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The bleaching, chameleon crowd – By Reuben Abati

The bleaching, chameleon crowd – By Reuben Abati

I wrote a piece recently, a tribute to the late veteran actress Bukky Ajayi and the multi-instrumentalist OJB Jezreel, in which I raised a number of issues, including how in Nollywood today, there is an obsession with the whitening of skin, an anti-Negritude yellowing, what I referred to as “the bleaching, chameleon crowd of Nollywood beauties.” 

The various reactions to the piece conveniently ignored this subject; two young ladies who felt that I was probing an unpopular theme drew my attention to this.

I was reminded that being light-skinned is now the in-thing, indeed the socially acceptable norm, because there is now a universalization of the concept of beauty and self-esteem.

The more light-skinned you are, the more acceptable you are in various circumstances, that is. 

I thought if this was true, then it is a tragedy indeed for the black world. 

For, once upon a time in the history of the black race, being black was a thing of joy and an instrument of protest. 

When Jesse Evans gave the black salute at the 1939 Olympics, after winning four gold medals, he was making a racially loaded statement about black pride and achievement. 

Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, Muhammad Ali are key historical figures in the struggle for the black identity in the United States not to talk of various moments  and efforts culminating in the Obama phenomenon eight years ago.  

None of these historical figures would ever have contemplated a globalized notion of beauty and self-esteem, which superiorizes and imposes the idea of being white in 2016, and for same to be validated by blacks, living in the black world’s most populous country- Nigeria.  

Closer home, the independence struggles across Africa were fuelled by ideas of racial pride, and indeed in the 1960s, the coalescing of that around the negritude movement projected confidence and faith in the black colour, the people’s culture and identity. 

To be added to this is the expressed faith that black people all over the world can contribute meaningfully and significantly to the march of human history. 

Being black was nothing to be ashamed of. Cultural workers used their art and narratives to promote black culture.

Writers identified with their natal roots.  

James Ngugi for example, became Ngugi wa Thio’ngo. 

Albert Achebe dropped his Albert and became Chinua Achebe. 

Wole Soyinka argued that “a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude”; it should act and in his writings, he proved the point.  

Black activists like W.E.B. DuBois left the United States and traced their roots to Africa. 

But today, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of that movement are turning back the hand of the clock. 

They want to be white! 

They may in the long run constitute a minority, but artificial beauty is a growing trend among black people.

 I was once asked to buy Brazilian hair during a trip to Brazil. I went dutifully to a shopping mall asking for Brazilian hair.

Nobody could figure out what I wanted.  

Brazilian hair is what a lot of Nigerian women wear, or attach to their natural hair to achieve the effect of a straight, Oyinbo-ish hair and to hide their own natural, curly hair. 

It took me two days of trying to buy Brazilian hair in Brazil before it occurred to me that Brazilian women are not likely to be selling Brazilian hair in their own country since in any case, every one of them is born with it. 

But here in Nigeria, Brazilian hair is a big deal: it is one of those items a bridegroom must budget for, otherwise, no wedding.

And I understand this could be in the range of N350, 000 per hair. 

The final cost could also be determined by the adopted style: normal leave-out, closure or frontal, all designed to create an artificial effect. 

Even the eyelashes you see on our ladies these days may not be real: eyeballs are replaced with contact lenses, and there is a new craze now called eyebrow wig: a wig on the eyebrow!  

The new global culture of beauty has also imposed on our women what is called acrylic nails, or plastic nails. 

With those cat-like nails, women find it difficult to wear sanitary pads, jewelry, button their shirts, eat dollops of swallow with their hands, type on their phones or wash clothes and plates, and yet every young lady out there is wearing strange nails in the name of beauty.

Check out the faces too. 

Make up has been turned into such an art of deception; you could marry your ex-girlfriend and not know she is the one because she has changed colour, changed face and changed everything about her. 

Make-up and making up are associated with success, but it is pure 419 as many may have discovered. 

Women talk about laying a foundation on their faces as if they are bricklayers.

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