Colorism has plagued a multitude of societies for generations, even continuing to this day. Many countries, including India, China, and Nigeria, are notorious for their enforcement of colorist ideals inherently rooted in their respective cultures. Defined as a “form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color,” colorism has recently been the subject of international attention due to Blac Chyna’s controversial promotion of “Whitenicious,” a whitening cream, at a public event in Lagos, Nigeria. The product packaging of Swarovski crystals is emblematic of its steep price, with each individual cream priced at $250. The product promises to “lighten without bleaching out” and to “illuminate and brighten skin.”
Although Blac Chyna, a model and entrepreneur, has been dogged with controversy after controversy, this promotion affects certain people in a way that others will fail to understand. For centuries, lighter skin has been considered a symbol of wealth and beauty in many different societies. In ancient China, one could distinguish an upper-class woman from a lower-class woman based on the shade of her skin, as lighter women could afford to stay indoors all day. While this notion has originated thousands of years ago, the idea remains omnipresent today Even with the launches of thousands of advertisement campaigns encouraging women to embrace their natural beauty, we, as a society, fall short in regards to colorism.
Nigeria, a country also saturated with colorism, has felt its effects for decades. In fact, 77% of all Nigerian women have used some sort of skin-lightening or bleaching product. As a result, this deeply ingrained bias against darker-skinned people makes Nigeria even more susceptible to the dangerous effects of Blac Chyna’s ignorant, if not insulting, promotion. Exploiting Nigeria’s vulnerability to the topic of colorism has sparked rightful outrage.
Blac Chyna claims her promotion has good intentions by insisting that the cream is used to treat the potential health hazards of “hyperpigmentation and darker spots” that many Nigerians are concerned about. Yet, one common ingredient in skin-bleaching products is mercury, which could potentially cause “liver damage, reduced resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression and psychosis” – alongside perpetuating unhealthy attitudes toward darker women.
Colorism has been so pervasive in modern society that it has even affected myself. Growing up, I was subjected to harsh criticism about my skin tone. My relatives from India would always tell my mother that I was too dark as a child, so I listened carefully as they recommended lightening products in hopes that I would be as fair as my mother. Initially, I didn’t understand how something out of my control could incite so much criticism. But as I grew older, I began to realize how deeply I was affected, and that I was simply a facet to a greater problem than I had ever imagined.
By promoting the idea that lighter is better, Blac Chyna encourages African women to stray from their identities. She implies that the only way an African woman can be beautiful is if they choose to bleach their skin. The idea that privilege and social capital is based off of skin color should not be acceptable in today’s society. We should all embrace our skin, no matter what shade.