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Eunice Tossy  

Here’s why colourism in Africa is an inferiority complex issue

I like the beautiful things that life and nature have to offer. I really do. I am sure you also do. It is safe to assume that everybody also does. Chances that the assumption is wrong are the same as the chances of the sun rising in the west tomorrow. I am not sure there is anyone who has an attraction to the eyesores of nature. However, we (can) hardly agree on what is beautiful and what is an eyesore. What one person considers the best expression of beauty may to a next person pass to be the meeting point of all ugly aspects. There is no objective test for beauty. Beauty is very subjective. There are different reasons why we find certain people beautiful.  The indicators of beauty differ from person to person. Hence the popular phrase, “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”.

So yes, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, but how does the beholder go about determining what is beautiful and what is not? What if the beholder’s eyes have been conditioned to only find certain things beautiful?

Beauty is a social construct. The standards of beauty are also constructs. That means we can be conditioned to see certain things as beautiful and others as not. They are built into our societies and embedded into our brains. In today’s world, Eurocentric beauty standards have essentially become global beauty standards. There is no denying that many current beauty standards are based on a particular type of beauty — one that centers on white femininity. It is therefore not a surprise that a very big majority of us see beauty as anything with whiteness in it. We have been conditioned to white standards of beauty.

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White supremacy has developed a pyramid where one’s colour determines how close they are to privilege. White colour is the closest to privilege. How nearer the other colours are depends on how closer they are to whiteness. This creates a hierarchy of white, yellow, brown and black. Even with black, lighter shades of black have a closer proximity to privilege than the darker ones. Hence light skin privilege. The lighter your skin colour, the closer you are to getting things move for you. In short, one’s proximity to whiteness is their proximity to privilege. So it is with beauty. How proximal one is to whiteness, the closer they are to being ‘acknowledged’ as beautiful. Because of our conditioning, we therefore view light skin as beautiful.

Beauty is a facet of power. In our world, beauty determines one’s value. It determines how much respect or kindness will be directed your way. Being considered beautiful can help you gain access to certain spaces, or increase your power in certain settings. By the same token, a perceived lack of beauty, or a refusal or inability to conform to certain beauty standards, also has real consequences. Being light skin guarantees your chances of passing as beautiful and with it, increases your chances of getting hired, having people attracted to you, having people being softer  on you and subsequently rising through the social ladder to the upper class. In the political world where the priorities are wrong and value is attached to looks rather than merit, passing as beautiful increases one’s chances of getting elected. Shameful, isn’t it?

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As happens with all cases of mental conditioning, it is very difficult to realize that one perceives things in a particular way because they have been conditioned. One will think things are the way they are because it is how things are. The conditioning is everywhere. It takes place everywhere, all the time. From a very early age, children are taught to view white dolls as being more beautiful. Expecting children who have grown up being told that they should avoid spending too much time in the sun because it will blacken them not to think of whiteness as the standard of beauty is expecting too much from them. Whiteness as the standard of everything good is splashed all over our lives. In the mainstream media, on social media, in the films, in the magazines. We therefore get trapped into the web without actually realizing it.

Skin tone has long had class connotations. In ancient societies, lighter skin was associated with belonging to a higher class. Lighter skinned groups would form the ruling classes. Light skin privilege was later entrenched into African communities during slavery and colonialism. The ugly form of idea of whiteness as the standard of goodness can be traced to some racist theorists of old. It was important for those racial theorists to be superior in all areas. The group of academics who first created these racial categories were white supremacists, so, they not only wanted the people they called their women to be the most beautiful, and their men to be the most virile. They wanted their countries to have the best politics. So they wanted to have everything better. And that included beauty.

Today, society has bought the narrative of hook line and sinker. A pitch-African man will think that having a lover with the lightest skin tone is an achievement worth being picked as a headline of a national newspaper. Parents pride themselves in having light-skinned children. Men and women with lighter skin tones think they are entitled to being treated in a special way. Because of whiteness being associated with beauty, some people who are in all fairness and honesty very far away from being beautiful have the audacity of thinking of themselves as beautiful, just by dint of their skin colour. Men and women with dark skins will walk around with no confidence, feeling like the colour of their skin is a liability, a curse. All these coming from an African are signs of inferiority complex.

I am for rejecting all white standards of beauty. I am for that beauty, just like intelligence, is and should not be pegged on skin clolour/ tone. I am for what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said – that people should be judged by the content of their character and not tone of their skin. That is the most neutral I can get. In my extremist moments, I subscribe to that Black is original, Black does not crack. Black Power, Black Unity. Marcus Garvey taught us that the Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness. It is only fair that black people with an inferiority complex then shed it off or keep their inferiority to themselves.

If the pegging of beauty to whiteness is as a result of mental conditioning, then it can be reversed. It should be reversed. It takes a lot of courage and effort to get out of the mental conditioning. Rejecting these white standards of beauty, which seem to be globally ‘accepted’ is radical. We must try not to fall to those white standards of beauty. We must stop presenting other people’s insecurities as facts. The other radical thing could be to try rejecting personal beauty as a measure of worth. Beauty should not be a prerequisite, as it so often is, for being treated with respect, kindness or personal autonomy. Our good gestures to others should not be determined by their beauty or lack of it. Finally, we should call out colorism whenever we see it.


Written by Murunga Makau, Law student at Moi University. Contacts : 0707951196, [email protected]

Also by Murunga : Here is Africa’s biggest problem and Here’s the solution to Africa’s biggest problem

5 thoughts on “Here’s why colourism in Africa is an inferiority complex issue

  1. Omadang

    What a shame! I laugh at whoever still thinks beauty is in bleaching.
    Thank you for the piece

    1. Eunice Tossy

      thank you for reading it my brother.. thank you so much for sharing your thoughts as well

  2. Samuel Casa

    Used to doubt the skin colour though later came to realization.
    I never want to you “but” because it will show I have erased what I said prior to that. Beauty is real.
    Am in love with the story.

    1. Eunice Tossy

      thank you so much for reading Casa.

      1. Samuel Casa

        Cool

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