NO To Skin Whitening: Senegal Takes a Stand Against Skin Bleaching
If like me, you grew up in an environment where skin bleaching was a lifestyle, well, you know the devastating implications it has on a community. And being from a multiracial background with predominant Senegalese and Cape Verdean influences, it’s with much sadness that I admit that I know it all too well…
I mean, while most kids darken over time, I was born pitch-dark and remained so my entire life…There was no cream, topical lotion, winter season, prayer, that could change that…Thank God! And my fine self (you know I’m biased) was absolutely fine with that until the background noise of judgment and perception of dark skin started making me seriously consider what is wrong with this world… If you’re gonna take a picture of me, you better snap that flash baby, unless all you wanna see are my sexy eyes and bright 50 teeth, I know, I heard it one too many times… I still remember back in school back home, the word was “the lighter, the better”. The most popular and sought-after girls were the “metisses”, those of mixed ancestry, those with the brighter complexion and straighter hair. Yes, just like many places in the world, Africa was conforming to a certain appearance etiquette…Delving into the why’s and how’s would only bring about too many unanswered (and unanswerable) questions…Let’s just say that world history through French colonization for us, slavery for others, have taken a heavy toll on perception as a whole, ours and others’, and that it is high time to stop using the wounds of the past to justify the horrors of the present! Racial, socio-economic and political considerations definitely exist around the tragedy of skin whitening, yet it is up to us to bypass them and see to a better future for our children! Since I am not an advocate of pointing an accusatory finger, I’d much rather point at the solutions, or the road towards them…
And road there is, as I am so proud to see how my home country is making powerful strides towards changing minds and changing lives!
And thankfully, that is what happened when a new lightening brand of products in Senegal, named “khess petch”, Wolof for all white, started running disturbing ads all over. The huge ad billboards spread across the capital city Dakar are just the picture of aberration! The cream purportedly promises to bleach your skin in all of 15 days, showing some evidently photo-shopped disturbing “before” and “after” pictures. Wow!
As reported by Senegalese media as well as French media France 24, these ads sparked a roar of controversy on and offline. An online petition ensued, urging the Senegalese Health Ministry to ban the product. The petition garnered over 4,000 signatures in the space of 4 days. This is not only unethical, but is also and most importantly a matter of public health. The cream reportedly contains ingredients only prescribed in case of serious skin diseases, including corticosteroid and clobetasol propionate.
Skin depigmentation is a serious issue in Africa, where the law is silent as to the use of skin whitening creams. And this problem is not only proprietary to the African continent, as the lethal practice is well spread in India, Cuba, Latin America, Japan, China and even, yes, among African-Americans in the US. Some of the worst components of bleaching creams include topical steroids, hydroquinone and mercure. Per the World Health Organization‘s June 2012 health sheet, mercure can cause skin rashes and discolorations, and weaken the skin’s resistance against bacterial and fungal infections, as well as develop often fatal kidney disease! Please check out a recent article I penned for the “Girl with Pen” website on the issue:
Kine Fatim Diop is one of the Senegalese female activists who took to Twitter in outrage against the tall billboards advertising this nonsense throughout Dakar. As reported by France 24, she admits that there has never been such a large-scale, popular reaction to a product in Senegal. That says something about the impact of this phenomenon and the urgent need to eradicate it…And she is only the tip of the iceberg! Indeed, a whole campaign, named “Nioul Kouk” (all black in Wolof) launched by the Wakh’art studio in Dakar is in the works! At the center of the campaign, young social media and Internet-savvy activists spreading pictures and videos showcasing the beauty of black skin and the dangers of the skin whitening heresy! Brilliant! A “Nioul Kouk” march is scheduled for Saturday, September 22, in Dakar. Wish I were there!
Please check out this video from Wakh’art about the beauty of black skin, in the words of my favorite poem by Senegalese poet Leopold Sedar Senghor. Please enjoy responsibly…
What do you think of this product and the outrageous campaign behind it?