Light-Skinned Latino Walks into a Store that Sells Skin Bleach…

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Light-Skinned Latino Walks into a Store that Sells Skin Bleach…

 

By Carlos Andrés Gómez

I wish this was just a tasteless setup for a bad punchline but, no, nothing in this post is a joke.

So yesterday morning I’m walking across west 28th street in Manhattan when I see this poster in a store window advertising “Skin Whitenizer” (sold by R & R Cosmetics, LLC).  It takes me probably five minutes to process my shock and then convince myself that it’s actually real.

After posting pictures of it on my Twitter feed and Facebook page, I decide to talk to somebody about it, preferably the storeowner.  Here’s what happened…

 

“Is this fuckin’ serious?”  I say, pulling the poster off of the door, addressing anyone within earshot.  I had planned to be more diplomatic, measured, and thoughtful but that’s what came out.

“Sir, please…calm down,” an older South Asian gentleman whispers, rushing up to me.

“Are you the owner?” I ask.

“Uh…no.  He’s not here,” he responds, as his and everyone else’s eyes plunge to the floor.

“When’s he coming back?” I prod.

“Later,” he tells me, “please, sir.  Probably not today.  Let me take you over to the other side of the store.  They’re the ones who sell it.  It’s not me.”
I find this hilarious, heartbreaking, absurd, pathetic.  He’s doing what we all do – passing the buck: I don’t sell this.  They do.  I’m not the boss.  He is.  And he’s “not here”…maybe never again.  It’s not my store; I’m just selling it.  Too many times in my life, I have been that guy…which probably makes me all the more repulsed by the moment.

He briskly leads me to the other side of the store.  Everyone’s head is down, like they just missed the game-winning field goal or got caught stashing an Ace up their sleeve in poker.  I glance around and gasp.  There are probably close to four hundred bottles of the Skin Whitenizer next to the checkout area, along with another smaller poster advertising the skin bleach, taped directly to the register.  It’s clear that it’s a hot seller.  I’m not claustrophobic but get a sudden feeling like I might drown in all of these bottles, as if they’re swallowing me up like quicksand.

“This is disgusting,” I say, tearing the poster off of the register and holding it up for the man and woman behind the counter.  “This is the reason people hate themselves, people kill themselves, people kill each other.  You’re contributing to people dying…how does that feel?”
I know this is harsh and maybe even melodramatic, but I’m pissed.  I want to rip up every poster and empty every bottle and cry and scream and punch the CEO of R & R Cosmetics in the face…multiple times.  I want to destroy and fight and humiliate every person in power who has ever made a black girl think she is “too dark” or made me ashamed of my father’s slightly accented English or made it cool for people of color to wear blue contact lenses.

“Sir, please,” the man behind the counter says, “I’m just…please.”
“Do you understand how sick this is?  This is like some Third Reich shit.  Like, I feel like we’re in a Nazi lab right now.  You’re gutsy, man.  Seriously, you’re putting your life at risk with shit like this up in your window.  I mean you can’t have something like this up and be surprised if one day some dude comes in and just punches you in the face. Can you?  I don’t know…what do you think?  New York?  New York Fuckin’ City?  Like, seriously?”
At this point my train is coming off the tracks.  I can see everyone about to call the police or TSA or whoever you’re supposed to call in New York when you “see something” and actually decide to “say something.”  I notice it mostly when I talk about the “some dude” maybe coming in and punching this guy in the face and I slam my fist against the poster for emphasis.  It quickly becomes clear that everyone assumes I’m talking about myself…only shortly after the words come out of my mouth do I decide that I’m actually not.  Then, I think, “This is a bit too far, Carlos.  Now you’re sounding crazy.  No, you’re acting like they’re a few screws loose.” –

so I decide to reel it in.

“Listen, man, I’m just trying to make sense of this,” I say. “What’s your name, brother?”
He tells me his name.  I ask him where he’s from and he says India.  The woman behind the counter is from the Dominican Republic.  The older gentleman who I first encountered is from Bangladesh.  A woman who’s waiting to pay, with both of her beautiful daughters next to her, is from Guinea.

“You’re from India, brother – you know what I’m saying though, right?” I’m trying to find common ground with this dude.  “Who is ‘most beautiful’ in India?  Who does everyone want to look like?”
“European,” he says, without batting an eye, shrugs, then shakes his head.

