to-turn-you-whiter products. They go against nature by stripping black and brown skin of the stuff that protects them from UV rays — making them more prone to skin cancer, by the way.
TANNING ‘NOTHING TO DO WITH RACE’
And that’s when it goes right. When it goes wrong, the creams can lead to mercury poisoning, liver and kidney damage, and abnormalities in newborns if used during pregnancy.
Women have literally burnt their own skin off using these creams. Only an idiot would take the risk, you might say, but those idiots are worth billions to the industry.
So why is it that people would want to whiten their skin? Darker skin signals a sunny lifestyle and gives you more protection, after all. That’s where race comes in.
The only reason people whiten their skin is they’ve been told looking white is better — a blatantly racist view the skin-whitening industry is happy to profit from, often while virtue-signalling and showing faux solidarity with “anti-racism” movements.
One of the most popular skin-whitening brands, used widely in India, is trademarked as “white radiance”.
The marketing of these hideous creams is laden with references to how white equals more attractive and successful. The stuff that comes out of the industry sounds like it’s plucked straight out of white-supremacist propaganda campaigns.
All decent people should think the industry abhorrent. But sadly, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a black or brown person who has not been made to feel “too dark” at one point or another — and almost always by other black and brown people.
That is what is meant by the term “colourism”. It is when people are discriminated against not because of their race, but how dark they happen to be.
It will be an alien concept to many white people. And it should be, because it’s absurd, harmful and borne out of racism.
The reason “colourism” is whitewashed is because it often happens between black and brown people, and doesn’t fit the narrative to acknowledge ethnic minorities, too, have views steeped in racism.
Skin-bleaching is one of the last vestiges of old-school, “white is better than black” racism. The creams remain largely accessible in the UK, and are widely used globally yet barely spoken about.
Even racism sceptics can acknowledge it doesn’t get much more racist than telling black and brown people they’d be more valuable to society if they were whiter.