We need to talk about Blac Chyna’s skin bleaching endorsement

The history of colourism is about more more than just a superficial cosmetic change— it’s about access to privilege.

November 22, 2018

Blac Chyna has been facing swift backlash on social media after announcing the debut of her new face cream in partnership with Whitenicious, a luxury beauty brand created by Cameroonian pop star Dencia. While the brand describes the product as an “illuminating and brightening cream [that] lightens without bleaching skin out” and can erase hyperpigmentation and dark spots, many are calling this out as skin bleaching, a beauty ritual that is not only physically dangerous but also one that perpetuates the racism that informs our country’s history.

Skin bleaching creams can lighten someone’s skin by reducing the skin’s natural melanin which determines hair, skin and eye color, but bleaching creams can also result in an increased risk of skin cancer, liver and kidney malfunction. In some countries like the UK specific skin bleaching products are illegal.

Critics have not held back after Blac Chyna took to Instagram yesterday to promote the launch of the Whitenicious x Blac Chyna Diamond Illuminating and Lightening Cream in Lagos, Nigeria later this month. Zen Magazine, an African lifestyle publication said that it is “honestly disgusted” with Blac Chyna. While Nigerian singer-songwriter Burna Boy shared his thoughts on his Instagram story: “ladies your black is beautiful…@blacchyna please don’t come to my home and sell your poison.”

While critics have been particularly harsh in their responses, the topic of colorism understandably invokes the painful trauma of colonialist histories in Canada, Europe and the U.S. The desire for lighter skin dates back to slavery and how it uniquely affected the quality of life of black folks in an era where being black meant that you were two fifths animal and three fifths human.  

Slavery created a social system that offered unique benefits to lighter-skinned blacks over darker ones. While darker-skinned slaves were forced to work in the fields where they were whipped, harassed or worse, lighter-skinned blacks primarily did domestic work in a slave owner’s home. While working in a slaver owner’s home came with its own set of challenges it also offered unique benefits like a higher likelihood of being taught to read (which was illegal for blacks), and in some cases lighter-skinned blacks were even granted their freedom. Following the end of slavery, it was colorism that gave rise to the Paper Bag Test which could restrict the access of black people due to the shade of their skin.

Today, not much has changed. The belief that lighter skin can offer you a better life is still prevalent in many black communities today. In Jamaica, the birthplace of my parents many of the wealthy elite are lighter-skinned blacks. In some cases lighter skin is a prerequisite for working in a bank or as a flight attendant. Even some of my distant relatives hoped that I would be born with lighter skin in the hope that I’d be able to read as white in certain spaces. Studies from the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health and Plos One provide evidence that supports this mentality. Lighter-skin minorities are more likely to have higher incomes than their darker counterparts and better access to health resources that lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

This is why feelings surrounding skin bleaching are so vehement. It’s not just a superficial cosmetic change. It’s about access and who gets to have it.

This is why feelings surrounding skin bleaching are so vehement. It’s not just a superficial cosmetic change. It’s about access and who gets to have it. Skin bleaching is contingent on a system that upholds whiteness as something to aspire to and privileges white people over black, brown and Asian minorities.

Whether she’s aware of it or not Blac Chyna could be susceptible to internalized racism, and as a person who grew up in a mostly white environment I can attest that it’s easy to fall privy to this. Internalized racism is the conscious or subconscious acceptance of racist ideas, beliefs and actions that one internalizes as a result of being the victim of racism. Basically if you’re consistently told that being white is beautiful and better than at some point you’re going to believe it.

Colorism is an issue that runs deeps in all of us. Whether we live in countries that profited off of such prejudice, are from an ethnic or racial background that still suffers from the effects of it or are a white person who benefits from having an aesthetic appearance that is upheld by our society as being desirable. So let’s have these discussions thoughtfully, free from vitriolic and sexist comments armed with the knowledge of how this prejudice informs our past and where we are currently headed. And while we wait for the necessary change that needs to happen, let’s watch Spice’s music video for “Black Hypocrisy” on a perpetual loop. 

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