Y en la República Dominica, how does everyone want to look?” I’m barking orders now, rapid-fire, pointing and taking command of the room.  Towering over a five foot two Dominican woman about to sell skin bleach to a young mother from West Africa.

“American,” she says, and it’s understood that she’s not talking about a person with skin any darker than mine.

“And Bangladesh?” I look at the older gentleman.

“No, I know, it’s not right.  It’s unfair,” and he looks genuinely crushed by this sudden moment of clarity or defeat or acceptance.

“But where is it made?! Who makes that thing?  Tell me that!”

the mother from Guinea cuts me off, a rage in her eyes, index finger stabbing at the poster dangling from my right hand.

“Right here,” I say, mouthing out the big type, “ it says ‘Made in U.S.A.’”

And there it is.

Suddenly I feel a lot taller than everyone else.  As I soak in the moment, I realize that I am in fact about half a foot taller than every person in this store.  Right next to the fashion district.  In this tight-knit neighborhood, crowded meeting place for so many newly-arrived West African immigrants trying to sell their wares, hustling hard, to survive in America after winning a lottery (more precious than any I will ever know) to get into this country –

made for people who look like me.

I see the two daughters of the mother from Guinea staring at me, a bit bewildered by the entire exchange.  Both fear and admiration in their curious young eyes, watching me, the light-skinned fool in the room hold court –

with my green eyes from my WASP mother, my light skin, and my shade under six foot build, having just berated and shamed and belittled every person within thirty feet of me.  You happy now, Carlos?

“I’m sorry, sir,” the man behind the counter says, “I’ll tell the owner what you said.  It’s just that people buy this stuff.  I don’t think it’s right, but they do.  They can’t live without it.  We might not have a store if it wasn’t for this.”
They can’t live without it.            

And I think of the first self-made black millionaire in America, Madame C.J. Walker, who amassed her fortune by selling hair straighteners and skin bleach to black women.  And my friend who saw stacks of Pink Nipple Cream in pharmacies in Thailand last year.  And my student from Pakistan who was told she would never find a husband if she didn’t use the Fair and White soap her grandmother gave her on her eleventh birthday.  And my three exes and current partner with brown eyes, who laughed sardonically when I told them, for the first time, that their eyes were breathtaking.  And every person on Facebook (after I posted the picture of the Skin Whitenizer) who referenced white people getting tans and how it was “like the same thing”

(except that white people are the dominant group and the history of getting tans is rooted in signifying wealth and leisure, of exotic vacations and all that has to do with elevated socioeconomics and status and power).

And I want to scream and cry and fight the world today.

I don’t care what your race, class, gender, religion, sexuality, ability, nationality, language, identity, or story is…we need to make the world a safer place for each other.   We need to make sure that when we see things like Skin Whitenizer in a store window that we say something – every single time.  Because it is a terrorist threat.  More real than any other about which we’ve been warned.  It is in fact more than a threat.  It as an act of the most horrific aggression, a weapon that terrorizes us all, but most harshly targets those who are disenfranchised and oppressed, convincing us the greatest lie ever told:

You are not enough.

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20 Responses to Light-Skinned Latino Walks into a Store that Sells Skin Bleach…

  1. Frank Antonio López says:

    I am so grateful that you exist in this world Carlos. Thank you hermano.. seriously, thank you.

  2. Lope says:

    Amazing piece. Moving and thought provoking.

  3. BlackPrince says:

    I can understand the historical context of how the skin whitening thing is problematic. However, no tans have NOT always been thought of as being of “leisure.” Ever heard of smooth alabasterlike skin?

    It was white pale skin that was prized by white people throughout history and only recently tanning has come into vogue. Anyway, I think that tanning is as fucked up as the whitening thing because the spray on tans can be toxic and tanning outside or in a sun bed can cause skin cancer. So yeah sweety it IS fundamentally the same thing in 2012, stripped of historical signifiers.

    To quote Chris Rock, “everyone trynna look white, black women with their straightened hair, and all white women wanna look blonde!” So lets not pretend that we aren’t all exactly the same mmmhmmm, and I’d advise you to stop spending so much time in cultural and women’s studies classes and get out there in the real world where shit like this is fundamentally irrelevant to human existence.

