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Skin commentary in Nigeria

Skin commentary in Nigeria

“Why are you so black?”
“Wow, you really are a fine guy, see how yellow your skin is”
“You are neither black nor yellow, can’t you choose one?’

To be honest, the topic of skin in Nigeria is not a common one. And usually, when skin is discussed, it is usually about skin care and skin care routine. I have never really had or heard conversations about skin commentary in Nigeria, hence, the purpose of this article.

Skin topic is not really a serious topic in Nigeria and an opinion from my friend best explains this.

“Well, we are all black here, in this part of the world. So being black has no significance in this society. And because of that, we barely call ourselves black because it’s a general thing—something that evades our consciousness”

Therefore, when skin commentary is made in Nigeria, it is usually jokes, bants or micro-aggressive mockery. And by skin commentary, I mean the various kinds of opinions or facts people have (usually) about other people. In some cases, these commentaries may come in form of compliments too.

In this article, I will explain the basis of skin commentary and how skin commentary usually works in Nigeria. I’ll also put a little guide about how to make the right comments about people’s skin.

History of Skin commentary

In pre Colonial Africa, Nigerians (although we were not called Nigerians then) didn’t see their skin as not good enough or that there was something better than it. True, they saw light skinned as more beautiful and acceptable, but still, that didn’t mean people who had really dark skin tones were not considered beautiful or less. Meanwhile, when colonization came upon Africa and the white man disparaged our skin by making comments such as “Apes” “Apes obey”, Africans thought their skin was definitely a ‘problem’ and was considered ‘sub-standard’. Especially when they saw how white the whites were and how smart they were.

Hence, the skin inferiority ideology was embedded into the mentality of the average Nigerian or Africans in general and this mentality was passed down from generation to generation, mostly through jokes or common innuendos.

Basis of Skin commentary

 Society
 Mentality/Psychology
 Education

1 Society

In Nigeria, most of the culture, habits and beliefs each individual knows is usually gotten from the Family and with huge contribution from the society. In fact, there is an adage that says “One person gives birth but the whole community/thousands of people train the child with him”. It simply means that an individual does not get exposure or training in his/her family alone.

In our societies, people have normalized jokes about skin in a way that has made it acceptable or even funny to the person being commented about. Usually, most of these comments are usually targeted to people with black skin tones. Comments like ‘Black like the devil’, ‘Black like the lower burnt part of Jollof rice’ or ‘Black like a tire’. I received these comments when I was a kid, but I found them funny because those that made the comments said it like jokes.

Meanwhile, most people did not take these comments as jokes because they felt like they didn’t belong or weren’t good enough especially when excessive adulation was given to light skinned people and people who were not felt left out. So the ‘best alternative’ they had was to bleach their skin so they could finally feel like they belonged and receive praises instead of jokes about their skin. I mean, in 2017 alone, The Guardian reported that the global skin lightening industry was worth $4.8bn. That was four years ago.

‘Unfortunately’, only God gives skin. These people turned out to be black and yellow and people made fun of them derisively. Further attempts made by them to complete their ‘Yellowness’ turned out to be worse. The final result was skin cancer or in some cases, death.

To be fair, society didn’t kill these people, but they might have contributed to the factors that led to their death.

When I wanted to write this article, I first thought of going online and looking for facts and numbers, and then it dawned on me that all the facts and experiences I needed should be gotten from people I knew and not what an online research said. I asked a friend of mine that is very light-skinned about the comments people made about his skin. His exact words were:
‘People tell me; your skin is very flashy, very cool’. I asked him if he ever received negative comments or jokes about his skin and he said no, never.

Then, I proceeded to ask dark skinned people the kind of comments they got about their skin. I got only two responses about people making compliments about their skin. Majority of the responses I got was about the jokes or derisive comments people made.

A friend of mine said someone said she should tone her skin up, another friend told me that when he didn’t go out often, he became a little light-skinned and when he finally did go out, people said his skin now looked fresher.

I was about to input into this article that in Nigeria, it hasn’t gotten to the extent of people getting denied certain things just because of the color of their skin. Turns out I was wrong. A colleague of mine asked on a group if people had gotten negative comments about their skin. A man said in Pidgin English “One bank no gree give me work say I too black. I no go mention the bank’s name, but I am happy they didn’t.”

