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Black no Longer Beautiful? What Is Happening To Our Children?

24 May 2011 23 Comments

By Audrey Reeves

Kingston, Jamaica- “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds” one of the most prophetic statement by the late reggae superstar Bob Marley. Albeit this statement was most likely intended for the international community, for our purpose, let’s assign it to Marley’s native country Jamaica.

What signs and symptoms were apparent in the Jamaican culture as manifested by Jamaicans to warrant such a quote? Well, one can only speculate as Marley is no longer around to elaborate. Suffice it to say, he wasn’t referring to the institution of slavery in which Blacks were enslaved by whites. Additionally, self-hate amongst blacks might have been an issue, but nonetheless ambiguous, therefore these signs and symptoms could not directly be attributed to the quote.

But what about the blatant and overt sign of self hate as manifested by behaviors such as skin bleaching? Was this even a concern when Marley made the quote? It might not have been an issue then, but undoubtedly has been wreaking havoc in Jamaica and other parts of the world over the past few years.

What is self-hate? More specifically, what is black self hate? According to Webster Universal College Dictionary: Self hate is self despise, self loathing, dislike of oneself, autophobia…. Black self hate is hating oneself because of the color of one’s skin, hair texture and facial features, such as broader nose and thicker/ fuller lips.

How could this be? Black heroes and pioneers fought relentlessly for us to gain acceptance, respectability and equality by and within our black communities and as well by mainstream. Well, we couldn’t say that our heroes: Marcus Garvey, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nanny, Paul Bogle … fought in vain. No, that would be slanted. Let’s face it, the majority of blacks have a healthy self-esteem and self-concept but as Montel Williams stated, “self hate is a problem in most all cultures, but appears to be more prominent in the black community.” The problem is compounded by the fact that it is “misunderstood, unaddressed, underestimated and pervasive.”

Black self-hate is extremely insidious. This is partly due to the fact that  many blacks would not share with others that they are self haters. This silent destroyer of our people manifests itself in a variety of ways and sadly, it appears to cling to and afflict the young and vulnerable among us. This pervasive demon and destroyer of souls come in varying forms: substance abuse, self-mutilation, self-sabotage, self-deprecation, violence against self, violence against others, disregard for societal laws and the most insidious and most widely accepted behavior of all, self-bleaching.

The problem of bleaching has become almost epidemic in certain parts of the world in recent times. Take Jamaica for example, the problem has become so widespread that they sometimes have bleaching contests. Because the issue is national, the ministry of health and other authorities are warning of the health hazards that can result from bleaching one’s skin. Blindness, skin cancer and extreme sensitivity to the sun.

The most troublesome aspect of this issue though, is the fact that some mothers in Jamaica are using this toxic concoction not only on themselves but on their young, powerless and vulnerable children. This is tantamount to severe child abuse and neglect. Skin bleaching is not new to Jamaica but has become more national following the revelation by dancehall artist Vybz Kartel that he has been bleaching his skin. Kartel is very proud of his fairer skin secondary to bleaching.

It is no surprise that music is an excellent medium to communicate a message. Equally effective is the artist stance on certain issues. From its inception in the 1960s, reggae has been used to effect change: politics, racism and poverty to name a few.  Some reggae artists are seen as role models, the young and gullible mimic and model certain behaviors exhibited by these artists. It doesn’t matter what the message: positive or negative, violence, drugs, and just about any form of undesirable behaviors practiced by the “role model”.

Vybz Kartel

Not intending to delve into blame, but most of these young people who can afford to purchase bleaching cream are usually of a maturity level that allows them to decipher right from wrong. Therefore, it is a choice, albeit a poor and dangerous one. Just like choosing to go to college, break the law or go to church.

Borrowing from an article in the Washington Post, a lot of these girls who are bleaching claim a fairer skin allows for more opportunity. “The browning have more blys than the blackies” (more opportunities are available to lighter skin blacks than their darker counterparts). This is sad, sad, sad. Such a departure from the wisdom and self empowerment messages imparted to us by our freedom fighters and heroes. Marcus Garvey said it most eloquently when he stated,  “God and Nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be…” So in this powerful statement, Garvey reminded blacks that they are responsible for their destiny.

The question is, how did we as a people evolve to be such self-haters? Is it a spinoff from slavery where the mixed slaves would get more opportunities than the pure Black slaves?  But slavery was abolished more than 200 years ago! The act of enslavement has been abolished, but the mental slavery Bob Marley sang about is still very much alive and kicking.

