Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: In a speech he gave on May 5, 1962, at the funeral service of Ronald Stokes in Los Angeles, Malcolm X, an African American human rights activist and a popular figure in the civil rights, movement posed, “Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? To such extent, you bleach to get like the white man. Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet? Who taught you to hate your kind? Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to so much so that you do not want to be around each other?”
In the Gambia, skin bleaching has become one mammoth industry, especially among women and in some men, particularly to female members of the security service and notoriously with our female police officers and women in the media also to those in the infotainment, Public Relations (PR) business, and in the hospitality industry as well as those into social media politics. Even those very passionate on Facebook live broadcasters on social and political issues, feeding hundreds of thousands annually as unscrupulous entrepreneurs with no iota of shame, provide on the desperations of their melanin endowed sisters (and some brothers) who are not well off as they seek to shed off the “tint” as they call it. The rest can afford to go abroad or the high-end tint removal markets to undergo the procedure; unfortunately, some are saddle with the bill of treating skin cancer and other related diseases for medical treatment.
I saw on social media lawmakers debating about repealing the Skin Bleaching Prohibition Act of 1995, and I started seeing more tweets and Facebook posts from outraged men and women. I was not surprised because some Gambian men insist on admiring light-skinned women over black-skinned women. It is historical. A nostalgic musical sound bite comes to the airwaves in the 1970’s and the 1980s, “Halle Bu Hess,” meaning light-skinned girl. In most men’s locker rooms and Vous, ubiquitous in an old Mandingo aphorism, “Musu Koyo Sasaboro” literally means a light-skinned wife heals the sick. Before I went to America, I heard men buy this supposed skin colorization. Skin bleaching is a social malady that is becoming a norm in our society. Notions foster this malady that fair skin women lead to more tremendous social and economic success, better jobs, better boyfriends/husbands, and status. This malady must be treated, and the new law shall prohibit the act as a vaccine an antidote.
However, having been there and hearing how black Americans look, I can say nothing could be far-off the mark. It is not very reassuring. Even the name they picked tells us exactly of their aspirations to be as good a woman as any of black-American woman looks up to. You can never imitate to be white or of a language better. Mental colonization badly boils my blood. I have been privileged to travel the world. I have never been prouder to be African. This is not an exercise in self-aggrandizement.
I truly believe that Africa had the best constitution about life, even if it was not written. National Assembly members should not only abrogate or repeal by legislative enactment of the Skin Bleaching Prohibition Act of 1995 law instead, but they should also modify the law and criminalize skin bleaching products to prevent the sale, marketing, and use of hazardous substances,mercury-containing products, and potent steroid cream with hefty penalties.
Fatoumatta: It is amending the law to enable the government, through its health department, to educate the masses on the dangers of skin bleaching. It would also empower the police to make the arrest and confiscate the products from the users. The law would also force medical practitioners, such as dermatologists, cosmetic surgeons, and pharmacists, to be more accountable in prescribing and dispensing medications to their clients and conforming to the law.
The law would also address the delusion of self-hated, which the act of skin bleaching postulates. The melanin in African people’s skin acts as a protective sheath against ultraviolet rays of the sun. Decolorization of the skin, therefore, is unhealthy. The fact supports this that the skin bleaching products have severe side effects, such as itching, redness, and the development of varicose veins.
I have studied other dozen African cultures, and I am always proud that we had stuff figured out before the white man came and screwed us for good as Africans. We all imitate foreign culture to an extent, and no one can judge the other for being a copycat than the next man.
Fatoumatta: Women do it with their hair (those pricey ‘human’ weaves), men follow, we all like the European and American way of life to appalling proportions. However, decency knows its limits. When people try to speak in irritating accents, we say NO to them. When people bleach, we say NO to them.
There is nothing absolutely-wrong with the black skin. If anything, there is talk that we are privileged with the melanin since we are best placed to handle the coming global warming.
I am very grateful to be taught about African-American literature, and for the first time, I was able to understand the horrors of the slave trade and slavery as a young adult. To date, colonization and slavery send chills down my spine, and I am grateful I never lived through the ordeal, even though the scars of the same linger with us and will continue to remain for long. Hence this long diatribe.
Fatoumatta: Let us develop an education system that ensures kids have read Achebe, Ngugi, Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Frantz Fanon, Aime Cesaire, Leopold Senghor, Ferdinand Oyono, and other great black writers to understand the horrors of colonialism, slavery, neo-colonialism, and such. It will help many young men and women be proud of who we are and what we can be if we stopped worshiping the white culture.
Alagi Yorro Jallow