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.

 

19 Comments

 

  1. October 18, 2013  12:21 am by Does Skin Whitening Forever Works?

    I quite like looking through a post that will make men and women think.

    Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

  2. July 13, 2013  7:33 am by Magnific

    This woman has low self esteem. FULL STOP!

  3. December 30, 2012  2:52 pm by Zipho

    Mshoza
    I also want to bleach my self , i already done my face fill up, brest lift.
    the thing is they dont do it in south Africa the bleaching. still hopping I will be able to do shipping of the products. Mshoza you are looking good girl.

  4. December 14, 2012  10:17 pm by sade mcneal

    SHE LOOKS HORRIBLE

  5. June 28, 2012  11:37 am by Nikkie

    The weaves are just as destructive as the bleaching because the baldness (alopecia) caused by it and also constant straightening can be permanent. Both stem from the belief that being black is ugly. A lasting legacy of slavery and the continued portrayal of fair skinned 'black' women with long straight hair by the media which is only getting worse.

    You hardly ever see a real black woman proud of her heritage on TV just imitation white women and it's sickening. The people who fought for our freedom would be turning in their graves if they could see what they had fought for us to become....

  6. June 17, 2012  9:45 am by pabzito

    It Is what it is i like like her before and present she is pretty, gooo gooo my sister its your life and do what ever u want to do mwa mwa,

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  11. December 21, 2011  9:26 am by Rural Dexa

    The issue of skin lightning/bleaching vs wearing a weave/braids is a bit like comparing stew to a salad,both are mixes but of a totally different notion and basis.Yes they might hinge on insecurities somewhat relative to societal influenced definitions of beauty but the skin bleaching phenomena has mucch more extreme psychological nuances.I get getting rid of blotches or acne scars etc but suppressing your melanin at cellular level-now that's like superficial genetic modification-i wonder what her kids think but with media bombarding us with paler Beyonces and our kids in SA only exposed to whitecentric dolls and figurines,they probarbly think-Mom's cute-now we next!

  12. December 14, 2011  5:58 am by luso

    The latest on Mshoza http://www.iol.co.za/tonight/gossip/bleached-kwaito-star-s-suicide-bid-1.1198560

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  15. December 10, 2011  2:45 pm by eccentricyoruba

    At present the notion is heavy that the lighter you are, the prettier you are, as far as women are concerned, and that to my mind is a destructive, naive and totally wrong notion.

    I agree with this completely. I took issue with the earlier sentence due to the kind of high attention I pay to history and culture. A long time ago when I posted a similar sentence on my blog it came across like dark-skin has never been viewed as beautiful or as something to be attained ever.

    I feel a lot of us Africans think we are exempt from issues like colourism because we are not African Americans. However we are taking in the same messages from the media and most of the time the media is not kind to dark-skinned African women. There is a lot of work that needs to be done and to change this we have to change the way we think all together. Destroy the shackles of colonial mentality.

    In a way, I don't care that Mshoza is doing what she is doing. What bothers me is that she is in the public eye and young African girls are taking in all sorts of messed up messages about their skin and features.

    Also, wrt India I've only just heard of this recently and am yet to confirm but prior to European colonisation, they were colonised by the light-skinned Aryans. I have to read more on this topic but apparently this age old colourism did not exist before then.

  16. December 10, 2011  1:50 pm by Pamela

    Hi just wanted to say thanks for actually sharing this video. The way she thinks is so real to some people. But the fact that she has actually researched it and knows the perceived "benefit" of her wanting to change I find interesting. I feel sad that someone can feel like this. Considering some African cultures still have miss given about albino.
    But her reasons are her reasons and maybe giving her this platform means that we all have to deal with this way of thinking. Is it any different to what we do to our hair? Is it not the similar in thought to it? The is a misconception about what an "African woman" should look like.
    Again thank you for allowing us to debate this issue, there are similar limitations people place on the idea of being "African".

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  18. December 9, 2011  5:05 am by luso

    Do not be sorry for the long comment, not at all! I am glad you responded. And I might have my own long response for you. Clearly, a simple post on this outlet will not cover the breadth of the issue, and I appreciate you citing another source of information for us. My generalization 'always' is certainly akin to the all-encompassing 'since the dawn of time' - and I was certainly not there! So - what does a short history lesson tell us? That it is not possible that all pre-colonial societies considered light skin as desirable as many post-colonial ones. We do need to delve more into the past to get an understanding of what ideas of beauty were in those times. Having lived in Botswana and the US most of my life, and now being in South Africa, I see the issues played out in similar ways. I call the US problems with colourism the house and field mentality. There is a fascinating book that I highly recommend everyone to read called The Color Complex http://www.amazon.com/Color-Complex-Politics-African-Americans/dp/0385471610

    Similar issues can also be seen in India, but that is a country where centuries of empire-building, before European colonization, rendered the caste system a malignant form of stratification. Thankfully, people fight for their rights. The Dalit caste of India, who are usually the darkest, and poorest people, are at the forefront of tearing down these outdated systems of society. The caste/colour system has been so strong that a marriage between a (lighter) North Indian and a (darker) South Indian is something unusual, but happening more often now. This is why I was saying many societies have practiced forms of colour prejudice, and it hasn't only been because of colonization. European colonization only entrenched already widely practiced notions.

    In Africa it isn't even as obvious as that. We do need t to go back in time and, like I said before, investigate the notions of beauty among many differing societies. At present the notion is heavy that the lighter you are, the prettier you are, as far as women are concerned, and that to my mind is a destructive, naive and totally wrong notion.

  19. December 8, 2011  4:55 pm by eccentricyoruba

    While I agree with much of this post, especially with regards to the self-esteem of African and dark-skinned girls, I take issue with this sentence;

    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.

    I strongly disagree with this sentence. I don't believe that light skin has always been considered most desirable in many societies, even African ones. I am not denying that some societies have placed people with lighter skin on top, however in Africa these societies did not form the majority.

    From what I've read, a lot of societies that favoured light skin have a history of colonisation and rule by lighter skinned populations. To be honest, one of the few books I've read that spoke on this supposedly natural preference for light-skin in all societies, even African societies only mentioned one or two Africa tribes (The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Christianity, Judaism and Islam) . I don't get how this forms the majority.

    If we're talking about societal pressures to be light-skinned, then we should also be talking about historical realities, the effects of Western colonisation on our thinking and philosophy as well.

    ~

    Now, so as not to derail, it is a good thing that so many discussions on Mshoza's bleaching have been popping up on African forums. Speaking as a Nigerian, I think a lot of us have self-hating ideas in our heads that we accept as 'natural preference'. As a child in secondary school, I was made fun of for having 'typical Negroid features' in a Nigerian classroom. Looking back, it is amazing how even dark-skinned African children knew it was okay to deride features that are supposedly typically African (a big nose, full lips etc).

    I've only ever worn a weave once, to conform with expectations for secondary school prom, as an adult I decided to keep my hair natural and I was told that 'no Nigerian woman keeps her hair like that'. 'Like that' meaning in twists or a short afro, it is really bewildering the way we seem to hate natural aesthetics. I do not believe this is natural but a product of mental colonisation. We need to free our minds from nonsense and learn to accept ourselves.

    *sorry for the long comment!*

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