Get Light or Die Trying

Last week’s post “Skin Bleaching, Self-Hatred and Colonial Mentality” generated LOTS of conversation on the web. What is surprising to me is the fact that many people have never heard of skin bleaching. Borrowing from my research on skin bleaching in Ghana, this week’s post “Get Light or Die Trying” is a brief introduction of sorts to the global phenomenon…


In November 1997, a 58-year old retired female clerical worker presented to the Dermatology Outpatient Clinic of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, Ghana “with complaints of dark patches on light-exposed areas of the face, arms, neck, hands, legs and feet of about 10 years duration” as well as a large fungating ulcer on the right side of her neck. Despite a continuous regime of treatment spanning the course of 14 months, her condition failed to improve. In February 1999, the patient died. The cause of death — sun-related squamous cell carcinoma with pulmonary metastasis precipitated by the habitual application of hydroquinone and later steroid-containing creams. Translated – this Ghanaian woman’s death was caused by a type of skin cancer, which later spread to her lungs, and was attributed to her ritual practice of skin bleaching for more than 20 years of her adult life.

female clerical worker2
(Addo, 2000, 144)

Continue reading “Get Light or Die Trying”

Skin Bleaching, Self-Hatred, and “Colonial Mentality”

BBC Africa recently posted an article by Pumza Fihlani entitled “Africa: Where Black is not really Beautiful.” Highlighting the well-publicized case of South African musician, Nomasonto “Mshoza” Mnisi, who openly (and unapologetically) acknowledges lightening her skin, the article positions skin bleaching the result of “low self-esteem and, to some degree self-hatred.” While Mnisi herself admits that her decision to lighten her skin is indeed “part of … a self-esteem issue,” can we safely conclude that skin bleaching, a now global, and widely practiced phenomenon, is the result of low self-esteem and/or self-hatred? Among those who bleach, can we be sure that the motivating factors are identical just because they all engage in a similar practice? And if the goal is to understand skin bleaching enough to be able to curb, if not stop the practice, how useful would an individualized approach to skin bleaching be to the hundreds of thousands who bleach all over the world? Perhaps the goal is not to eradicate skin bleaching. Perhaps sensationalizing it is. Continue reading “Skin Bleaching, Self-Hatred, and “Colonial Mentality””

On Yellow Fever

Although I grew up hearing Highlife, Soukous, and Zouk music blare almost daily from my Daddy’s speakers (home and car), I admittedly didn’t get ‘put on’ to Fela Kuti and the Afrobeat sound until my early 20s. I remember one of the first tunes I heard was “Zombie.” After listening intently to those intoxicating horn riffs (my goodness those horns) and unconsciously pulsing to that infectious beat, finally, after a full five minutes, I heard his voice. And his message. And I was hooked. Instantly. Later I would learn that it was this very song that provoked Nigerian soldiers’ attack on his home, the incident during which his mother, fierce and fearless activist, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, was thrown from a window. She later died from her injuries. Continue reading “On Yellow Fever”