One of the most salient contributing factors is ones upbringing–the values imparted from parents to children. When children are taught to love and respect themselves, they inevitably grow into adulthood with a strong sense of self. The opposite is also true. Parents are the first and most influential teachers. A friend once shared a very disturbing story with me. Jeff’s* mom continuously praised whites with blue eyes and commented that it’s a pity her children didn’t have them as they would be more beautiful than their brown ones. So imagine growing up in an environment where you are told you are not as beautiful as whites because your eyes are brown.  Disturbing and yet, we wonder why so many young blacks feel inferior.

Peers, television and other outside influences also play a major roll in how we perceive ourselves. A handsome, intelligent young man, John* shared one of the saddest stories I have heard. He said during his teenage years in Jamaica, he dated a class mate, Madge*, who he was quite fond of. He said they got on very well and he thought she would have become his wife. However, she looked at him one day and told him that he was too dark and she preferred his friend who was light skinned. Madge and John eventually parted ways. Nonetheless, John’s self-esteem took a nose dive. He said this impacted him so much that at one time he thought about marrying someone Caucasian. John eventually rebuilds his confidence and attends university in the US. While he was there he started studying the Rastafarian doctrine with the strong message of self love and acceptance.

How does one even attempt to rectify this problem? One thing is crystal clear, the problem of self-hate didn’t occur over night, and it will take a lot of hard work over an extended period of time to identify, define and eradicate this double-edged sword. In the meantime, how can we attempt to start dealing with this very serious problem? For starters, we can remind our kids, grand kids, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, grannies and just about anyone we can share the message with that “Black is Beautiful!”

Remember what the great one Marcus Garvey said: “The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.” Oh! and by the way, Jamaica is home to some of the most beautiful people in the world. If in doubt, look at how many times Jamaica has won Miss World and Miss Universe in the international beauty pageant. It’s also home to the fastest runners in the world and some of the brightest minds. We as Jamaicans have so much to be proud of. And one more thing, Jamaica made history as the first (and only) tropical climate country to enter a bobsled race.

So let’s remind our young people to be proud of themselves, proud of their heritage and most importantly, love themselves. If the freedom fighters: Nanny, Dr. King, Sam Sharpe, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X were self haters, we would still be an enslaved people to today.

So come on people, make our fore parents and our freedom fighters proud!

name changed for privacy


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  • Donetta B said:

    This is indeed a very sad revelation. Kind a hard to believe.

  • marjorie k said:

    yes. That has been going on forever though!! Its not new…unfortunately! But think about it, always talking or singing about brownings right?!! The message is always being sent in so many ways. Watch the Ms. Jamaica contest and check out who wins most times. And when the odd Black person wins, how far does their career go?? We continue to send out these messages ….

  • THB said:

    Quite sad, unfortunately true. Our perception of physical beauty, becomes more important than the real values and the inner beauty. But most importantly we shouldn’t forget that there is no universal physical beauty eiter, it is all up for individal interpretation. What one likes another one hates and visa versa.
    Stay true to yourself.

  • Ajamu Nangwaya said:

    The skin bleaching phenomenon is just one element of the problem of internalized oppression or believing the hype around the beauty standard of white supremacy (and the patriarchy).

    If we have to say “Black is beautiful” or “Say it loud, I’m black and proud” then it is likely that we really do not believe it. Could it (being African) be other than beautiful?

    Some folks were wearing Afro wigs back in the day so the consciousness wasn’t deep in people’s mind…just a passing fad.

    Why in this day and age our people are still processing their hair, using gels to change the texture of their hair or need South Korean factories to provide materials for braids?

    Why do some of our people dye their dreads blond or red or other colours that mimics that of the European?

    I would even go so far as ask if black is beautiful why do we still use Arab/West Asian and European names?

    It’s a package and we must approach this anti-African beauty aesthetics as a whole. We have got a long way to go with this phenomenon, comrades. Just don’t believe the hype

  • Simlee said:

    We need to keep in mind that we are all individuals!

    Certainly, there is undoubtedly a major problem with people bleaching their skin and using the
    excuse that the lighter they are the more opportunities there are.

    This is not a simple black and white issue, this is an issue that is social, ecomonic and far reaching; it encompasses
    the Country and Race as a whole.

    What we need to do is figure out a way to encourage/ to guide, to sustain and teach self love.

