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Nadra Kareem Nittle

Dark Skin Still Considered Troublesome

By September 14, 2009

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One of the most memorable scenes in President Obama's memoir Dreams From My Father takes place during his childhood in Indonesia. While visiting the U.S. Embassy there--his late mother's workplace at the time--Obama encounters a stack of Indonesian periodicals. One in particular catches his eye, for it contains photos of a man who had chemical treatments to lighten his skin.

"He had paid for it with his own money," Obama recalls the article stating. "He expressed some regret about trying to pass himself off as a white man, was sorry about how badly things turned out. But the results were irreversible. There were thousands of people like him, black men and women back in America who'd undergone the same treatment in response to advertisements that promised happiness as a white person."

As a boy, Obama couldn't find the words to voice his horror over skin lightening procedures, but I wonder what he would say today about them, considering that four decades after Obama first learned about such treatments they not only continue to be advertised throughout Asia but also carry the same promises of improving life for the dark-skinned.

CNN recently reported the controversy that's arisen from the soaring popularity of skin whitening creams in India, which have risen in use more than 100 percent in rural regions of the subcontinent, according to a marketing study. Indian Parliament member Brinda Karat objects to the ads for skin whitening treatments and wants them to be banned for suggesting that dark-skinned people will have better lives if they literally lighten up.

"Basically if you need a job you have to have white skin. If you want a good partner, a companion you need white skin, and you always seem to get it once you've used the fairness cream. Basically I think it's completely racist and highly objectionable," Karat told CNN.

Karat questions how the self-esteem of those exposed to the ads will be affected, especially since they play on existing social stigmas about dark skin. Readers, what do you think? Should these ads be banned? There would surely be an uproar if skin whitening ads were prominently displayed in American advertisements. Yet, some of the companies which hawk such products in India are well-known in the United States, including Garnier and Nivea. Americans concerned about issues such as colorism can take a stand against the messages being sent to Asian audiences about beauty and skin color by contacting such companies and expressing their concern. Colorism has no place in the 21st century.


September 14, 2009 at 2:14 pm
(1) Ashia says:

it’s now a lot more common with more then 10 of my friends using nur76 to lighten their skin.

September 14, 2009 at 6:44 pm
(2) KayBee says:

How can you ban these ads? Will you ban ads for tanning beds also, for those who want darker skin? There are many people who don’t like something physical about themselves. A large ethnic nose. Should this person have no right to change the shape of their nose because it might offend other people who share this ethnic characteristic? I don’t like my freckles and moles. I may get them removed with a laser. Do you think that my sisters who share these genetic freckles will rally and cry out: No you must not remove those spots. Then you will be different from us! My boyfriend with his new smaller nose, and lighter colored skin does not look like his brothers? Does he get a better job? A whiter life? I think not. If we want to look different, we can. Remember though, our children will still carry these big nosed, freckled genes. We can’t run away from that.

September 14, 2009 at 7:08 pm
(3) Steph says:

It seems so many of us are never truly content with who we are. These skin creams are advertised to improve life. Sick. What is also sick is you look in any women’s magazine to see that tanning in any form is encouraged in order to look “slimmer” and more “healthy”. I as a caucasian, personally have always admired dark skin. So beautiful and seeming so much more natural than my own fuzzy pink hide!

September 15, 2009 at 9:05 am
(4) A.D. Powell says:

I believe Obama’s story of the “black” man trying to chemically whiten his skin to either an invention or a false memory. His contention that “thousands” do this is even more ridiculous. Where is the evidence? “Skin Lightening” creams do not turn dark skin white. I should also point out that the Indonesians with whom the child Obama interacted everyday are just as dark-skinned as many so-called American “Negroes.”

I also believe that this concern about the tiny number of people who actually change a Negroid phenotype to something else (like the late Michael Jackson) is often used to attack people who are white by virtue of ancestry, genes and DNA (like the late Anatole Broyard) and have every right to reject a false “black” identity.

September 15, 2009 at 9:05 am
(5) Anita says:

I sm a 58 year old Black female, and clearly remember ads in magazines such as Jet and Ebony for skin lightning products. Albeit, these products are no longer touted as whiteners, they are now being sold under the guise of skin tone creams. The Ambi prodiuct is an example.

It is very unfortunate that dark skin continues to be bathed in a stigma of uncomfortableness for those in society who feel that way. It is even more unfortunate that dark hued individuals feel inadequate and unequal because of the skin tone God gave to them.

I am a dark-skinned Black woman, and proud to say so.

Banning the ads will not alter the mindset nor will it put an end to the sale of these products.

