What Is the Color of Beauty?
The New York Times
Helene Cooper, Pentagon Correspondent
A multibillion-dollar industry of skin-whitening products dominates the West African beauty market, creating a world of mixed messages for the women who live there.
ACCRA, Ghana — Semiratu Zakaru was standing in the hot sun on a crowded noontime street explaining why Ghana’s new ban against certain skin-bleaching creams was unlikely to work, when her friend, Desmond Kwamina Odonkor, walked up and interrupted our conversation, oozing confidence and game.
“You have to stop bleaching,” he said, sotto voce. Then he winked at her and sauntered off.
Ms. Zakaru, a 23-year-old hairdresser, rolled her eyes. His advice, in her view, was rubbish for the simple reason that “all of his girlfriends are light-skinned.” She said she wasn’t about to stop using the Viva White cream and Clinic Clear lotion that had, over the last year and a half, made her skin several shades lighter than her original chocolate-milk complexion.
Here in the heart of the multibillion-dollar industry of products in West Africa that are meant to whiten skin, it is a world of mixed messages. Women are now being told that it is wrong, and even illegal, to bleach their skin. At the same time, they are flooded with messages — and not even subliminal ones — that tell them that white is beautiful…
…In many West African countries, at the top of that class structure, sit white expats, whether they are European diplomats in affluent neighborhoods, the United States Embassy staff members in their walled compounds or Lebanese merchants in electronic shops.
Next in the hierarchy are the mixed-race people. The European colonists who came to Africa mated with Africans and produced mixed-race offspring, who were then deemed to be of a superior class to the full-blooded Africans. South Africa’s apartheid system went so far as to legally enshrine mixed-race people, called “coloureds.”
“Anyone in this country could see that the mulattos were given precedence everywhere,” Dr. Delle said. “They were more educated, they were viewed as superior.” In many African countries, the word “mulatto” does not have the negative connotation that it has in the United States…
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