We periodically point out the most obvious person in the news who exhibits the sense of self-loathing that we lovingly call "tomming." By definition an Uncle Tom is: a black who is overeager to win the approval of whites (as by obsequious behavior or uncritical acceptance of white values and goals) - meanspirited? Maybe, but we think of it as our brand of tough love.
A Moment of Tom-Foolery
What do you call it when two gorgeous African beauties battle it out in the press about the desire to use skin-lightening cream?
Rumble in the jungle?
Lupita versus the bleach cream queen?
Well, for our purposes, we call it our moment of Tom-foolery.
Now and again we have to point out ridiculous acts or statements where one disparages on their dark and lovely skin all in the name of gaining favor among those lacking in complexion. Or as we call it: “Tomming.”
Our first moment of Tomming in 2014 unfortunately takes us to the motherland.
Yes, the beautiful continent of Africa, where two famous soul sisters have engaged in a battle royal over cream. No, not the diary bi-product or money, but skin bleaching cream.
For many Americans of African descent, such a battle, particularly waged by those born and bred in Africa, is incomprehensible and the epitome of ignorant.
For many of us, the group of folks sold into slavery centuries ago, all people from the motherland are unified, enlightened and proud of their “blackness.” As part of our Pan African delusion, the brothers and sisters who grew up as a majority in their society, must have been unsullied by the oppression of a white majority – right?
Not so much.
Late in February, reality reared its ugly head when actress Lupita Nyong’o, a Kenyan born in Mexico and raised in Africa, reflected on her dark skin during a speech at the “2014 Essence Black Women in Hollywood” event.
Nyong’o, who was on the cusp of winning an Academy Award for her role in “12 Years a Slave,” read a letter from a young woman who was amazed that such a dark-skinned woman could exude confidence. The author of the letter, also an African woman, said her dark skin made her feel “unbeautiful,” and pondered following an international trend by bleaching her skin to a lighter shade.
Nyong’o went on to reflect on her journey to recognize her own beauty and panned those promoting or feeling their need to use bleach products to meet someone else’s ideal of beauty.
Nyong’o read the letter to highlight the ignorance that has many women of color aspiring to a lighter, whiter concept of beauty, despite being the prototype for humanity.
“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin; I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin,” Nyong’o recalled in her speech. “And when I was a teenager, my self-hate grew worse.”
Her self-image transformed after learning about Alek Wek, a celebrated model, who was “dark as night.”
“I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looks so much like me, as beautiful,” she continued. “My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden Oprah was telling me it wasn’t.”
Her comments, which were hailed by women of color across the globe, was drubbed by Nigerian-Cameroonian singer Dencia, who has been pushing “Whitenicious” a skin bleaching cream, specializing in eradicating pigment and dark spots.
Dencia took to Twitter to criticize the highly popular Nyong’o, who had been hailed by women of color across the globe:
“Lol she def has my time 2 share her moment W me & mention me in her speech instead of u who adores her.”
Dencia also reportedly argued Nyong’o shouldn’t talk about bleaching creams made by white people, because she is paid by the white man and therefore also owned by the white man.
News that Africans from Kenya and Nigeria-Cameroon were having words over a goal to be white suggested, that they too are damaged by European concepts of beauty, just like their ancestors born minorities in America. The reality is people of color everywhere are damaged and struggling with their identity.
Such concepts may shock many to their core, but it really shouldn’t.
Many Americans of African descent were sold into slavery by the leaders of villages or countries in Africa after their respective villages lost a territorial war. Most believe after the sale, which was usually for money, swords, trinkets, blankets, liquor, firearms and the such, those remaining in Africa could not have known the journey on which they’d sent their former captives.
Many African Americans did not come to terms with their blackness until the 50’s and 60’s thanks to education and the Civil Rights movement. However, decades of skin bleaching, hair straightening and passing for white in America are not completely in our collective rearview mirrors, but instead a reminder of more ignorant times when we did not control our image and the conception of it.
C.R.E.A.M. Get The Money – Dollar, Dollar Bill – Y’all
Today, despite growing up as the majority ethnicity in countries across the globe, skin bleaching is a big thing in Africa, India, Asia as well as in many Afro-Caribbean countries too.
In Asia, bleaching or whitening creams are sold en-mass in places like China, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and India, where according to reports on Al-Jazeera News, sales of bleaching creams rose 18 percent last year. Indian people spent an estimated half a Billion dollars trying to bleach away the “duskiness” in 2013.
Launched in late November of 2013, Dencia’s “Whitenicious” skin bleach ranges in price from $50 to $150 and has been a top seller in areas where skin bleaching is all the rage.
As the African born pop singer continues to profit from peddling disdain for her own ethnicity, we are reminded how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go.
Lupita, thank you for calling attention to the international atrocity of skin bleaching. You are more important and beautiful than you can conceptualize.
Black is beautiful and no amount of bleach can wash away your natural born tan. In fact, you need to rethink your endorsements and the message it sends to young women across the globe.
In the end, it’s the pot calling the kettle…no, that’s not right.
Hey girl, stop tomming and read a book on self love. Ignorance can make even a natural beauty appear stupid and ugly.