    • Carlos Andrés Gómez says:

      Dear Black Prince,

      I appreciate your note. I agree that the history of skin tanning has not always connoted wealth and leisure for white people in the way that it currently does. I am aware of the alabaster-like skin that has been fashionable for centuries, my mind immediately goes to the ghost-complected subjects you’d see in old portraits/paintings (ala John Singer Sargent). In recent history though, to which my Facebook pals were most probably referring, with the spray tans/tanning bed look that has become popularized for many white people (and you also referenced), it is a symbol of status. A person of a dominant group flaunting a signifier of status is completely different from a marginalized person, of a group that has been systemically and institutionally dehumanized for two millennia, attempting to emulate the physical appearance and aesthetic standard set by the ruling class.

      I agree that the health hazards of either skin darkening or lightening are incredibly troubling and dangerous (although I think arsenic tablets are more dangerous than tanning beds), however the associated power dynamics make them completely different things – and, sorry, but nothing worth saying out loud can be “stripped of historical signifiers.” Everything we are in this moment is an expression of legacies, histories, and events that began well before either of us were born and will continue long after. To even suggest doing so would be to embrace amnesia on an epic scale (and one which most people gladly already do).

      Love the Chris Rock quote. I think he should be quoted in every debate and discussion. He’s one of my heroes for sure.

      And, finally, regarding your advice about me “stop spending so much time in cultural and women’s studies classes and get out there in the real world where shit like this is fundamentally irrelevant to human existence” – did you read my story? I’m not being funny. Seriously. Did you read my post? This incident epitomized the “real world.”

      I’ve never taken a cultural or women’s studies class in my life (not that it would have any bearing on this), I just actually give a fuck and then try my best to have that impact the way I live. This incident didn’t happen in an Ivy League lecture hall or at a workshop retreat in the mountains, it happened in real life, real time – as I walked through lower Manhattan on my way to a meeting across west 28th street.

      You really think this stuff is “irrelevant to human existence”? You think the discussion the five of us had yesterday inside that store, with two little girls watching, was “irrelevant”? I don’t believe that you actually believe that. I think you do actually care. I think you care a lot. I think that’s why you wrote me such a passionate response to my post, although I strongly disagree with what you had to say. Ultimately, though, I appreciate you reaching out. It’s the only way that we make sure this kind of thing will NEVER be perceived as “irrelevant to human existence” – because if it was, no one would have responded at all (least of which you) but it DOES matter, which explains why we’re having a meaningful exchange with some heart behind it in the first place.

      Love & Respect,
      Carlos

  4. Daniel Piñérez says:

    This hits way too close to home for me, Carlos. I am a Venezuelan 20 year old guy with a black father and a white-Colombian mother. I am light-skinned latino and still, I’ve fought with myself all my life because I don’t want to have the tan look that I have right now. I’ve always wanted to be pale white. And I fight with myself everyday to NOT have that feeling in me, because I know what you say is right. We’ve been told We Are Not Enough.

    That what we represent as human beings is not enough because of our skin color. But I thank you, Carlos. I thank you because you’re making me change, you’re making the fight a little bit easier.

  5. Bryce says:

    AMAZING post!!! Great to see that you are still fighting the “good fight”, and are still serious and passionate about it. Funny thing, I used to shop at the Beauty Supply store when I lived in Manhattan. Keep up the good work :o ) (P.S. This reminds me of when you called Pres Rodin a “Nazi”…you never were afraid to say what you mean)

  6. Opal says:

    Well, the whole novelty of getting a tan is that one can choose how dark one wants to be. I, for one, am pretty darn pasty, but if I chose to tan, I could probably get just about as dark I wanted to be. That gives me a certain amount of privilege. The historical context of the tan as a fashion icon is that it started out as a marker of the working class, and then, with industrialization, all the working poor were pale from working indoors, and a tan became a sign of leisure and health. Tans really became popular in the 1920′s when a fashion icon took a trip to some islands and came back darker. In some ways, it’s still about leisure because it takes a lot of time to cultivate that perfect tan. I’m not saying that tanning is not indicative of a society that fetishizes all women (of all cultures), but I do see that the greater burden is on women who do not fit the ideal in terms of ethnicity/race/culture. There are absolutely risks associated with tanning, but health isn’t the real problem with skin lightening. This isn’t a perfect example, but if we walk down the makeup aisle at a drugstore, we’ll find shades of makeup for light skin in imperceptibly different ranges and only a few very starkly different shades for darker skins. In other words, darker skin doesn’t have a match in the world of beauty. Personally, I think it is somewhat offensive to place cultural and women’s studies in a binary against “the real world.” How do you get more real world than culture and gender? So, to summarize, I disagree with “Black Prince.” This is a legitimate issue.

