This week, we speak to Shari Melanin about colourism and its implications in Jamaica.
The “melanin” in Shari Melanin symbolises her acceptance of and love for her skin despite society at large telling her and other dark-skinned people that our skin is inferior and undesirable; that our appearance determines our worth. Being raised in a society that demonises dark skin and glorifies lightness even though we are Africans in Africa, like many of us, Shari internalised public opinion; that dark skin is ugly, undesirable, dirty, a problem that needs fixing. She started bleaching her skin at age 11. Now, she is a beacon of dark-skinned pride and appreciation for her beautiful skin, spreading the message that our worth is not tied to our skin and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with dark skin.
Preferential treatment of lighter skin is present even in the family, usually starting there. This ideology bleeds into all aspects of socialisation; in the community, at schools, at church.
Colourism is present in nearly every aspect of society. The leftovers of slavery and colonialism make people aspire to whiteness and glorify lighter skin. Certain opportunities are more easily or even exclusively accessible to light-skinned people. They are the faces of brands and advertisements as though the product is more desirable because a light-skinned or white person is depicted as using it, as though there are no dark-skinned consumers.
Shari Melanin wanted to be an air hostess when she was younger and was told she wouldn’t get chosen because she didn’t have long hair and was too dark. The comments took their toll and negatively affected her self esteem. She stopped bleaching after realising she wasn’t even gaining the access she aspired to. Bleached skin did not suffice; you were either fair or not or, the perfect alternative, you learn to embrace and appreciate your dark skin. She realised that she could break the status quo by succeeding some other way, through her effort. “Even if I bleach, I won’t be accepted in certain spaces”. She speaks of the need to develop black consciousness at the community level. “Bleaching won’t solve that harsh reality.”
We need to get past face value appreciation and patronising compliments. We don’t want to hear “beautiful for a black girl”, “black beauty” or be likened to food (all praises hinging on our likeness to chocolate); we want to eradicate all systems fuelled by colourism.
Shari Melanin tells us to love ourselves and be confident even when the world won’t.
Listen to her speak to Awazi on our podcast, We’re Not Crazy, You Are!