Black Women, ‘Beauty’ & Whiteness

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If you’re white, you’re all right.
If you’re yellow, that’s mellow.
If you’re brown, stick around.
If you’re black, get back!

— Ancient ghetto proverb

The above image looks like two completely different women, right? Wrong. Pictured above is the “before” and “after” effects of the constant application of “skin lightening” oils, creams and “treatment” by former model Irene Major. Major is originally from Cameroon, where some of this earth’s darkest people reside.

As quoted by, Major explained her obsession with light skin: “When my skin is lighter, I just feel prettier. It’s a taboo subject, and people get judgmental about it, but that’s how I feel.”

Major’s “white is right” attitude and approach to her body is one of the more obvious consequences of internalizing a white supremacist ethos, ethic, and culture.

In 1993, Cheryl I. Harris penned a ground-breaking Harvard Law Review article entitled Whiteness as Property.” Harris argued that white supremacy positions and demands that whiteness is a highly valuable and fungible commodity, a tangible and real “property.” But whiteness is only available to “certain” people — people who are reputed to be or who have “earned” their way into whiteness.

Recall that during South Africa’s long and terror-filled apartheid years, the ruling white minority provided a way for minuscule numbers of black Africans and other “nonwhites” to escape their blackness by granting them “Honorary White” status. As such, these few could access the many “benefits” of whiteness without having to actually — physically — turn white.

In white supremacy culture, Blackness, therefore, is the polar opposite of whiteness. Blackness is thus emptied of all value — social, political, cultural, and economic. Having been steeped in and socialized by this ubiquitous and toxic environment for more than 20 generations, severe psychological and physical disorders are manifest in and among a great number of black people. Ms. Major’s stunning and dysfunctional transformation is the most dramatic such change I’ve run across since the late pop star Michael Jackson, according to rumor, underwent the selfsame process — the actual physical denial of his blackness.

This dysfunction is not lost on “beauty” supply companies. There is a billion dollar market for such products found on every continent of this planet. But some black people are beginning to recognize these whiteness products for the exploitative project that they represent. Dr.’s Organic Royal Jelly Skin Body Whitening Cream, produced by High Street health store Holland & Barrett, recently came under withering protest and outrage for taking advantage of black people who hate their skin.

As for Major, who is married to an oil tycoon (white, of course), she allows that the world just doesn’t appreciate the pressure that black, brown, red, and yellow women are under to be more light skinned — and thus more “beautiful.”

“A skin-lightening regime has been part of my life practically since birth,” she says. “There are many different types of African skin — from dark charcoal to a lighter version — and you grow up knowing that the lighter ladies are the prettier ones. It’s just a fact.”

Major’s sister Elisa (along with millions of other black women) does understand Irene’s predicament. She argues that lighter skinned people in general rank higher on the old socio-political and economic totem poles than their darker counterparts. Elisa says it outright:

“Being lighter shows you belong to a different place on the social ladder. All the rich, successful black African men marry either a white or a very light-skinned girl because they too grew up thinking that the lighter is the most pretty. It doesn’t matter how dark a man is, of course — the pressure is all on women.”

I travel to Africa frequently. In Senegal are some of the blackest people on earth. Indeed, members of the Wolof clan are so black that when sunlight touches them in just the right way, their skin actually sparkles. They are some of the most beautiful people on earth.

Finally, to bring the thing home, I once dated a black American woman in Chicago who insisted that her hair just had to be red or blond or even purple. I asked her why she did not wear her hair in its natural or “nappy” form. She actually took umbrage at my question and felt that I had crossed some sort of line. “Because it looks good,” she replied indignantly.

“To whom,” I continued. “By whose standard? You look silly… See, everybody knows that most black people do not have naturally red or blond or purple hair.”

She had no response.

And I never heard from her again.

Originally published at on November 28, 2014.

Written by

Freelancer since the earth first began cooling. My beat, justice: racial, social, political, economic and cultural. I’m on FB, Twitter, Link,

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