  7. Opal says:

    Also, the difference here is how the product is marketed. I can buy a similar product based on the descriptions, but it’s marketed as a “dark spot reducer” or a “freckle reducer,” NOT as skin whitener. The difference indicates that my skin tone is fine. I just have spots that need work, while darker-skinned women are flawed all over. That’s a problem.

  8. Shirley Gillett says:

    Oh Carlos, that brought me to tears.You wrote so beautifully, and noticed everything… even your own part in things. It breaks my heart to hear a friend with beautiful brown skin say that she used to rub her skin raw with bleach when she was a little girl because she wanted so badly to be white. I am about as pale as one can be and, yes, I’d love to have the tanned look (but won’t take the risks involved) but this is NOT at all the same. My white skin gives me an unearned privilege of which I am very aware. We do need to look out for each other and see the beauty in each other. Thank you for caring enough not to be silent. Your voice is one that needs to be heard. Keep talking. <3

  9. Diana says:

    Carlos,
    You are a good reminder of what we all should be doing in our own communities. Your passion and your commitment to “the cause” is truly a gift! You give me hope and strength to keep fighting my own fight. I am a 27 year old female and I still have to struggle with people telling me I am not enough! I am still learning to silence those voices and to be strong and be myself! I am greatful that you stood up for what is right! Keep on fighting brother! You definitely inspire me to do the same!

    Peace–

  10. Mouse says:

    What exactly can someone who has never dealt with those feelings of being unaccepted because of dark skin or who wanted to just be a “few shades lighter” have to say to people who actually deal with it?

    All you did is make those people that had nothing to do with the product feel small and further ashamed.

    They don’t love their skin any more than they did.

    They don’t feel anymore accepted by society.

    All they came out of that experience with is that even if they manage to lighten their skin, there will still be a white/white passing individual that will be able to make them feel small.

    The people you berated and belittled weren’t the ones making the product, they weren’t the ones trying to make people kill themselves, they were just at work…trying to make ends meet.

    None of those people make any decisions for the company or even for the store.

    All you did was show how big of an unthinking jerk you could be.

    Because you don’t blame the victim.

    That’s basic rule number 1.

    And that is what you did, you as a light skinned individual with light skin and maybe even white privilege- who doesn’t have to actively deal with the self hatred that many darker skinned individuals deal with, walked into a store made a giant fuss and shamed the dark-skinned PoC there.

    You didn’t tell anyone there, anything they didn’t already know.
    They know why whitening creams sell, they know that it is killing people.
    But for them the end is worth dying for, because the ends mean “acceptance”.

    If you really wanted to do something about skin lightening products you’d contact the companies making them. Not the third line of distribution selling them.
    You’d boycott companies that supported those big companies.
    You’d try to get people to love their own skin by endorsing media that showcased POC.

    I haven’t read anything you’ve posted other than this post, which I found through tumblr.
    But if this is your kind of activism… and you think your actions here made any sort of difference and helped any people.

    Then, Allyship, you are doing it wrong.

  11. Abi says:

    Hi Carlos,

    I found this piece through a link that was posted on Tumblr (http://mujerinterrumpida.tumblr.com/post/27057053819/light-skinned-latino-walks-into-a-store-that-sells-skin). As a darker skinned woman of color, there were parts of your story that I truly had a difficult time connecting with. I could understand your anger as my whole life I have experienced first hand what it means to have dark skin in this world but I also felt for the people in the store, who are also people of color and subject to this treatment. I started for feel angry the more that I read. And hurt. As I read through the comments on tumblr and the different discussions that it sparked, I realized that I was not the only one. I really encourage you to think about some of things that you did/wrote under a more critical eye.


    Both fear and admiration in their curious young eyes, watching me, the lightest skinned fool in the room hold court –

    with my green eyes from my WASP mother, my light skin, and my shade under six foot build, having just berated and shamed and belittled every person within thirty feet of me.

    What does all of this mean for the people in the room? Where will they file this story in the bigger scheme of their lives? Will you revisit this store to speak with the owner or manager, anyone who actually holds the power to make a change? How will you move forward? How do you expect them to?