September 15, 2009 at 9:44 am
(6) Kwame Osei (Osay) says:

I’m a writer who frequents Africa and have witnessed the terrible effects of centuries of racism and the prolonged propoganda stigmatizing dark skin. Even our fairytales and songs taught in kindergarten that refer to Little Black Sambo, Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby were taught to create shame for the person with dark skin. Everything that was good, pure or holy was white the world is taught. Personally I would never date a woman who attempts to lighten her skin because it proves she doesn’t have a clue about her “greatness” or her true identity of royalty. One thing for sure Jesus and his disciples “weren’t” white; they were Africans (dark skinned people).

September 15, 2009 at 8:24 pm
(7) Hans B says:

I think in the whole world there are people who want to enhance, brighten up or “improve” their appearances. As the white world is more succesful in economic and financial life their will be a tendency to imitate that world. This has taken very profound and ludricous directions. It has wiped out good and relatively succesful cultures (as in Africa). That’s the way is goes. We can’t do anything about it. That is human cultural evolution. It has no value. It just happens.

September 16, 2009 at 11:28 am
(8) Alhaj Dhul-Waqar Yaqub says:

I was born and raised in America where skin color is everything. The lighter one’s skin is the better one’s life is. The expression, “If you’re black get back, if you’re brown stick around, if you’re yellow you’re mellow and if you’re white you’re alright” sums it all up. One can’t imagine the untold damage to the self-esteem of the indigenous people of color in America. Next to skin color is hair. The social pressure of having hair that is “nappy by nature” and “dark skin” leads to deep scaring of the mind, the soul and the heart or what may be termed an “inferior complex”. I think education is the key that will roll back this type of damage and that society should do everything possible to eradicate systems and products,which support the notion that white is alright. The fact of the matter is, “white isn’t right” and the world ruled by “whitey” is unjust. It will take time but it has to be done in order for the world to be a better place.

September 16, 2009 at 4:40 pm
(9) Raquel says:

White denial never ceases to amaze me in reading these comments. One poster wants to know if banning tanning beds will be next. Another challenges Obama’s observation and experiences. I’m sure both of them consider the Confederate flag to be one of pride and not racism and let me guess the Holocaust never happened either right? But of course only the ‘White’ experience is relevant we are led to believe. Considering the Cheeto’s orange look is comical and unrealistic maybe it should be but then it points to the irony of how the people that are deemed superior for their color are trying to DARKEN their skin. Along with getting the lips, buttocks and breasts not customary to their race but that of those they call inferior but want to emulate. The Whitening of dark skin for the purpose of being part of the “in” IS promoting racism AND its a shame too, since Indian women are some of the most beautiful women on the planet and a lot of it has to due to with the beautiful and various hues of brown NOT white.

February 13, 2010 at 2:12 pm
(10) Charles says:

Until we dispell the lie that Jesus was white, blond
and blue eyed them white supremacy will continue
to make life very difficult for darker skin people
in mutiracial cultures. The truth revealed and spoken loud will set us all free!

March 19, 2010 at 2:00 am
(11) santhosh says:

beauty has become very popular india due to introduction of many beauty products no matter how much lighter the skin for women still she wants to get lighter even in rural areas they prefer beauty then development in 10 years india may become beauty capltal

October 20, 2010 at 3:43 pm
(12) Amie Adora says:

Being black in India is being the lowest scum of the earth. A lot of them sleep under bridges and roadsides. they are cleaners, and do the dirty work. they are persona non grata in the society.

also, like 50% of the ads on tv in india are on skin lightening. they are plenty: garnier, lakme, ponds, even vaseline has whitening! even for men, not just women.

and there are different bleaching creams like ozone etc. the adverts are endless and aggressive. same as adverts telling you sweating is wrong and you dont get enough water in your system so drink getorade

the aim is to make you feel you SHOULD be white. I am yet to see a tanning advert!

whilst i’m not saying they should be banned, they should be reduced to like 5% or less. let those companies look at ways of improving the lifestyles of those sleeping under the bridges- thats a better advert for them!

February 24, 2011 at 9:16 am
(13) BlackJesuscom says:

By embracing the true image of Jesus Christ, all humanity will be set free from the lie of white supremacy.

March 1, 2011 at 9:04 pm
(14) W e says:

The sad thing is the dark skinnind Indian women are usually much more attractive that the dark skined ones!

