New Slaves: The Battle against Colorism and Self-Hatred
I’m sure you have probably heard the to-do surrounding two rising starlets, Lupita Nyong’o and Dencia. Both African women, it seems at first glance that their beef is escalating rapidly. After more thorough investigation, it just seems that maybe someone has been drinking that good ole Haterade. And man, it has to be sour.
A bit of background: Dencia recently lashed out at Lupita when the news broke that the 12 Years a Slave actress had accepted an endorsement deal with Lancôme Paris. Dencia tweeted, “Lol people hate what they don’t have & will jump on it if they had the opportunity. I said before she couldn’t call them big brands owned by whites cuz she wanted a deal. I like how she played herself tho!! still gonna answer yes ma’am & I’m still a CEO & entrepreneur & Lancôme will never pay her what I make in a month, b4 u come say I am hating I ain’t lol I am milking it.” Is that her way of saying, “Congratulations, Lupita?” This sure doesn’t sound congratulatory to me.
The initial tweet that started this most recent madness came after a fan tweeted that Lupita is winning and Dencia is trash. Dencia responded, tweeting, “But they sell bleaching cream tho.”
Dencia is the face of a product called Whitenicious, whose website proclaims, “Say “Goodbye!” to blotchy skin, pigmentation and unwanted marks forever! Whitenicious affirms and understands the value of feeling good on the inside, as well as looking good on the outside, by combining beauty and skin care in each of our skin care products.” In an interview with Ebony Magazine, she explains that she chose the product’s name because, “The color white affects the mind and the body by aiding in mental clarity, promoting feelings of fresh beginnings and renewal assisting in cleansing, clearing obstacles and clutter and encouraging purification.” Now call me ignorant, but did she just associate whiteness with cleanliness, purity and mental clarity? Who sees the problem here?
According to Dictionary.com, the suffix –ous means “full of,” or “possessing.” Given this definition, the product’s name alone is problematic. It implies that consumers using it will be able to possess whiteness. The name also reminds me of the word delicious, and as such implies that lightening the skin is, in fact, delicious. Granted, Dencia has not explicitly stated that dark skin is not beautiful, nor has she said that skin bleaching is what her product is intended for, but let’s read between the lines. She has to take responsibility for the message that she is sending, whether explicit or implied. She, an African pop princess who admits to intentionally having her skin lightened and who wears a blonde weave, certainly is delivering a message about beauty. In bleaching her skin and wearing blonde hair, she is rejecting the traditional standard of African beauty. Of course black skin comes in all shades and hair in all textures, but isn’t it just a little bit interesting that she has chosen to make herself look a bit more like a white woman? The message this sends to little girls, her fans (if there are any), and blacks looking for the path to success is that black is wack. Instead of scapegoating the media for crucifying her, she needs to take responsibility for and renounce the internalized oppression she is attempting to guise as personal freedom.
As for the whole Lupita mess, the proof is in the pudding. Who has that award on her mantle, again? Certainly not you, Dencia. Who’s got that Lancôme endorsement deal? Who starred in one of the biggest films of 2013? Three strikes and you’re out, my lady. Sure Lancôme sells a skin lightening cream, but Lupita has not endorsed this product. Lupita encourages people of color to embrace themselves in their natural beauty, and you, well do not. I suggest you do as you’ve been doing in your interviews and have several seats. And the award goes to… black love.