    • admin says:

      Hi Abi and Mouse,

      I appreciate your comments. I just posted a response on Tumblr to some of the discussion that’s been happening on the thread regarding my original piece. It’s posted below…

      Best wishes,
      Carlos


      (copied from Tumblr)

      There are some things I love about the Internet, a big one being that it’s even possible to have a discussion like this in the first place.

      The other side of it though, I wish we could all talk in the same room, in real time, in person. I think the discourse would be a lot more constructive, empathetic, and compassionate.

      I know everyone has no background about me so I’ll give a little context:

      I spend my life talking to white people and light-skinned POCs who look like me, often in conservative, rural, or obscure places. I do it privately, publicly, with friends, with strangers, at the bodega, in lecture halls, on the bus. The focus of my work has been challenging people in power (i.e. white male gatekeepers like those who own destructive media outlets, manufacture skin lighteners, and reinforce a world in which the current power dynamics exist), while also promoting more positive and greater representation of POCs in the media, industry, and beyond.

      I agree with you that I was wrong to belittle and berate the people around me in that store. I didn’t think it was right at the time, nor did I afterwards, but (as I stated in the beginning of my piece) the plan I went in with and then the actual human, visceral response of my body once I was inside the store were polar opposite things. I say that neither as an excuse nor justification for how I acted.

      I could have easily not told this story (with all its ugliness) but I thought it would be more constructive to share something unsettling, unresolved, unfinished – in which I didn’t do what I should have or planned to – I think it’s more true to life. I felt conflicted before, during, and after the incident, and I thought that that conflict would be something that is translatable, universal, and useful. My viciousness and shortsightedness were not, but in revealing my conflicted feelings, I hoped it might be a starting point to have a real discussion about some complicated issues. And, ultimately, my hope was that we could find a way to be an allied block through the empathy of such an exchange.

      I think it only reinforces hegemony when we lash out at each other and stop being constructive and don’t find a way to be allies for each other. I think it’s what people in power want. That doesn’t mean we have to water down what’s being said, but it does mean that we should work towards something closer to a resolution and an understanding with each other.

      In response to the person (who I can’t find in the thread now) who was angered by me posting a question to this thread – I wasn’t asking to be educated by you or anyone else. Nor was I putting myself on a pedestal above you (although I acknowledge that whether or not I do so, society will often give me entitlement and privilege and power I can do nothing about). I was asking an earnest question because I was trying to have a dialogue – on even footing, on the same level.

      Some questions still ringing in my head (before and now – none of which I’m demanding responses to – but central ones I continue to grapple with) -

      When do we hold another person from a marginalized group accountable for carrying out a job that destroys our people? When is “feeding my kids” an insufficient explanation?

      When you’re a light-skinned Latino District Attorney imprisoning your own people on non-violent drug offenses?
      When you’re a Jewish member of the American Nazi Party like Dan Burros?
      When you’re a Black Spy in Mississippi screening jurors before the murder trial of the Klan leader who killed Medgar Evers?

      And where do we draw the line as to who can check whom and when?

      I think it’s troubling but obviously at the heart of this discussion that two assumptions continue to be made about my story:
      1. That I was the only light-skinned POC or lightest-skinned person in the room – the Dominican woman and Indian man (who took the brunt of my rage) were lighter than me. I don’t think that should change any of the general critique but I think it’s worth noting (because it’s been at the heart of a lot of the backlash/venom directed towards me being justified).
      2. If I am darker, does that suddenly give me a free pass to berate them? I don’t think so. I don’t think that the way I acted can be justified regardless of where I fall on the color caste spectrum.

      I have been “othered,” I have been profiled by police, I have been talked down to, belittled, and dehumanized for being Latino, Colombiano, a POC, not knowing how to read or speak English, for who I am. Who then decides who can check whom?

      All of these questions are both rhetorical and ones I’m still trying to resolve for myself. Not sure if that’s even possible. My point is – race is a social construct with real life and death consequences, and it shifts based on cultural and other contexts.

      This is unavoidably messy stuff and I’m trying to work towards some better understanding on all of this. It’s too easy to summarize a person based on one exchange (without any other context) and peg him or her as an asshole or savior or whatever else. Those all very well might be true. But at the end of the day I’m standing here, humbly and vulnerably with my hand out asking to have a meaningful discussion with you – every single person in this thread. I’m not trying to win. I don’t want to be right.

