A long time ago, when I was about 14, I got a book out from the library entitled “Black British Feminism”. I did not get the book because I was interested in feminism or because I wanted to learn about the history of the black women’s movement. I, shamefully, took the book out because it sounded strong and powerful and I was listening to the Destiny’s Child album at the time (possibly still on tape, possibly recorded off the radio). Regardless, it was a good thing that happened that day.
From that book, I learnt about why black feminism exists and why it needs to start from a different place. A black women needs to reject everything thrown at her through consumerism and start by accepting the colour of her skin. Before accepting the size or shape of her body, before accepting her intellect or her capabilities, she needs to accept the skin she is in. Think about how fundamental that is. The fight combines sexism and racism. How exhausting.
But it started me thinking about my skin and what that means for me. I very quickly disliked the favorability that existed towards fairer skin in the Asian community. Out of all of my sisters I have the darkest skin tone. When I was younger I used to pretend that I was swapped at birth and actually belonged to Aretha Franklin or Woopie Goldberg (I never quite got around to figuring out how she may have lost her new born in a hospital…in Scotland, but that’s by the by). Since then, I’ve decided that I was blessed with this skin because the heavens above (or whatever) wanted to give me another reason to be an activist.
The Asian community (and I’m led to believe many other Black communities) have a preference for fairer skin. It’s believed to be more beautiful. How does that even make sense? You’re black, it’s your heritage, it’s literally, in your DNA to not be white. Yet, that’s what’s better.
My aunt once bought me a gift. It was a tube of something called ‘Fair and Lovely’ a product which originated in India and sells out. Have a look.
Yeah. That just happened. She gave this to me when I was about 18 and very, very, mouthy. Not had a ‘gift’ from her since.
But the thing is, I am mouthy and proud of it. Not everyone is. Not everyone has picked up a book in their younger years and randomly learnt about feminism or had people around them who accepted them just as they are. Think about the young black* girl who is bombarded with images of beauty which are thin, hairless, blonde and white. That’s beautiful. That isn’t her. Don’t get me wrong, there is now, more than ever before, diversity in magazines, on the catwalk and in films, but not nearly enough. And even this diversity has been photoshopped, bleached, straightened and dyed to look more white and to look more beautiful. This issue isn’t new, it’s been happening since ‘diversity’ appeared on our screens. Here’s one example about Beyonce.
This all came about again recently because my niece was comparing herself to her friends, as we all do, and without realising it, talked about their paleness whilst describing their beauty. I stopped her and asked why that was part of her description and she said “A lot of my black friends, like that they are pale, some of them wear lighter foundation to look paler, I’ve always thought I’m too dark”.
Sigh. I was under the naive illusion (hope) that this was a cultural issue that existed in the generation before mine and we were leaving behind. Apparently not.
It’s an issue that exists today and one I think feminism and black feminists need shout about more. Young black girls have enough to deal with as they grown up to be women, they will face inequalities and, hopefully, fight them. They will be told they are not good enough and become exhausted proving themselves. But what are they meant to do when they are told their skin isn’t the right colour? It’s not ok and something I intend to discuss with every young black women in my family now and in my family in the future. I want young girls to grown up feeling strong, powerful and equal, regardless of their size, their shape or the beautiful colour of their skin.
I found this on Facebook (where I gather most of my knowledge) and think it gets across just how big a deal this issue is. It illustrates that this isn’t just about what colour is more beautiful but how children distinguish morality and likability by black V white.
* note: when using the term black I refer to individuals of Asian, Arab, African and Caribbean descent