Yinka Oluyemi and her husband Michael have been fined £70,000 for selling illegal and harmful skin products containing excessive levels of hydroquinone to their African customers.
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African people who self harm using skin whitening and chemical hair straightening products are said to be acting on a legacy of British slavery and the racism borne of colonisation and empire. Others argue it is simply a fashion statement. Which is true?Click here to speak out and share your perspective on this article.
The issue of skin whitening is a serious and complex issue which coincide with the notion of African aesthetics and the systematic attack on African identity.
In 2007, when the government are initiating an orgy of cultural self glorification, they and the British public continue to assert that ‘slavery ended a long time ago’. However, African people reject this assertion and highlight that the Maafa and the legacy of racist ideology continues to affect the entire world. One of the enduring legacies of the Maafa is the perpetuation of a colour caste system institutionalised during African enslavement. The British used divide and rule strategy to create factions in unified groups by deliberately giving preferential treatment to one group based on superficial differences. ‘Lighter’ skinned African people, or indeed the dual heritage children born as a result of the extensive and systematic rape by slavers of African women were often afforded marginally better treatment at the hands of their enslavers.
The institutionalisation of an enduring colour caste system across Africa and Asia by the British empire is one of the most horrific expressions of this successful British strategy. The residual outcome of this is present in the western media where African women such as the music entertainer Beyonce are presented as a light skinned, blond woman to promote a cultural aesthetic which is anti-African whilst the successful African entertainer, Michael Jackson, uses chemical agents and invasive surgical operations to entirely suppress all vestiges of his African identity.
The majority of British dramas, films and adverts almost always favour casting African actors who are either light brown or dual heritage in leading roles as the ‘acceptable’ major love interest. In its dramas and soap operas, the BBC is often accused of only casting Africans with dark brown skin in roles where they aspire to ‘whiteness’ by almost exclusively choosing european partners for relationships. Performer, Grace Jones was also encouraged and rewarded for portraying herself in the media as wild, aggressive exotica to project a damaging image for African women whose skin is dark brown and wear their hair in a natural fashion.
In 1999, politician Jeffery Archer received wide-scale condemnation after he announced: "Your head did not turn in the road if a black woman passed because they were badly dressed, probably overweight and probably had a lousy job. If you walk down London streets now there are most staggeringly beautiful girls of every nationality. That is part of getting rid of prejudice and making things equal,". His comments were defended by actress, Patti Boulaye.
The attack on the African aesthetic is unrelenting and we must therefore ensure that our defence is holistic and wide-ranging. Ligali reaffirms calls for information about shops that sell skin lightening products. Any requests to remain anonymous will be respected. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whilst we are financing these predominantly Asian owned outlets, they are reaping the economic benefits of exploiting the cultural and identity insecurities within our community. The fact that some Asian shops have now begun to employ African staff is simply to mislead the African community whilst maintaining their profits from harmful hair and skin products. We also advocate a complete boycott of Black Beauty and Hair magazine and any other publications that feature extensive advertising for skin lightening products.
We must also refrain from ostracising and condemning women and men who use skin whitening products. This is not conducive to community self recovery and will simply further entrench notions of self hatred in these individuals and allow for the perpetuation of this dangerous self hatred for another generation. It is also easier to judge these people who simply have a physical manifestation of their self hatred as opposed to an invisible emotional and psychological insecurity. Instead, we would encourage a system of education, that is preventative and also in response to those who currently use the products to raise awareness of the harmful effects of skin lighteners and chemical hair straighteners and also instil a sense of self pride in their natural appearance. Young women in particular are very vulnerable to the MTV Base notions of beauty which have become more overtly european over the decades. Concurrently, young women are increasingly suffering from receding hairlines, weakened hair and even alopecia as a result of the over use of chemical hair straighteners.
Finally, we should continue to support the great work of organisations like Adornment who, on the 8th and 9th of April 2007 at Battersea Evolution, will be hosting their increasingly popular Adornment Expo which promotes a natural and Africentric lifestyle. Not only does this event encourage ways of celebrating and enhancing our natural beauty and lifestyles but it also provides African businesses with an exclusive opportunity to reach an African audience.