      I want us to be a stronger block of human beings trying to dismantle something that I know disgusts all of us and hurts all of our communities. I have no idea what it’s like to be black or a woman or a black woman, nor will I ever. I want to make a safer world for the people I love and the kids I might someday have.

      Regardless of the venom and passion and critique (much of which I agree with), I think most of us in this thread share the same core belief: white supremacy needs to be dismantled.

      The gatekeepers of that system are our common enemy, not each other – the people who own the Skin Whitenizer manufacturing plant, the person who casts a show of all white friends and puts it on primetime T.V., or the overwhelming majority of politicians who neither look like us nor represent our needs – those are the people who need to be addressed. They are the kind of people I have addressed throughout my life and will continue to.

      At the same time though, I recognize that a big part of dismantling a system of white supremacy is me checking my light skinned privilege and me confronting white people who assume I identify the same. I have done that my entire life and will continue to, with the same fire, passion, and purpose as I always have.

      I don’t believe that the white hegemonic machine will ever be dismantled if our discussions aren’t complex, messy, vulnerable, and empathetic. I don’t believe any of that will be achieved if sweeping judgments are made or if any of us choose to discard entire perspectives or people because some aspect of what they’re saying may be problematic. Especially when that person is coming to the table to listen, engage, be vulnerable, and share.

      So where do we go from here? Do we just settle for “Fuck this dude, Carlos. He’s full of shit. Another patronizing asshole.”

      I’m still here. I’m not asking for a resolution, that’s not realistic or fair, but I am asking to reach some constructive place.
      If you think I’m full of shit, I don’t expect to change your mind in this post (How could I? You don’t know anything else about me) – so name-call, simplify, make uninformed assumptions as you wish.

      If you do believe me though, and recognize that I’m speaking with my heart, let’s build something together. Let’s find something constructive out of this exchange.

      And lastly, in response to the question about how I’ll follow up with what happened at the store, here’s my response:

      1. Go back to the store to speak with the owner (who I still believe was the older Bangladeshi gentleman), but this time do so in a civil, constructive, solution-driven manner. I plan to ask for contact info for his distributor at R & R Cosmetics, LLC.

      2. I’ve posted the Customer Service link to R & R Cosmetics, LLC and have encouraged friends to call, email and complain about the Skin Whitenizer product. I’ll leave it below for everyone on this thread and on Tumblr. I know that all the intensity here comes from passion and purpose and people who give a shit about the world in which they live and then back it up with meaningful action, so I believe that folks will join me in flooding this company with calls/emails of protest: http://www.rubeerinju.com/CustomerService.asp

      3. I will write my own letter to R & R Cosmetics, LLC.

      4. I’m going to research more about this company and others like it. I’ll be strategizing about concrete and constructive ways to challenge this destructive industry. Open to any ideas/suggestions.

      5. I will continue to challenge people in power who perpetuate this racist standard of beauty, in my every day life and out in the world.

      6. Open to any other suggestions.

      Thank you and looking forward to any solution-driven, ally-building thoughts/ideas/suggestions.

      Love and respect,
      Carlos

  12. David Van Drunen says:

    As a general question, “Do we have the right to openly oppose products and ideas we believe are promoting destructive results?”

    • admin says:

      I would say yes. I think every person should have the right to openly oppose anything they believe is destructive – that’s democracy.

  13. Emily says:

    If that was not real world then maybe I’ll bring up some tv reality for you…how many dark skinned celebrities have lightened their skin color, hmmm Sammy Sosa, Lil Kim, the Jacksons (Janet was lightening up in the 80s and early 90′s) and why???? Dark skinned ppl are not told their skin color is beautiful. In fact for all my religious fanatics Jesus is portrayed as European when he is referred to has having olive skin color and hair like wool. Or get a nose job, or get lipo or lighten and straighten their hair.
    My curly hair and chubby face wouldn’t get me into bourgeois nightclubs but if I straighten it up my dyed blonde hair and cleavage may be that would do the trick.
    I am not sure what anyone’s reality is here. I remember being told I couldn’t be Puerto Rican b/c my eyes were too light, my nose and lips too narrow and I’m all boob and no butt (aside from my not so great Spanish). I spent my whole teenage years trying to prove my Puerto Rican ness only to grow up and realize it was my counterparts issues with “white” ppl that made them degrade me being the minority in my hood since most of the Ricans I grew up with were brown skinned, full lips, and thick all over.
    We have to STOP putting ourselves down and comparing ourselves to what we think is beautiful by someone else’s standard in what is NOT THE REAL WORLD. People are allowing the media to brainwash them in determining what is beautiful. WE ARE ALL BEAUTIFUL. OUR DIVERSITY MAKES US BEAUTIFUL. AND these types of products subject our children and people into thinking they are not beautiful, that they are not enough. It has taken me a loooooong time to embrace myself to realize that I don’t have to be JLO to be Rican or beautiful.
    Thank you Carlos for standing up for something that does not directly affect you but our society, our children. Those little girls sitting there will remember that and hopefully it will make them think twice as they get older.
    We do have a responsibility and maybe we won’t all go in and raid a beauty shop but we can speak to our youth and others about these issues and educate them through history and discussion so they do not subject themselves to such products and ideas that they are not enough.

