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More Ghanaians Equate Beauty With Looking White

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by Ibram Rogers


The European aesthetics of beauty and social rank have reached the shores of Africa, and are wreaking psychological and physical havoc on residents of Accra, Ghana, two new studies suggest.

In two examinations conducted last summer by Dr. Jocelyn Mackey, an assistant professor of psychology at Southern Connecticut State University, more than 200 Ghanaian students aged 8 to 18 consistently equated attractiveness, opportunity, power and acceptance with lighter skin color.

“The results from this study speak to the impact that the social and cultural climate has on the self-esteem of the Ghanaian students,” Mackey says. “But you also have to keep in mind that Accra is the capital city and its population has been more exposed than most of the country to Western culture and its ideals of beauty and success.”

Another study reveals that many Ghanaians are turning to harmful skin-bleaching products to lighten their skin in hopes of being perceived as more attractive and successful.

Yaba A. Blay, a doctoral candidate in Temple University’s African-American studies department, conducted a study last summer in which she surveyed approximately 600 residents of Accra and interviewed another 40 who reported bleaching their skin. Blay also interviewed government officials, medical personnel and product merchants, and reviewed public documents and media materials as source material for her dissertation, “Yellow Fever: Skin Bleaching and the Aesthetico-cultural Gendered Politics of Skin Color in Ghana.”

“Despite attempts by the Ghanaian government to ban bleaching products and the extreme health risks — including skin cancer, brain and kidney damage and sometimes death — the practice of skin bleaching is seemingly on the rise,” says Blay, a native of Ghana. “It appears that in the context of global White supremacy, skin bleaching represents an attempt to gain access to the social status and mobility often reserved not only for whites, but for lighter-skinned persons of African descent.”

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This psychological phenomenon of extolling lighter skin is not exclusive to the Ghanaian capital city, Mackey says. Similar beliefs are present within populations in Central and South America, Italy, the Caribbean, India and Asia, as well as in the United States.

“These perception are the result of learned behavior and beliefs due to social factors and opportunities,” Mackey says. “Many Ghanaians who I spoke with believe that lighter skin is associated with wealth and power.”

Similar to the widely publicized Kenneth and Mamie Clark doll study in the 1940s, Mackey asked students in one public and one private school in Accra to relate qualities such as attractiveness, familiarity, wealth, nurturance, academic ability and social acceptance to the skin color of the dolls. In the first study, Mackey instructed the students to attach the qualities to one of five dolls who were placed on a continuum from very light to very dark skinned. And in the second study, the students just had the choice between the darkest-skinned and the lightest-skinned dolls.

Practically across the board, the lighter-skinned dolls were given more positive attributes. One notable exception was with regard to the “smartest” dolls. In the first study, the darkest-skinned dolls were a close second to the lightest. But in the second study, the darker-skinned dolls were considered the smartest. Nevertheless, the lighter dolls were more associated with going to college and getting the best grades.

In terms of demographics, older students and males tended to favor the darker dolls more than their younger and female counterparts, Mackey says. And the private schools students were slightly more likely to select the lighter dolls in the second study.

In the study on skin bleaching, Blay found that Ghanaian women tend to bleach their skin at a disproportionately higher rate than Ghanaian men. That’s because the white ideal is consistently promoted to female consumers, Blay says.

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Furthermore, Blay says the rational for skin bleaching is different for Ghanaian men and women.

“Ghanaian women often admit to bleaching in order to look more beautiful, noticeable and fashionable, while Ghanaian men who report bleaching do so as a means to appear of higher status and to gain more respect,” she says.

Ultimately, Blay says that a form of “commodity racism — the practice of using Whiteness to sell products to predominately Black consumers” is the underlying reason for the practice of skin bleaching.

“It has greatly influenced Africans’ perceptions that with the assistance of particular products — bleaching creams — they can approximate Whiteness, and as such reap all of the benefits, whether actual or perceived, afforded to Whiteness,” she says.

—    By Ibram Rogers
 

Reader comments on this story:

“bleaching products”
The concept of looking white has been around forvever but what’s surprising is the widespread use of bleaching products… a fairness cream called “Fair And Lovely” enjoys a lot of popularity among both men and women in South Asian countries!!
“Dutch-Ghanaian Aristocracy”
Nothing new here. My family moved to Accra in 1962 and lye/mercury-laden bleaching creams were all the rage way back then. The article fails to mention the GREAT influence of the “Dutch-Ghanaian Aristocracy”. These are the descendents of female slaves selected by the Dutch Governor for sex while waiting transport to the Americas. If the slave got pregnant before being transshipped, a BRICK house was built for her nearby and she was allowed to keep the Governor’s name. This is a very, very private, influential and wealthy clan of Ghanaians who still carry Dutch-Ghanaian hyphenated names. They vacation and keep most of their wealth in Holland. They were the first model for success and power in Ghana LONG before whites were there in any numbers and long before western media began it’s inevitable perversion of indigenous esthetic values.
           -Michael J. Lythcott
“psychological damage”
This is nothing new. In my opinion, article should have given much more attention to the psychological damage of Africans and also how white people benefit materially and socially from the sale and promotion of bleaching creams. How do ads and the sale of the cream contribute to the construction of white desire, for example. Whose hands are in the profits? The next article might also use the information in this one to take a critical look at scholars who argue that race no longer matters.
-Candace Lowe
“macabre”
I witnessed the macabre for myself in 1997 when i was in Accra.
-Rhonda Simmons
“black women are to blame”
This is all the black woman’s fault, because she has not initiated a single black power movement, but instead continues to deify and glorify white standards of beauty.  Any time a black man thinks lighter women are more attractive, then that is his own mother’s fault.  Thus, the problem all goes back to the black woman – black women have had forty years to start a movement, but they’ve done nothing whatsoever.
-Mark
“self love”
We just have to learn to live for and by each other, and to stop running to the Europeans for knowledge and for every answer. We have to teach our own with information based on facts, not belief. PS – love the skin, hair you are blessed with, and that will rub off on the babies!
-Inner Vibe Sound
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