January 24, 2011


While this phenomenon happens all the time, I was really interested in this article put out by Colorlines about Vybz Kartel that showed photos of the Jamaican dance hall artist with significantly lightened skin.

Trigger points.   I recently came across an article that triggered several emotions in me. Glancing at the photo in the article of a ghostly figure that the Jamaican side of my family would describe as “thin and mauger,” was disturbing to say the least. The seemingly unrecognizable dancehall icon, Vybz Kartel, has bleached his skin! He even had the audacity to liken skin bleaching to white people tanning. In today’s society, I am not easily surprised by the outlandish things that people, especially in the media decide to do. Perhaps the most well-known example of skin bleaching is the late Michael Jackson, who was an international icon. However, the concept of skin lightening still reeks of a deep rooted and socially constructed system of self-hatred. It stems from a “program” that was implemented several centuries ago in this very country.

·         I am referring to the infamous Willie Lynch Letter. It was regarded as a “full proof method for controlling…slaves for at least 300 years.” This method was designed to create dissension among blacks by embellishing their differences. One such difference was in skin tone. Specifically, Lynch vowed to put “dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves.”

Personal Connection.
·         Though I would like to believe that these systemic structures did not invade my personal life, they did on many levels. Throughout high school I was constantly reminded that “light skinned” guys were “in” and more desirable than darker skinned blacks. Unfortunately for me, I fell right in the middle; just light enough to be seen in photos, but too dark to be considered the new trend. I can recall a short period of time during which I wore hats everywhere to shield my face from the sun. I did this because somehow I had convinced myself that to be a darker complexion was not flattering. In many ways, I believed that it would decrease my mating value and that it was a guise to my “true” complexion which I referred to as “milk chocolate/caramel.” I even found myself being envious of light skinned males. On occasion, I tried to compare myself feature for feature in order to prove my worth not only among white women, but women of color as well. 

·         Fortunately for me, my fear of being “too black” was fiercely combated by my father who proudly said, “I love the sun! I want to be as black as possible.” My dad always taught me to be proud of who I was and to embrace all that I am. It’s sad that sometimes it really does seem like we are mindless bodies out there. The more we continue to hate ourselves is the more we contribute to the “maintenance of the slavery system” put in place over 300 hundred years ago. Education is liberation. Cultivate the mind, revive the soul!

In the end, what does it take to love the skin you're in?

Randall Phyall, M. S. Ed, Stonehill College