So usually, people would say that it is not bad that you are dark-skinned but it might be better if you are light skinned. Or they would tell you that you are getting darker as if that was a problem and as if they would tell such to a light-skinned person getting fairer naturally

Meanwhile, it would be a terrible assumption to say that Light skinned people do not get negative comments about their skins too. Such comments are usually ‘advices’ or ‘warning’ to them to step up their skin care routine or switch to better skin care products. Jokes like ‘You are getting sunburnt, can’t you just choose one skin color?’ or most times, warning comments like ‘Your skin is getting dark in some places, change your cream’. Even I made those ignorant comments.
If it is not light-skin or dark-skin, it is the fact that people have scars or acnes on some parts of their bodies

There is always the pressure to have the perfect skin that ‘appeals’ to people

2 Mentality

Like I mentioned earlier, most people’s mentality/psychology have been conditioned to like things that are flashy or seem bright enough. I don’t really think it’s a problem as long as they don’t establish their psychology or mentality as the fact or norm.
Meanwhile, as humans, appearances matter a lot to us. The way people look, their hair, their dress sense, how well taken their teeth is and their foot wear most times, determine what we think of them firsthand. I was talking to a friend of mine and he said ‘Majority of people like light skinned people immediately because they look cool and bright and beautiful’. I agreed with him and I told him that it isn’t their fault that they are like that and they should never have to apologize to other people because God gave them such beautiful skin.

Meanwhile, making one’s opinions about skin makes a lot of impact, especially when such person is influential or well respected. Although it didn’t help that Victor Olaiya’s ‘Omo Pupa’ postulated a stance to Light skinned women. Still it was just an innocent man stating his preference in a song. It doesn’t also take away the fact that men who listened to the song might have felt that Light skinned women were better, or to black- skinned women who listened to the song that their skin was inferior.

A friend of mine sent a link to an article she wrote on TELL AFRICA about her experience with skin and skin commentary in Nigeria.

She said:

“I had started noticing the underlying distastes for dark skin. Right from the day my next-door neighbors christened their baby boy who was “fortunately” light skinned. People had gathered over the baby with glazed eyed wonder and admiration, commenting firstly about the child’s skin as if that was what defined him, “omo pupa”, “oyibo re o” they said whilst simultaneously, unsolicited giving tips to the mother on how to prevent the baby from getting dark, like it was some kind of defective illness. ”E ma lo ori fun ooo, a duudu wa ni” one pointedly said in my local dialect, which meant “do not use Shea butter for the child or he will get dark”. On a sofa, there in my neighbor’s tiny parlor, I squirmed uncomfortably. I wondered if they knew the import of what they were saying, if they knew that indirectly they were condemning the black skin-my skin color, by suggesting all means to prevent it. If they knew that they, like a thousand others, were embracing the “lighter is better” phenomenon”

(You can read the full article here)

3 Education

The level of people’s education and exposure determine the kind of comments they make about other people’s skin. People who usually comment about how beautiful dark skinned people are, are usually educated people, or in most cases, people who do not see color. Some people do not even bother with such comments because they don’t see the need as they think everyone is beautiful the way they are.

Takeaways from this article

  • People make skin comments based on societal influence, their mentality/psychology and the level of education they have
  • You don’t need to validate someone else’s skin
  • Everyone should be proud of their skin whether they get comments or not
  • In Nigeria, it is very hard to eradicate jokes about skin but what matters is how you react to those jokes.
  • No skin is inferior, what matters is how well you take care of your skin.
  • It’s not bad for dark skinned people to get darker.
  • Not everyone with scars on their body are comfortable or confident with it, you don’t need to point it out to them. If they needed your opinion, they’d ask

    Obviously, we still have a lot to do on skin and skin commentary in Nigeria, and in most African countries. Therefore, speaking on it and knowing how you can make the right comments about skin or correct people when they make wrong comments about skin will help us all in the long run.

    All skin is perfect, whether Dark, Brown, Light, Milk, chocolate, or for people who still can’t classify their skin tones; there is no need to seek classification when its perfection is undisputable!

    Go to home

  • 7 thoughts on “0

    1. Well written, you see the issue of feeling insecured by people’s comments is because we also feel inferior about our body. The need to love ourself is one, and that’s the mistake I never make, cause I know there are many things that could have gotten to me if I had let them.

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