And it all comes down to this question. Now that I’ve given an overview of skin bleaching around the world (and perhaps prompted you to continue your own research), I want to dedicate an entire post to exploring possible solutions to the skin bleaching culture around the world, which I call an epidermal epidemic. ColorismHealing.org reports on the current state of things, but we’re always looking forward and focusing on progress, what we can do to evolve beyond the status quo.
I don’t want to make this sound easy. It’s colossal. Our fight will be a long, challenging fight. The solutions may sound obvious, but their effectiveness does not require newness; it merely requires commitment.
Skin bleaching around the world has taken root and embedded itself in the very fabric of many people’s lives. It’s a global phenomenon propagated by multiple forces, many of them subtle and covert, and thus practically invisible. For this reason, it takes multiple tactics working in tandem to really bring down the global skin bleaching infrastructure.
Spread information about skin bleaching around the world.
We must share the dangers of skin bleaching, the history of it, current practices, demographic and geographical profiles, the manufacturing and distribution of products, and chemical breakdowns of common products. Again, many people have been sharing this information for years. One source of information I recommend is The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol. 4, no. 4, June 2011, which is a special issue dedicated to skin bleaching. We must continue and expand the effort to get this information to the world.
Focus on media literacy.
Skin bleaching as an epidemic is commonly spread through advertisements and various media such as billboards, commercials, and magazines. Therefore, it’s important to teach people how to recognize the the manipulation (“persuasive techniques”) of the media. The Dark is Beautiful campaign, for example, hosts media literacy workshops. Of course, merely knowing the media’s strategies doesn’t make us immune to them. However when we’re educated, we can be more critical consumers and not be blindly persuaded.
Promote education in general.
As an educator, and someone who’s passionate about education, I just believe that this should always be a part of the solution to social problems. We must promote quantity as well as quality of education. By quantity I mean more people and more education. By quality I mean that education should be rigorous, and it should develop the entire person to live up to their positive potential and to be a productive global-citizen.
I’m using empowerment here to mean a kind of internal energy and drive within an individual and/or community. I also like to call it self-awareness and self-esteem. I’ll use a quote from from an earlier post on the difference between racism and colorism:
“Colorism among people of the same race is also considered a form of internalized racism. After centuries of being conditioned to view white/european as superior and their own race and culture as inferior, many people were broken and eventually believed in and acted according to that dichotomy….
If we internalize racism, we lose our will and our ability to fight the external system of racism. If we don’t value, respect, and love ourselves, why would we put up a fight when others don’t either. If we believe that white people are superior, then we won’t bat an eye at the disparities in education and wealth.”
Like I said before, we must attack colorism and skin bleaching on multiple fronts simultaneously. The work that it takes to change people’s attitudes about race and skin color is just as important (and equally challenging) as any other aspect of what we do. This takes commitment. Our psyches weren’t damaged overnight, and they won’t be rebuilt overnight either.
In the global system of capitalism, corporations seem like Goliaths that are impossible to defeat. But the best way to send them a message and affect their practices is to affect their sales. Mind you, I’m not an economist, but I use models of what’s been effective before.
National and local governments can act.
Some governments have banned the sale of certain products, which is a good start. We also need them to ban the manufacturing of such products, because we know that in places like the EU mercury soap is banned from sale, but can be manufactured there as long as it’s exported (Glenn, 2008, p. 285). Finally, local authorities have to enforce the bans and intercept smuggling.
The people have power.
Other traditional ways of bringing about change include boycotts, petitions, and peaceful demonstrations. It’s a foundational concept in business that if the people stop buying, then the company has to change or it will bleed money.
But boycotts are especially tricky, especially if they’re not organized in a transnational way. If one city or country effectively boycotts a company that promotes fair skin as the ideal, that company may be able to stay afloat because of their other international markets. Multinational companies often disguise themselves by operating under different names in various countries, but a little digging will always lead back to the parent company.
As Evelyn Glenn (2008) writes:
“One often-proposed solution to the problem is reeducation that stresses the diversity of types of beauty and desirability and that valorizes darker skin shades, so that lightness/whiteness is dislodged as the dominant standard…. Focusing only on individual consciousness and motives distracts attention from the very powerful economic forces that help create a yearning for lightness and that offer to fulfill that yearning at a steep price.” (p. 298)
I know I’m repeating myself when I say that we must commit to all of these efforts (and more) simultaneously and for the long haul. There’s no need for those of us who care about this issue to paralyze the movement by bickering about what should be done first.
I propose that we assemble international committees devoted to various strategies, but all working toward a common goal. We do not have to amalgamate and become one organization, but we can ban together like a sort of UN or NATO working to abolish the practice of skin bleaching around the world.