This past Tuesday night I went with a few friends to see the play “Red Velvet” starring Adrian Lester of “Primary Colors“, the play was written by his wife Lolita Chakrabati and directed by their family friend Indhu Rubasingham. The play centers around legendary African American stage actor Ira Aldridge, who was the first black man to ever portray Othello in London at Covent Gardens.
Now I won’t give away exactly what happens in the play, but I will tell you that Ira’s performance wasn’t well received on account of him being black and the British community refusing to accept his portrayal of Othello…the black merchant.
The point I really want to make was that by the end of the play we learn that in order to be a success in the theater, Ira had to sacrifice his blackness and hide his skin from the eyes of the audience. This automatically reminded me of the reaction I had a few weeks ago while I was doing research for my last article on cheap natural hair products. As I was waiting to check out at one of the many beauty supply stores in Fulton Mall I saw something I had thought was basically a myth: skin bleaching products.
I was immediately reminded of Michael Jackson‘s “natural skin color change.”
And of Lupita Nyong’o‘s emotional speech this past year about how when she was younger she prayed to have lighter skin.
I had to do a double take since I had never seen or even considered using a bleaching product on my skin. The fact that products like these and fears about skin color in this way exist truly baffle me. This had never been my main concern since all I wanted was to learn how to control my hair (which I’ve sort of got a handle of now) and my acne.
Real talk people: I used to have horrible acne. Well it wasn’t the end of the world but it was painful, it was everywhere and it made me feel hideous. After years of dealing with it I’m finally acne free: Thank you Accutane. However I still have some scars from the acne so my dermatologist gave me something to lighten up the scars.
But after seeing those skin bleaching products I was terrified that I was bleaching my skin without knowing for it. I called my dermatologist and my mother (of course). My dermatologist assured me that the bleaching additives in the cream were extremely mild and they were only being used to get rid of the scars so my skin would return to it’s natural color.
I was relieved but still a little disturbed at the idea of young black girls looking at themselves in the mirror and hating what they see. Now I can’t possibly speak for everyone’s experience of growing up black and I know that comparatively speaking I’m “fair skinned” and I don’t want to judge anyone who uses these products, so I’m going to make a simple plea.
Please do not do this to your skin. You’re beautiful and damaging your complexion with harmful chemicals like these will not only take away your beauty but also take away what makes you unique. Our blackness isn’t something that we should be ashamed of, it’s something that we should embrace and celebrate, not cover.