  • Toni said:

    Well, this well stated and I am glad it is brought in the open, because this needs to be address. What is it the we (blacks) must dislike about ourselves? we are beautiful people as a whole, head to toe..we have thick black hair for a reason, bigger facial features for a reason, our skin in this color for a very important reason.. if you look at history our body chemisty/DNA were made to be compatible with this universe (melatonin)for example, the sun is very damaging to our skin and stats shows this, and we generate melatonin for that same reason, internal sun screen. Melatonin is one major substance we are always producing in our bodies, everyone has it but we (blacks) have a higher percentages and it shows, bleaching is wasting what is naturally there..now I believe there is just not enough communication in our community period about what and where we truly came from, Self hate of our people is simply because of the surroundings, and the lack of knowledge, you see 80% of Women on the television wearing like it’s theirs, if it’s theirs it’s permed you see the picture perfect bodies, the perfect smile, seeing everything on t.v is “perfect”..and people are continuously watching this and that is what gets drilled into their minds ‘I want to be like that’…yet do they know television is an illusion, it is continuously being edited, making that perfect “look” the department stores are selling these body damaging chemicals because money, money, money…they don’t care for our health. But that is simply our job not theirs…As a people we have to unite and build awareness of what these type of things can do to us “internally”…

    My opinion we are some what just neglected from the world and trying to fit in, we have to work 10x harder to be noticed and rise to the top, and when we move 2 feet forward, we get pushed back 4 feet, so now if the weave/perm and bleaching of the skin is helping those individuals to get where they want to be (the top)..our people will continue to do it, because we all got to eat..this shouldn’t be but it is what it is..and that is simply a economic problem. But it is slowly ruining our self-esteem..

    UNITY IS KEY- when we got that, then it’s a CommUNITY, no more black on black crime, no more self hatred just pure pure love…if we keep feeding the negative thoughts, it will travel and continue to be negative, also known as “law of attraction”

  • Phil said:

    Unfortunately in a lot of people’s mind is that they can get further ahead by being “white”. Let’s face it even though racism exists, a lot of stiveling is “selfinflcted”. If you love yourself and are confident in yourself and you put the effort into it, you can do anything. If Obama would not have believed in himself, he certainly wouldn’t be president. So if he can be president, then tell me why some one else needs to feel “white” to become more successful.

  • Sally S said:

    Self esteem, self confidence, perseverence are some signs of a healthy self concept and is mandatory for goal attainment and an overall healthy life. Unfortunately,a lot of our youths, and in particular our daughters do not possess these salient charateristics that form the bedrock of being. The question is, whose responsibility is it to ensure the future generation is equip to excell with confidence? Is it the parents? Community? Church? government? There are no simple answers to this question. suffice it to say that parents are usually the most influencial role models for their children, especially in the formative years. Are most parents equipped to instill the value of self worth in their children? And what percentage of parents actually have healthy self concept? Do they even know or care about self concept or self esteem? well, in this day and age when we can access all kind of resources to to help us evolve into the best that we can be, there is hardly any excuse for not instilling this warranted survival trait in our kids……………………

  • Cynthia M said:

    It is interesting that Jamaica is leading the way with Skin bleaching as with most other negative examples in the Caribbean. Murder, drugs, aids…..its no wonder most decent Caribbean countries do not respect them. They should keep their slackness down there and not contaminate or corrupt other Islands.

  • Josephine said:

    This is very true. Self hate is extremely prevalent among people of African descent and this needs to change so that the plight of our ancestors was not in vain. A change must come.

  • Brigette M. said:

    Lets be practical for a moment, with all the atrocities facing the Jamaican people and in particular the Jamaican children, skin bleaching seem like a none issue….did anyone hear about the recent beheadings in JA? One cannot help but wonder if the devil has been let loose in Jamaica….what do you think?

  • SM said:

    It should be a personal choice, if someone wants to bleach themselves, then who cares? there is a lot more to think about in our community. What about the violence facing our women and children?

  • Ron said:

    Certainly it isa personal choice waht to do with someone’s body, however what message are we sending to our children? Stars are looked upon as rawmodels, by them bleaching their skin aren’t they telling them wemust be “white” in order to be worth something? Just someting to think about.

  • Sue said:

    What else do we have to do in order to be “beautiful”? Firt plastic surgery, including boob jobs then dieting or liposuction and now bleaching? Who cares about our health, just look beautiful like the one’s on TV. We black’s want to look white and the white’s go to the tanning studio or get sprayed to look darker. Doesn’t anyone have any pride anymore to be who she or he is? Do we really have to become “someone else” in order to be someone or to feel good? I don’t think so.

