I saw a woman who had made an unsuccessful attempt at bleaching her skin. She now had varying skin tones on different parts of her body ranging from earth brown (her original colour) to light pink. And I, the self-righteous proud black African, wanted to make fun of her. Make a witty joke about her pathetic self-inflicted misfortune.
So I started drafting a Facebook post to that effect but halfway through, I momentarily forgot which one was correct: “sheds of skin” or “shades of skins”.
I knew that if I used the wrong word, at least one of the many grammar policemen would certainly mock me, ruining my five seconds of fame. I panicked and I went to Google for help.
It suddenly occurred to me that it’s always been important for me to use the right English words. I have always cringed at misspellings and I am irked by the use of shortened English words in text messages.
I have sometimes secretly beamed with glee when, during a conversation, I unintentionally used a complex English word so that the person on the other end of the conversation has to ask what it means. It makes me feel sophisticated.
This is my way of bleaching. We are all guilty of bleaching. And by ‘we’, I mean most millennial Africans.
We are always quick to say that we are proud Africans. We renounce neocolonialism and throw tantrums when foreigners make comments about the shortfalls in our way of life. Our faulty democracies. Our harmful cultural norms. We tell them to leave us to follow our own paths and tell our own stories.
But our stories are the stories of those who are striving to be European and/or American. When we show off, we show off famous foreign ‘original’ brands of watches, cars, shoes. This is not for lack of good quality local brands. We just have an inferiority complex that makes us feel like we have only arrived if we can afford expensive foreign brands.
When people go to or come back from ‘outside’ countries, we put them on a pedestal. We listen to their ‘informed opinions’. We revere them and treat them as though they are on the pinnacle of success even if there are people who have stayed and achieved more.
I’ve seen fellow black Africans treat people with lighter skin better than their darker counterparts. They automatically assumed that they were in a higher social and economic class. Countless times, I have heard people give ‘light-skinned’ as one of the measures of beauty in a woman. So while on their own, they have not attempted to be lighter, they do admire light skin.
We are capable of creating a brand that other parts of the world will want to copy. And if ever there was a favourable time for promoting the ‘black African’ brand, it is now.
But for now, while we are still maneuvering between ‘black pride’ and our struggle for whiteness, it would behoove us not to throw stones at those whose actions are only the physical representation of our thoughts.