March 23, 2011 at 9:27 am
(15) Rod says:

I’m darkskinned and I sometimes receive polite comments from White Women, concerning my Black features. Been told “you have nice darkskin.” or “I love your hair.” (long dreds)Basically to sum it up some tend to want or admire what the other naturally has.. Or could it possibly be infuriation?… Maybe??. (hmm)

April 6, 2011 at 11:58 am
(16) Ajanta says:

I think that they should be banned.
I mean, I don’t think it’s racist but it is causing discrimination.
Indian matrimony sites actually ask you about your skin tone color.
Now many Indian people prefer light skinned brides/grooms.
I don’t think that bleaching your skin personally is wrong, achieving whatever is beautiful in your eyes. Same with tanning.
Side effects are wrong, but that’s up to the user’s discretion. As long as the products state what’s in the product and if they have serious side effects then state those too.
I think what’s truly wrong is what’s in the commercials.
When some guy says he is unlucky because of his face but his friend it’s because of his color, not face. Then he gets the girl he wants. And another where a woman is scorned by her father but after lightening, she gets a job and is happy.
That’s wrong to suggest that you need to lighten your skin to get a job or get the girl/guy you want.

They should ban those commercials and never air those type of commercials again. Yeah if they decide a different approach without the discrimination, then let them air them.

June 4, 2012 at 4:13 am
(17) Caya says:

Im a dark skin indian. I got made fun of for having big lips, dark skin, my hair being too white. But now I see tanning to get dark and getting their lips injected for fuller lips.

April 14, 2013 at 11:34 am
(18) Penny says:

I’m Choctaw Indian, dark-skinned, but I know that there are darker Choctaws than I am, on the reservation in Mississippi. I get treated like Black every day of my life everywhere I go. Even though I have degrees from Cornell, Yale and Johns Hopkins, I can’t set foot in a classroom to teach without someone saying something implying that I “look too stupid” to do Math let alone teach it – that’s how I take the “can you do Math?” so-called “innocent” question I get from kids constantly. Or the “YOU went to Yale?” to which I usually reply harshly and then get something along the lines of “but you don’t see too many Blacks at places like that.” Well I’m not Black. I’m Choctaw Indian but that’s what I get everywhere I go!! I’m so tired of a lifetime (I have 41 misspent years under my belt) of getting treated like absolute crap in what few jobs I can get where people can see me, that I can almost taste it. I have been unable to marry except for the occasional foreigner who is desperate for his Green Card. I take 6 months of someone “tolerating my presence” as the best I can GET with my skin color.

April 14, 2013 at 11:34 am
(19) Penny says:

I was raised in the suburbs of California, not on the rez; I went to college-prep schools in predominantly white and Asian areas, then to the aforementioned Cornell and Yale. I could get my PhD from Johns Hopkins in Biotech and people would still treat me upon first sight as someone who must have no brains just because of the shade of my skin!! It’s absolutely sickening and I feel like I am a waste of a life. I just hole up on the Rez, where everyone around me and darker-skinned than me, is also Not Black. By the way, everyone in my family is lighter than I am, so I am just some freak of nature, some genetic mistake. My father was Eskimo (Inuit) and as soon as he died when I was a teenager, it was as if the world suddenly refused to believe I even WAS his daughter, that’s how bad the skin-color-discrimination is in this society. And don’t think Canada is any different; if anything it’s worse up there; they REALLY think that all dark skin is “Negro” or black-descended-from-Africa. The only difference is that at least in some provinces, the government supports you if no one will hire you just because of the shade of your skin color.

August 25, 2013 at 12:32 pm
(20) Reality says:

Just be yourself.

February 1, 2014 at 9:45 pm
(21) Makeba says:

Caya and Penny, you two remind me of lighter skinned blacks who think they are more important than their darker counterpart, and simultaneously you have the same brand of self-hatred of darker skinned Black-Americans. You loathe the fact that you are dark, and would be excellent candidates for trying to lighten up to pass, rather than realizing that in these United States of America and all over the world, if you are dark you are considered less than no matter what race or ethnicity you belong to. I am a dark Black-American with Choctaw ancestry that I don’t claim, because who would believer me anyway including you two who may be as darker or darker than me, lol!!! I understand and have personally witnessed the plight of ALL people of color all over the world who are dark, and because of this I would rather change the situation for ALL of us. From your comments, you seem to be saying that there is something wrong with being Dark, Black, Deep Brown, etc. That you shouldn’t be subjected to being treated like a lowly Black, because you are Indian. There are many shades of BLACK, and guess what, you’re one them, and you can’t hide black, so perhaps you two should consider joining the ALL party. That’s where I’m at. I’m Black and I’m Proud. peace…

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