Monday, 19 March 2012

Colour and Race in the Caribbean

I went to see the Trevor Rhone play, Old Story Time, at the BVI's community college several weeks ago.  Old Story Time tells the story of Len Tomlinson whose mother, Miss Aggie, subscribes to the "black; get back. brown; stay around" philosophy and is set on him marrying Miss Margaret, she of the "nice brown skin and tall hair down to her back."  Len was persecuted during high school by the same Miss Margaret, daughter of the local preacher, and by her boyfriend, George, and her high-class friends.  He never told his mother but he was saved from their bullying by the girl, Lois.  He goes off to England to study and work and marries dark-skinned Lois to his mother's great distress.
When Len and Lois return to the island, Miss Aggie becomes convinced that Lois is the source of all her financial and other woes and turns to obeah, West Indian magic, to get rid of her daughter-in-law.  Len tries to fight fire with fire and hires his own obeah woman but counteracting an obeah spell is not that easy, and neither is dealing with scam artists like George who has conned Miss Aggie out of her savings.
The play was written in 1981 and explores color issues which are still around today.  Miss Aggie doesn't like a thing black and was clearly untouched by any reverberations of the Black Power movement in the States or even by the Rastafarian philosophy which centralizes blacks.  She's an older woman and it could be argued she's a product of her time but that wouldn't explain why so many men and women are today, in 2012, risking serious health complications to bleach their skin as you can read about here and here.

An example of a bleaching cream that doesn't use the euphemism "skin lightener" but admits what it is and what it aims to do: whiten skin.  Sad that it would be be offered by a company calling itself "Mama Africa."


The rapper Vybz Kartel is an outspoken proponent of bleaching and says it's no worse than plastic surgery or getting a weave but I have to wonder about the messages he imbibed as a child regarding his looks.  Did he grow up around a Miss Aggie or was it the jeers of his own peers that turned his mind?
Before and After

And here he explains his reasoning...

Miss Aggie would probably give bleaching creams and soaps two thumbs up but, as we celebrate Black History Month, it's clear that it's more important than ever to continue to affirm that beauty comes in all shades. Let's celebrate our diversity and relegate the attitudes of the Miss Aggies of the world to the dustbin of history!

8 comments:

  1. I am amazed that this is a problem in your part the world too. We see it with mostly west African (Nigerian), Congolese nationals here in South Africa. I really have no idea what the appeal is coz it seems to me the moment you get lighter you gain at least 10 years to your age coz the skin seems to dry out. Look at this poor ignorant and misinformed guy. He looked so much better with his rich chocolate skin. It's a real pity and you just can' equate putting on a weave with doing something as permanent as bleaching your skin. I just couldn't bear listening to the whole clip......  sad sad sad

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    1. So far it's mostly Jamaica that is plagued by this but I think it's present in the other islands as well. Vybz Kartel did look so much better with his natural skin. So did Sammy Sosa, Michael Jackson, etc.. This seems like one of those problems that will be repeated with each new generation.

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  2. It's sad when people can't appreciate themselves that, they'll go through soo much trouble to risk their health to be beautiful in their eyes.

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    1. I agree but I don't think the people who subscribe to this philosophy can be fully blamed. It's only a fairly small percentage of people who will turn to bleaching but how many more are guilty of saying things like "oh, he's too black," or "she's black but she's pretty?" If the people who bleach grew up with people like Miss Aggie around, I can see how they might turn to bleaching to make themselves look better (in their eyes) and feel better.

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    2. That's true. I never got that whole colorism ordeal. To me its like "you're no less black whether your darker or lighter than me." Then again, it's a case of bad history that's not deteriorating fast enough.

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    3. No, it isn't deteriorating fast enough and recent events and FB updates, etc., make me wonder if it ever will.

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  3. Very interesting post. I was surprised on a visit to Singapore two years ago how many posters there were for products to whiten womens skin. Sad to see it there too.

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    1. Amazing how far-reaching this phenomenon is and how difficult it is to eradicate.

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