It's Time To Stop Talking About Complexion
Skin lightening products are a multi-billion selling industry, with films exploring the issue and here Dotun Adebeyo discussing the complexities, politics and ramifications.
Written by Dotun Adebayo
I LOVE mi browning. that’s no lie. I’ve loved her since the day she was born. Even though she was as white as a sheet for her first two or three weeks of life. I was prepared to love her no matter what. If she had been born as black as the midnight sky like her sister, I would love her no less. But she’s a browning. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Blame it on Buju Banton, because it was he who sang: “I love mi car, I love mi bike I love my money an’ ting, Buts most of all mi love me browning...” And some of you might remember how much stick he got for it.
Black womens’ groups were protesting up and down the country of Jamaica, cussing him and demanding an apology. Like as if to say he has dissed womankind is some lascivious way. Of course he hadn’t. He hadn’t even dissed black womankind. Unless you say that brownings ain’t black.
Because he sang in praise of black women of a certain complexion without suggesting that somehow that certain complexion was better than any other complexion of blackness. OUT OF MANY, WE ARE ONE. It is the national motto of Jamaica, but is as poignant as a national motto for black people in the diaspora.
OUT OF MANY, WE WERE ONE seems more so to be the case nowadays. Whether we are Bajans or yankees or ‘boo-boo’ men is not the point. That old divide and rule has got us thinking that when we praise one, we are not praising us all. And when we diss one, we are not dissing ourselves.
You see, when I see my browning, I see myself. It is not her colour that I see. I see myself. But I am not blind to her complexion, either. When it is apparent to me, I invariably feel I have to react to it. Often in negative terms. It is sad, but it is people out on road who are more likely to point out that my daughters are completely different.
Like I say, I don’t see that at all. When I look at them, I see me and I see their mother. Irrespective of their height, their build or their complexion. But all people out on road see is one browning and one dark-skin. It’s bad enough when white folks comment and wonder whether they from two different mothers. But it’s worse when black folks remark on it. White folks don’t necessarily know that OUT OF MANY, WE ARE ONE.
But we do. So why should it come as any surprise to anybody that a black family can produce white as easily as black? It is sad, because it is the reaction of wider society that reminds me that I have to ensure that my browning doesn’t start acting stush because of the colour of her skin.
I find myself looking for the slightest excuse to let her know that she shouldn’t think that she is any better in any way than her sister, for example. Because I know that brownings have it easier in life. Not just here in Britain, but right across the world. The lighter and whiter you are, the easier your life will be. You’re more likely to get a job, to not be in the ghetto, to get a man – especially a black man – and to have your black parents thinking you’re special.
Why do you think that black women across the world are trying to get lighter by use of chemicals and any other means necessary? They wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t think that they would be more attractive to black men, if they didn’t think they would get a job because of it, if it meant that they would be condemned to living in the ghetto and that their families would hate them for it. Consequently, it is not just my browning that pays the price for the way that society reacts to brownings.
While I am critical of every little thing she does that might suggest that her complexion is attractive (whether it is a flick of her braids in the way that white women flick their hair back, or a flutter of her eyelashes), my ebony daughter is showered with my continual expression of her beauty.
As if to reassure her, lest she is made to feel less worthy from the attention that her white, browning and red friends and family members may get compared to the lack of interest she may garner. I am ashamed to admit it. On both counts. I am ashamed that I cannot allow my browning to relish in who she is (for better or worse) and that I feel I have to compensate my ebony daughter for who she is (for better or worse).
I love them both equally. But I cannot, like many of us whose families represent the united colours of blackness, pretend that my daughters will not be judged differently. Not least by black men. Like I say, I love my browning. She called me up after an interview at a top university last week, where she had to make a case to a trio of professors to assure them that she was exactly the type of 18-year-old that they should admit into their philosophy department come October.
She impressed them so much that they made her an offer. An easy offer to get on to their course. And this is a university that doesn’t like to make offers. I love my bike, I love my car, I love my football team and ting... but most of all I love my browning and my non-browning. And they love each other. Neither of them would even know what I mean by ‘browning’.
As far as they are concerned, we’re Africans.