It was bound to happen.
We seem to be a carbon copy, if not an unreasonable facsimile, of that the land of the free and home of the brave. South African Kwaito artist Mshoza is only doing very publicly what a number of Africans have been doing to themselves for years under what they believed to be the veil of secrecy. Skin bleaching was once such a problem in South African the government banned the bleaching agent hydroquinone, which makes you ‘light and bright.’
In fact hydroquinone was linked as a possible carcinogen according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is also proposing a ban on any products containing the chemical.
Okay now that we’ve done the public service announcement, what on earth is Mshoza thinking?
This week she appeared on the popular South African talk show Motswako to declare her “passion to be white”. The horrified interviewer, Penny Lebyane, later said “Yes I was angry, Yes I took it personal! Yes I even wanted to shake her so I can get her to realize what she’s doing to herself!”
Now with all the jibes, twitter rants, expressions of horror and solidarity with blackness etc, let’s get real. Fact is the light skin amongst many societies, not least black ones, have always been considered most desirable or, if attainable, a mark of not only beauty but upward mobility.
Mshoza’s declaration goes one better than the king of pop ever did – she admits she wants to look more white. To her whiteness is something she intrinsically believes will make her happy. Is she really to blame? Or is it the society we live in? As one smart person put it: “our femininity and aesthetic, particularly as Black womyn is a highly politicised space…”
What I find strange are the people wanting to attribute Mshoza’s choices to anything but societal pressures. How are we educating our girls? What kind of self-esteem messages are we giving them? I know that we do not love our girls enough if this is the kind of nonsense that they eventually will end up doing. For a myriad number of reasons, we are taught to hate ourselves from day one, even by people who love us.
But is Mshoza alone in her desire to emulate a certain Eurocentric image of beauty? Perhaps many of us need to have that discussion, with our weaves, our fake nails, and fake eyelashes. Until white people get not only tans but African curly, bouncy, thick and tangly natural hair transplants and weaves, I’m never going to buy that ‘enhancement’ argument. I’ve only ever worn a weave once in my life. I bought a straight-haired wig to hide my bald head during winter. I kept forgetting I had it. It’s not about enhancement, it’s about denouncement, a worldwide phenomenon with black women. If much of what’s on our screens, in our music and out of our mouths is anything to go by, we are a deeply hurt people.
Can we not candidly discuss Mshoza’s decisions as they reflect our society’s ills? Whether her personal inspiration is Christina Aguilera, Michael Jackson or Rihanna, we know that women’s images are constantly being manipulated to suit a certain agenda. When do we get to take back the conversations, and set a new agenda?
Let’s talk about it.