There was this article I read recently in a certain Nigerian journal titled Bleaching for Beauty: Tell (Nov. 23, 2019 issue), where the writer chose a photograph of a female’s bleached skin to grace the article. This was ostensibly to drive home the idea that bleaching is wholly synonymous with our women. And so it is in our everyday existence. When we talk about ‘bleaching,’ our minds go straightaway to our womenfolk. We do this instinctively, the consequence being that women are labelled, stigmatised, looked down on and scapegoated in attempts to measure up to their male counterparts in our patriarchal society.
While this appraisal aims to add to the corpuses of articles in this regard and in that manner, aid further research, the very supposition that most women bleach their skins is not only ill-bred, but one seen from the wrong end of the telescope. Do not Nigerian men themselves bleach? Yes they do though it is almost a sin and more like uttering the obscenity to imply that they do. Only our women, the visible scapegoats, are lambasted and ridiculed for doing so. Nigerian men doing the same thing prefer the glorified term of ‘toning:’ (Hey! I don’t belong to those silly ladies of ours who bleach their skin. Mine is toned). They hide under this façade because we live in a male chauvinistic society where the implication or even a hint of a man bleaching his skin is not tolerated. Consequently, and in furtherance of gender discrimination, women who apply skin-lightening creams to their bodies – doing exactly what their male counterparts do – are scorned and denigrated as ‘bleaching’ their bodies while men gallivant about in ‘toned’ skins. If only these men, in their holier-than-though posture, could dictate as to which skin the potion ravages! But alas, skin-lightening creams are non-discriminatory and therein lies our waterloo.
To take this further, while many countries in the world, especially the West Indies are creating viable awakening programmes to inculcate in citizens belief in self, country and of course, colour; Nigeria lags behind abysmally. We all remember General Sani Abacha, our late head of state who once took obscenity to the highest level when, having been tired of frolicking about with our ladies – and believing in the ‘supremacy’ of a paler skin – imported white-skinned Indian prostitutes to satisfy his unbridled libido. He was at it when he shrieked and gave up the ghost. How we debase womanhood! While I am not playing to the gallery, as it is not my style to do so, the nitty-gritty of my discourse is the blanket, hypocritical condemnation of our women by men who themselves, are fellow travellers of the same route irrespective of their preference for the semantically-related ‘toning’ rather than ‘bleaching’. If the photograph accompanying the original article had been the ‘toned’ skin of a man, it would surely have invited more scrutiny of the subject matter, as none of us can say with certainty the percentage of women who bleach their skin or of men who ‘tone.’ It was James Akwagyir Aggrey, the renowned Gold Coast (now Ghana) nationalist who says that he is proud of his colour and that whosoever is not proud of his colour is not fit to live. Our menfolk – most of them – teachers, teach this principle to their students, but live differently by being unnecessarily perfumed, chasing after all manner of toning creams. They play James Brown’s I am Black and Proud, but would not hearken to the wisdom behind the lyrics.Many of them would even talk ad nauseam about Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, but do not practice its tenets. What they do instead is to keep their hair fried, their eyebrows shaped and their skin massively toned as if we are in a state of debauchery where sex and immoral issues are the order of the day.
Rather than heaping demeaning innuendoes on our women as we presently do, we should tackle this moral cancer head-on. This can be done by educating them and our males, too, on the dangers of bleaching and toning our skin and the health hazards it poses. In this vein, more NGO’s should be set up and state-paid psychologists and counsellors engaged to intercede in cases of low self-esteem, which, in reality, is the real catalyst pushing our men and women into bleaching their natural skin, believing that all that is white or pale is good and all that is black or brown is bad. More so, while the physical injuries caused by these skin-lightening creams and potions can sometime be life-threatening, the psychological injuries attributed to low self-esteem are far more difficult to cure. In this vein, too, our innumerable churches and mosques must help in convincing their congregation of God’s omniscience in creating us as we are. The Almighty has a reason for this and His divine wisdom cannot be questioned.
Years of colonialism and the falsehoods arising therefrom have no doubt aided in propping up this pale-skin-superiority hogwash, not to mention the powerful influence of the television, newspapers, radio broadcasts, and now, the internet in relaying things about our race, many of which are bizarrely untrue. With our naturally-endowed colour presently being pooh-poohed and tied to negative usages: Black Friday, Black Market, Black Sheep, Black hole, Blacklist, Black lie, Blackmail, Black magic etcetera; it is time for us to re-orientate our minds into seeing these as mere racist labels and stereotypes that cannot stand the test of civilised standard. In doing so and thus, resisting the temptation to bleach or ‘tone,’ we would be showing that we are God’s perfect creation whose progress cannot be undermined by mere packets of melanin contained in our skins.
Written by: Martins Agbonlahor
Martins Agbonlahor is a journalist and author of Killing Them Softly: The Struggle for Women’s Rights in Nigeria. He lives in Manchester.