  14. M says:

    Carlos,
    As great as your action sounds, a bit melodramatic as well, it’s a bit more complex than pointing fingers. It must be an awkward experience to be passionate against skin whitening products when you yourself are seen as a white man, even with the name Carlos. It is not to say that only people of “color” should speak up, if they have something to say at all. Tanning products have a similar affect on light skinned people.
    The fact that every person that you spoke to in the room responded with someone other than a representative from their native country indicates that people already know what’s up. People know that if their skin isn’t “fair and lovely” then neither are they. But how must it feel to be told “what’s wrong with you for purchasing these products? don’t you have the sense to know better?” While everyone heard your strong opinion I’m sure many were thinking “what does he know? how could he understand?-what a privilege it is for him to stand tall and tell me I’m wrong.”
    I’m all for the discontinuation of products which alter one’s skin tone, but I’m not sure if the proper manner in which to handle it is by confusing people. Of course there ought to be a greater sense of appreciation for all skin tones, but making a person feel wrong for wanting to “fit-in” further excludes them. It certainly can confuse a person.
    I might even sound as a privileged person for thinking i know a better way to handle a situation, after all I’m a new yorker whose never been offered any of these products and enjoys the sun. But there are other scenarios in which I’ve felt just as confused. In one of my feminist theory classes (ha?) a student was ranting against the negative image of women in regards to plastic surgery such as breast augmentations. As a woman I notice the media’s narrow attention towards busty women, and busty women with tiny waists to make it better. If i did have a surgery to change my appearance in order to feel better about myself then experienced ridicule for having had done so i would probably be distraught. I would be confused, angry. “Is this not what you wanted? Are you the only one that is suppose to look good? Now I’m wrong?”
    It certainly is a heavy issue, but on a social/realistic level it has to be stopped. Once people realize that they do NOT like what they like simply because “they like it,” then we start opening new waves of communication and understanding. Perhaps attacking the small business owners wasn’t a route I would have taken, after all they probably will continue to sell it. A further investigation to ban the products would be heavenly.

    Hope this made sense.
    (keep in mind a very mellow tone as you read this, as it is what i carried when i typed it.)

    Best,
    M

  15. Andrea says:

    Thank you Carlos for your thoughts. All I can say is that I’m so there with you.
    I had a friend growing up who was a beautiful dark-skinned girl. Once I overheard a young man state that she was very pretty “to be so dark-skinnded,’ as if they were mutually exclusive! My friend had to drag me away because I so wanted to challenge him on that. The first time I heard of skin whiteners as a product people actually used was in a conversation with a Japanese exchange student whose mother and sisters regularly used them to make and keep their skin as light as possible. Then & now I find it difficult to understand why on earth anyone would want to use such a product. Near the end of our college career a Korean friend of mine informed me that she had decided to bow to parental pressure and get a procedure done that would widen her eyes and make her look slightly more European. I begged her to remember that she “is fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God didn’t make mistakes. I personally feel the same way about perming my hair or even wearing straight weave. What’s wrong with the hair God gave me?

  16. The Wizard of Brooklyn Heights says:

    Interesting. This reminded me of an article I wrote for my alma mater’s school newspaper which touches on similar topics:

    http://brianhconnor.blogspot.com/2011/05/business-is-not-liberal-art.html

  17. Matt says:

    Keeping it short and sweet, I’d offer that a white person tanning still has all of the privileges of a white person, so there is no social change for that individual. However, a person of color using a whitener is doing so to gain the social privileges that come with being white. With that, you have the difference between tanning and lightening.
    For those interested in what those privileges are, check out Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. (It’s an oldie, but goodie.)