The War On Melanin

There’s a caption I saw on the internet that states, “If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think of how many industries would go out of business.”  For women of color, that statement should be magnified a thousand fold.  Throughout my lifetime I’ve seen Black women chase the dream of being cover girls, the ghosts of being centerfolds, when in essence, they’ve always had the beauty to stand side by side and toe to toe with any of the women on the planet.  While most women embrace the skin they’re in, others feel that their melanin is a curse.  It hinders them from securing gainful employment; prohibts them from being cast in roles if their pursuits are the arts and fashion; binds them to a time period where the darker skinned women were regulated to physical labors during the time of slavery, while the fairer skinned had the comforts of being in the home as maids and servants, or paraded around as trophies.  So as your comsumption of entertainment grows, you hardly notice the lack of dark skinned women in music videos, being cast in television shows or receiving movie roles.  There are some exceptions, however you’re oblivious to that fact because you’ve be programmed to believe that beauty is determined by complexion first; everything else is secondary.  Don’t attempt to resist, it’s inbedded in your subconscious.

What is Melanin?

As a child you may have heard phrases like “Black don’t crack” or “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”  All of these quotes can be derived from the fact that people of color produce a large amount of melanin.  Melanin is the primary determinant of skin color, hair and iris of the eye.  Cells called melanocytes, located just below the outer surface of the skin, produce melanin, which is in higher levels in people with darker skin. Melanin’s primary function is to protect the skin from sun damage, but it carries additional benefits that are enjoyed mostly by those with darker skin; Africans, natives of India, and native Australians.  The production of melanin allows the individual to maintain their youthful appearance as they “age gracefully”, reduces the risk of skin cancer and the development of wrinkles.  For the purposes of this read, I won’t touch on its spiritual aspects.


Skin Bleaching

So when the topic of skin bleaching is broached, the first person usually mentioned is Michael Jackson.  He is thought of as its pioneer; coming to the attention of the masses as his pigmentation lightened from the albums “Off The Wall” and “Thriller” to his appearance on the album cover “Bad” and thereafter.  However, in a February 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey and later confirmed by the autopsy report after his death in 2009, the “gloved one” suffered from vitiligo, a condition that causes depigmentation of parts of the skin. It occurs when melanocytes die or are unable to function.  So what are the excuses for celebrities like Nikki Minaj, Lil Kim or former all-star baseball Sammy Sosa, as there’s no evidence that they suffer from skin aliments?


The Perception

In an interview recently, rapper Kendrick Lamar told radio personality Miss Info that he fired the original female model chosen for his “Poetic Justice” video and chose another “darker-toned” girl from the pool of extras to play lead. The TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) representative told Miss Info: “We had another girl for the lead but I had an idea where I just wanted a little bit of a darker tone [girl] in the video. It’s almost like a color blind industry where there’s only one type of appeal to the camera. ….. I always kept in the back of my mind like ‘you don’t ever see this tone of a woman in videos.  No disrespect, I love all women, period. But at the same time, I still feel like it needs that balance.”  In addition, according to the Compton spitter there’s a preference for lighter-skinned models in the entertainment industry and Lamar wants to change that.  Now scroll down your mental memory deck and think about all of the music videos you’ve watched that featured light-skinned African American females, women of Hispanic decent or Caucasians as the lead or featured on the cover of magazines as opposed to those that have a darker hue.  Karyn Washington, the once inspiring now deceased founder of the site For Brown Girls and #DarkSkinRedLip project, looked to empower women of an assortment of shades by offering them a forum to express their displeasure, boost self-esteem and triumph over any short-comings.  Her initiative, #DarkSkinRedLip project, came into existence after rapper A$AP Rocky said that women of darker complexions should not wear red lipstick.

We live in an era where the mass media determines what beauty is, and the customers are forced to follow suit.  From the covers of People, Style and Vogue magazine, commercials ads that unbeknownst to the viewer depict cleanliness with the removal of “dirt and grime” to have perfect skin with a bar of soap or bath gel, to television shows like “Project Runway”, vanity is always clear and present, and for people of color, especially those of whom provide amusement to the public, it’s an never ending race to remain relevant and use the resources available to remain in the public eye.  For those of you that watched Spike Lee’s movie Jungle Fever, do you remember the round table discussion that the women had after it was discovered that Wesley Snipes’ character “Flipper” cheated on his wife his White (Italian) mistress.  The sentiments in that discussion are the anger and pain felt by many women in the Black community. A constant battle between shades of brown and sometimes those of an entirely different skin tone.   So not only do Black women have to contend with the battle of keeping their natural hair, perming or putting weave it, they also have to remain diligent within themselves to remain self-confident with their own exquisiteness.  All the while, corporations bank on the fact that you’ll go to their stores, purchase their products, alter your appearance in an attempt to become something more than you already are.  I often ask women why do they feel the need to purchase eye lashes, weave, skin lightening cream, get clip on toe/finger nails, etc?  The response I receive is “For me!  I wanna look nice.”  I then counter by saying, “If you were truly happy with yourself, there shouldn’t be a need to enhance what your deity has already given you.  People should accept you the way you are.  You don’t put rims or paint an exotic car.  The value alone should tell you its worth.”  I’m usually met with silence after that.  “We Are The Change!”  I’m gone! (b)

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5 thoughts on “The War On Melanin”

  1. I absolutely love this one. As a black (darker skinned) female learning to accept the natural me from my hair, to my large eyes, and natural nails I was met with resistance. Not from strangers, but from friends close friends. Why go natural, they asked. Girl you better do something with your hair. Once i embraced my beauty, I hear”that look fits you, I can’t wear my hair natural it doesn’t fit me.” My response is how is that possible when we are born this way. Loving my true self meant loving my dark skin, big eyes, natural nails, and my beautiful kinky (nappy) hair. We are the change. …now watch how the industry try to capitalize on the new standard of beauty.

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