    Maybe the best solution is just to get a brain transplant, then the circle is complete.

  • Kate said:

    First we sold our enemies into slavery then we became slaves ourselfs. Then we got “liberaed” and fought for our rights. Now we are selling ourselfes out again. Is it really necessary to destroy our race from within? Don’t we have enough to fight about instead of selfdistructing by becoming “white”? Are we really still so weak that we have to surrender?

  • SM said:

    How do you get sell out out of skin bleaching? Lets be real now. You have a few wingnuts bleaching themselves in the name of “being prettier or more appealing to the masses” and they are trying to become whiter for their own black people not whites.Jamaica has so many pressing issues that I swear Satan is running loose. I wont get into the wickedness that is rampant…sufice it to say. Sadom and Gomorrah is tame in comparrison to this misery dungeon called Jamaica…

  • Tom said:

    You can’t change who you are by changing your skin colour. Sure it might make you feel better for a while, but if youare so insecure about yourself that you have to resort to such drastic measures, it will not last. Look at the prime example of Michael Jackson. He started with a little plastic surgery here and there and in particular his nose, then more and more and even more. Finally his nose was beyond repair. Altering his appereance not only didn’t last and made matters worse for himself, but also became an addiction. All these surgeries ad bleaching and whatever else he did, didn’t takecare of the underlying problem and it just came back every time.
    So in essence, if you are not happy with who you are most importantly is changing your mental attitude not your physical appereance. The physical might be a temporary quick fix, but the mental one takes care of the real issues.

  • SM said:


    I could not agree with you more. Analogize the skin bleaching issue with principle of teaching a man to fish vs giving him a fish, the similarities are striking. So to validate your comments, the issues are deep rooted and complicated. In a lot of cases, psychotherapy and counselling are warranted to assist in eradicating the root cause of this functional madness which is masquerading as a beauty issue!!!!!!!

  • lola said:

    I think the problem is with media that portrays light skin as beautiful. Personally i believe dark skin is the most beautiful and i want to marry a dark skin man!!!

  • SM said:

    It almost seem as if taking responsibility for one’s own action is absolete. How could anyone blame the media for the irrational behaviour of some self loathing, low self esteem and poor self concept blacks who bleach their skin? wow!

  • cheche said:

    Not too long ago my granddaughter asked me why the various rappers hated brown and dark-skinned blacks. She said that every video she see’s on TV has all light-skinned women. As a 57 year old women who remembers well how I was teased for being dark I cannot believe in the year 2011 that we are still dealing with the same petty bs. It appears this mindset starts in the home and is supported by books,tv,movies and..other Blacks. When are we as Black people going to get it together and accept,embrace the uniqueness we are blessed with as African Americans? This is a very touchy subject for me. We always talk about racism from white society but I felt more racism from my own people than white society.

  • S.T, said:

    This will continue to occur if we continue to sit by and watch the lighter skinned blacks being betrayed as the most beautiful on TV. This has been going on for years and there has been no real black protest against it. In fact, too many blacks support it.
    Yet, we want to constantly comment on how sad it is and talk about self hate, etc. Things stop, when you decide to stop them. They don’t stop by themselves. Look at how the light skinned blacks are portrayed in the media compared to the darker ones? Look expecially at the women. Blacks in the media gladly perpetuate this image. Our children are exposed to this before school age and are indocrinated by the time they start school. We’re told this is the type of thing that sells. Really?! Then why do are so many blacks contantly commenting on it? Frankly, there isn’t enough outrage about this, as blacks on TV (especially the women) get lighter and lighter. If we really want to start changing things, write into the stations, producers, magazines that perpeuate these images and then stop supporting them with your dollars. When we truly decide to do that, we’ll get their attention.
    No one’s going to respect us until we respect outselves and all the shades of our own people.

  • SM said:

    You have a very valuable point with regards to “the mindset starts in the home.” Its shocking what some of these ignorant parents actually say to or in front of there kids.Take for example the “N” word,its a part of a lot of African Americans vocabulary. I have 2 concerns with that. Firstly,this negative self portrayal is spreading among the young blacks even thogh it started to become common place after these underclass rappers normalize this upgly and degrading word.(a lot of these rappers dont know any better as most of them came from the streets and ghetto)Secondly, how do we say to mainstream “if you call us “N” then you are a racist? these kinds of behaviours are the worse kind of degradation i have come accross. worse is the fact that this kind of stuff has spread to the Caribbean and taking its toll on our kids self image…..i wonder what Marcus Garvey would say about this!

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