Saturday, February 1, 2014
Weaves vs. Whitenicious vs. All Things Western: The Flip Side of the Coin
This is a continuation of a discussion I started Here
Dr. Yaba Blay is my hero. Her analyses of black issues always leave me in deep reflection. In this piece, Click Here to Read she discusses the limitations and weaknesses of the " black women lighten their skin because of low esteem" theory. Her arguments are sound. We Africans retain so many Western practices, it's hard to believe we had fully functional societies, with legal systems, languages (both spoken and written), educational systems, way of dress and grooming or anything like that before Europeans showed up. Our current education systems, legal systems, way of dress, official languages are all reflective of Western standards. Even our countries are Western creations. "Falling Bush" (going abroad to western countries) is the aspiration of hundreds of thousands of young Africans. Heck, it was my aspiration too!
It is easy to target women who lighten their skin as weak minded and suffering from brainwashing because they try to emulate western standards of beauty. But I wonder why they and they alone get the brunt of criticism. I wonder because if we follow that line of reasoning then my dear people, we've all been brainwashed. All of us hair perming, weave wearing, GCE O' and A' Levels, Baccalaureate, Bachelors, Masters and PhD holding, fluent English and French speaking, jeans and three piece suit wearing, Christian, white wedding making, bush falling, proud Africans from countries named after Njanga (Shrimp). I hope I don't have to explain that last bit to any Cameroonian. As black Africans, for the longest time, our languages, our cultures, our physical appearance, our art, our music, our intellect, our spirituality, our philosophies, the very essence of our existence has been denied, underrated, devalued, suppressed, ignored, destroyed, supplanted by "superior" versions. We've mostly come to accept it with a "Na so the world e dey" (That is the way of the world) shrug.
On the one hand, it's survival. The world is a Western European world. Their culture, their systems of government, their philosophies dominate. There is not a single inhabited continent whose destiny has not been changed by contact with Western Europe. Their way of life has been setup as the standard that everyone should aspire to. If you have to survive, then you have to learn their ways, assimilate. Nelson Mandela demonstrated this clearly. He mastered Afrikaans, the better to communicate his concerns to the Apartheid leaders. [ By the way, I had a good chuckle during the Winnie Mandela movie starring Jennifer Hudson when students protesting the Apartheid government held up banners saying something along the lines of "We do not want to learn in Afrikaans. Teach us in English" Sweet Irony. Why not Xhosa or Zulu or Swahili? Large enough segments of the population speak those languages, implementing a traditional language as official would not be a nightmare like it would be in the Land of the Njanga River...errrm Cameroon, where there are over 200 local languages.]
So just how much assimilation is acceptable? Lightening skin and perming hair is a legitimate attempt to assimilate too. It means one is adapting to the world around them and doing what is necessary to live comfortably and in peace of mind. Much like us bushfallers who start rapping and watizeying (speaking with American/British/etc accents). Any of my bushfaller compatriots who are really dark or have natural hair or heavy African accents and have felt the weight of their "blackness" in school or work or in stores and other public places will know exactly what I mean. Dark skinned African girls who have been passed over for marriage by African men who ended up choosing lighter skinned girls would know what I mean. How do I, the naturally light-skinned child of a middle class family whose parents were astute enough to send her to good schools and impress upon her the importance of independence and resourcefulness, criticize the woman in Douala whose parents could barely send her to school, who barely got her university degree, who now can't find a job and finds herself depending more and more on the largesse of men. Men who show a preference for lighter-skinned girls? Isn't her decision to lighten her skin just a different expression of independence and resourcefulness? Dencia saw a demand and moved to provide the supply. She's made herself a huge chunk of change in the process I am sure. She'll likely never know the kind of desperate poverty that makes a woman do things after which she ends up unable look herself in the mirror. Can we hold that against her?
Where is the line drawn, people? What level of Westernization is optimum without total eradication of our black African heritage? How do we decide which aspects of Western culture are good for our progress and emancipation and which aren't?