BLACK: OUR COVER
Back in my childhood days, I never really bothered about my skin. I mean who cares? On some days, then, I even went without applying lotion to my skin and ignoring the whitish, dry smears on my arms and elbows, blaming them to harmattan. Everytime. However, when I became a teenager, I became conscious of the colour of my skin. I had started noticing the underlying distastes for dark skin. Right from the day, my next-door neighbours christened their baby boy who was “fortunately” light skinned. People had gathered over the baby with glazed eyed wonder and admiration, commenting firstly about the child’s skin as if that was what defined him, “omo pupa”, “oyibo re o” they said whilst simultaneously, unsolicitedly giving tips to the mother on how to prevent the baby from getting dark, like it was some kind of defective illness. ”E ma lo ori fun ooo, a duudu wa ni” one pointedly said in my local dialect, which meant “do not use Shea butter for the child or he will get dark”. On a sofa, there in my neighbour’s tiny parlor, I squirmed uncomfortably. I wondered if they knew the import of what they were saying, if they knew that indirectly they were condemning the black skin , my skin colour, by suggesting all means to prevent it. If they knew that they, like a thousand others, were embracing the “lighter is better” phenomenon.
A few days later, another sad eye-opening incident occurred. A friend of mine upon seeing me after a long while had said with a little scowl “you’re getting darker, kilode?” with the same tone one would say ‘you’re getting uglier’. “…I expected you to be freeessh na, you should be lighter” she continued and mentally I was faced, again, with the ‘lighter is better’ mentality or should I say in this case, ‘lighter is fresher’. That same day, in the comfort of my room, I stared at my reflection hard in the mirror and thought of the coconut oil that doubled up as my body and hair cream wondering earnestly, if I should exchange it for a cream that’ll get me lighter, one of those creams that’ll have ‘white’ behind their names. ‘Just to get less darker’, I defended as the first twinge of guilt began to surface. I thought of a friend, who was dark- skinnned three months ago but whom people now called “oyibo”, turning a blind eye to her dark knuckles, knee caps and feet and the long sleeves she continually wears each day, I sighed and connversely, I thought of my favourite Nollywood actresses Genevieve Nnaji, Stephanie Okereke and Omoni Oboli mentally appreciating their melanin beauty and success. As if on cue, someone across the room, decided at that moment to play Wizkid and Beyonce “Brown Skin Girl” like he/she could feel my quandary, and I made up my mind that instant to take pride in my skin. I discarded every thought of getting rid of the ‘black’ of my skin through the window and locked it out.
You like me, might have faced this dilemma. Even the light-skinned persons have the same struggle, just on a different level. They strive to get lighter and buy all sorts of whitening creams to “maintain” their colour, to prevent their skin from getting darker. I once asked a light-skinned roommate of mine why light-skinned people seem to buy creams that’ll only make them even lighter, and my heart broke a little with her answer. She said, “after all, it’s dark-skinned people that’ll be complaining that I’m getting darker and asking me to do something about it”. I did not reply her, I couldn’t, she had a point, instead I thought of that day at my neighbour’s house and I asked myself, where do all these originate from?
Colourism is as long as history itself. We can start from the days our ancestors were slaves in foreign countries. The “mullatoes” as they referred the lighter skinned Africans, who were off-springs of a white and black person union, were allocated more land and resources and allowed to work in their masters abode. The lighter your skin was, the more favourable you were. So also, in modern days, the lighter you are, the more chance you have at fame in the entertainment industry. Many photographers also hold the opinion that light-skinned people are more photogenic and most will prefer their models light-skinned and would even go further to list this as one of their requirements. Being light is perceived to be a significant icon of beauty. Thus, many have turned to bleaching. Isn’t it the greatest irony in history, that Nigeria, the giant of Africa, the most populous black people country, tops the list of the countries that demand for bleaching creams? This silent epidemic has eaten deep into the roots of society and unless perceptions are altered, unless mentalities are reversed, unless the dark-skinned is appreciated and embraced, unless you can look into the mirror and call you beautiful/handsome, Nigeria will continue to top that list I mentioned and medical illnesses that comes with bleaching the skin will continue to increase. Embrace your skin. Your skin is your cover. Black is our heritage and it is beautiful.