Saturday, May 2, 2009

Buying Beauty: The lighter, the better...(pt. 2)

In contrast to the skin-bleaching phenomenon, Angelina Jolie, in her movie, A Mighty Heart, played the Afro-Cuban/Dutch wife of journalist Daniel Pearl, critics bashed Jolie on practically going blackface in order to “pass” as a woman of color. While the entire idea of blackface still being done every so subtly from time-to-time is problematic, what is even more troublesome is that thousands of people each day are trying to whiten or lighten their skin because they are told through various mediums that their dark skin is not desirable.

What is it about skin color that denotes power? The dichotomy of white and black is further racialized within the context of worth, especially when power and privilege of a majority is added. How is one “race” is able to tie in status and wealth with tanning, while the other is poor or a manual laborer if they are darker?

Just as how race is a socially constructed identity, beauty is relative and is therefore, another social construction that is heavily enforced and policed by society between racial communities and among different communities of color. The impact of eugenics in the creation of a universal standard of beauty is at times, sometimes not directly referenced, but ever-present. In his research paper, “Skin Bleaching in Multi-ethnic and Multicolored Societies: The Case of Suriname,” Jack Menke makes the argument that “the darker one is the lower one’s position in social hierarchy…’color’ is not something that can be altered in the individuals life, but it is something that can be put right in the next generation (Menke, p. 10).”

Menke’s point making something right in the next generation is especially poignant because after India was colonized by the British, the impacts of racial purification and legalized racism due to one’s caste (and usually color of one’s skin) is still present. White women were seen as more beautiful in the 17 and 18th century India because British women were seen as the most feminine, had class, status and some power (at least over those who worked for her). After India gained its independence in 1947 from Britain, the effects of racism and eugenics had not disappeared. Bollywood still carries out the task of showing lighter skin, whiter-looking celebrities in the favorite and most coveted roles, while darker actors and actresses are rarely if ever seen.

Human beings are the subject in Michel Foucault’s study of power. Foucault argues in his because of three modes of objectification: inquiry, dividing practices and sexuality. He writes that humans are transformed into subjects because they objectify themselves with the work that they do in the name of progress - socially, scientifically, economically and biologically (inquiry). Additionally, humans are subjects because they also constrain themselves to dichotomies (dividing practices). Foucault says humans are subjects because of the lifestyles they have chosen for themselves (sexuality), which inevitably transforms them into a subject. The F&L brand transforms people of color into objects of profitability – by making entire communities of color base their worth on the shade of their skin, is not only an impact of oppression, but of racism and self-hatred as well.

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