Of Skin Bleaching and Parliamentary Proceedings

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I’m just relieved that I didn’t end up having a nightmare about the Government of Jamaica using the Revenue Administration Amendment Bill to wrap bleaching cream on my body so that it will “come white”.

After watching Dionne Jackson Miller’s (@djmillerJA) “All Angles” feature on skin bleaching, I tuned in to watch Parliament, which, at that time – 9:30pm – was still in session.  Before going to bed at close to midnight (ET), after reading social media commentary (mainly Twitter) on both matters, I couldn’t help but think that the two issues though separate, are in some sense…equal.

Of Bleaching

I’m not sure how to describe how I felt watching the All Angles feature on bleaching on June 19, 2013.  Let me just say it right here and now: I am a dark-skinned Jamaican female.  It may not have been necessary to say this, but just so you are aware of the context that frames my point of view, there it is.

Now, here is a point of fact: there are people who bleach their skin.  But what I found horrifying (as with any habit or behavior that becomes an addiction) was the fact that despite the risks to their health, they continue to do so because of the gratification they get.  In this post, I will not make it my aim to write a thesis about the genesis of this behavior, nor will this post make an attempt at finding solutions.  I welcome those in the comments below, as well as in the continued discussions and exploration of the issue in other spaces.

This is in no way meant to ridicule the (mostly) women who agreed to give us an insight into the world of bleaching.  Instead, by writing a few observations I’m seeking to understand how they rationalize the activity. Essentially then, I’ll present a few (just a few) observations from last night’s program, and what it said about how we make sense or “create meaning” out of different physical and social cues.

Social mobility

In the first few minutes, Noogle helped us understand that to become more recognized in her line of work (cosmetology), she needed to present an image that would attract more customers; it follows that this would also mean an increase in income.  This image of which she speaks is that of one bearing a lighter complexion.  I’m not sure we can conclude from what she said that the lighter the complexion, the more it equates to even more recognition.  Either way, it somewhat signifies progress.  Now, others looking on who are not of that mindset may not see the progress, the mobility…but that depends on how you define progress.

Beauty, image

Still on image (and by this point, beauty), we got the chance to see how important the “video light” is.  Thanks Dr. Donna Hope for clarifying it for us.  The interviewees spoke highly about bleaching so that when they go to the parties and dances, they can “stand up inna di video light” because they’re lighter.  As Dr. Hope suggested, the video light means exposure, and (more metaphorically) an escape as their image is projected beyond the realm of their current reality.

One other observation I made with regard to understanding beauty and image in this context is that of one person almost equating darker skin to a malady.  She related that upon entering a dance and seeing another woman with (enviably) lighter skin she asked, “What is your remedy?”.  Remedy.  She needed a remedy.  A cure.  Without thinking I looked at my own skin and listened with amazement.

I wondered at this point if their perception of the beauty of lighter skin is in the complexion itself, or in the perceived “benefits” that come with having that complexion.

It’s science

When bleaching, a lot of experimentation goes into its application, and their bodies are the specimen.  There is measurement, testing, refining and a recording of results to ensure that the desired effect is captured at replication of the experiment.

The rules

  • Children/students should not bleach.  That’s just a given.
  • When you’re bleaching, don’t have a full shower (bathe).  This will interfere with the chemical processes of allowing the skin to peel so that you can get lighter.  This is to be taken into consideration especially if one is preparing for a big event.
  • Stay out of the sun (or cover up as much as possible).
  • Do not go over the limit (but that varies from person to person, and depends on the objective of bleaching)

Now, the #AllAngles discussion on Twitter was good to observe.  Of course, the few observations I listed above doesn’t come close to the number of different views on the matter.  Some say bleaching is a phenomenon with its roots in classism.  Others opine that people from the upper class bleach their skin as well.  Some allude to its psychological roots of slavery and how it’s perpetuated on the social pages of our news dailies.  One thing is for sure – the phenomenon is not isolated.  It doesn’t exist in the bubble that is the reality of the women presented in the feature…

Of the Parliamentary Session

I don’t remember ever having witnessed a Jamaican Parliamentary sitting that went on for eight hours.  The 33 MPs who were present at the vote on the Bill to Amend the Revenue Administration Act worked a full workday on June 19, 2013 (I’m still trying to decide if that deserves an applause or not.  Let’s move on as I figure it out…).  The vote on the bill was finalized at approximately 10:39pm local time.  Clearly, this was no ordinary sitting.  The debate on this bill was necessary as its passage is part of the contract between the IMF and Jamaica (the Letter of Intent – pg. 19).

And there you have it.  One of the few times our parliamentarians stay late to debate a bill and we realize it’s because outside forces have made it a stipulation.  So we see that it’s not so much that there isn’t enough time to get through the bills that are currently awaiting presentation and debate, it’s a question of commitment.  Commitment of time and energy.  As one person on Twitter stated, “…Wish some other issues –could get same time, energy , thought — e.g. crime…”  Or is it that we have to wait on the one calling the shots before we demonstrate that we can, as an independent nation, carry out the necessary actions to set us on a path to true progress?  What will it take for our MPs to decide to sit down and address the anti-gang and DNA legislations?  Do the IMF and World Bank have to stipulate those in a Letter of Intent as well?  In seriously addressing the care and protection of our children, does it have to be linked to a multilateral loan?  Hmmm?  Are we truly emancipated from “massa”?  (By the way, June 19th is celebrated in the United States as Juneteenth, commemorating the abolition of slavery in the State of Texas.  Funny, huh?)

Yes, what I’m suggesting is that even how our parliamentarians go about conducting the nation’s business (by the way, only 33 of the 63 MPs were present for the vote) illustrates that, like those who bleach their skin in the name of “beauty”, we have not been fully emancipated from our colonial past.  It’s like a bird that was locked up in a cage – it has been kept in that cage for so long that when the door is opened, it forgot how to fly.  Our apparent lack of zeal, commitment, willpower, self-respect, self-worth…is our shackle; our mindset our plantation.

“We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind; use your intelligence to work out the real things of life. The time you waste in levity, in non-essentials, if you use it properly you will be able to guarantee to your posterity a condition better than you inherited from your forefathers.” – Marcus Garvey, 1937

– @MizDurie, @THINKJamaica

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2 Responses to Of Skin Bleaching and Parliamentary Proceedings

  1. Michael Assured says:

    Nice job, Durie. I particularly loved the quote at the end.
    (BTW, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better person to quote – on matters of blackness – than the Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey). Nice.

  2. Dianne Fyffe says:

    There was so much going through my head as I watched the video clip on the bleaching of the skin! I thought to myself, should I be pitiful? empathetic? sympathetic? judgemental? Hmmm!

    A new ‘thing’ amongst the lighter skin folk (males and females), is the ‘fake tan’ issue, where the aim is to get a darker skin tone. Would you say this is a similar issue to bleaching? Is it anymore ‘ok’ to use fake tan to get darker skin than it is to bleach the skin to make it lighter?

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