Skin Color Politics, African Diaspora and Latinos in America and Latin America: Denouncement of Ethnic Identity[SERIES]--PART I
The application of melanin-concentrated chemical creams that strips away color, and otherwise whitens, lightens, brightens or bleaches skin, is a emerging process that's often marketed to remove blemishes or abnormally high pigmentation such as birthmarks and moles but, historically and continuously, these creams are used for the overall whitening of dark skin tones in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America, and even in the United States. The desire to eradicate "unflattering" parts of one's ancestory begins with altering one's skin color for many dark-skinned men and women.
Sammy Sosa, an ex-baseball star who belonged to the Chicago Cubs for the bulk of his career, had an extensive career that included a team-record of 545 home runs and three seasons of 60-plus homers. The Dominican ex-slugger was one of the most recognizable names in baseball when he made an appearance at the 2009 Latin Grammys in Las Vegas. His usual medium-to-dark skin tone was suddenly a pasty alabaster, and he smiled as if he'd just won the World Series.
Originally thought to have a skin condition, the athlete's pigmentation shocked fans, spectators, commentators, dermatologists, media outlets, and just about anyone with eyes to see his transformation. In fact, NESN commented on Sosa's ghost-like appearance, calling him "downright vampiric." Sosa admitted to the longtime use of a cosmetic "skin cream" in collaboration with bright TV lights, which helped to make him appear whiter than he is.
"It's a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and whitens my skin some," said the ex-Cubs slugger in a 2009 interview with "Primer Impacto," a program of the Univision Spanish Network. "It's a cream that I have, that I use to soften [my skin], but has bleached me some. I'm not a racist, I live my life happily."
Sosa's startling appearance made the public revisit images of Michael Jackson, whose skin tone became much lighter after years spent in the public eye with darker skin. While Jackson claimed that he was diagnosed with a rare non-contagious skin disorder called vitiligo, which causes the depigmentation of parts of the skin, many speculated that his color change was due to skin bleaching to appear European, much like his decisions to undergo rhinoplasty. Jackson's sister, Latoya, was also accused of keeping crates of Porcelana in her home, "hoarding it as the most valuable beauty product ever produced," according to some sources.
"It's ridiculous, man! Chemical peels and all of it. And I don't understand it. But he obviously didn't want to be black...You see his kids?" Quincy Jones once stated about Jackson in an interview with Details.
Mercury, niacinamide, alpha hydroxy acids, cinnamomum subavenium, azelaic acid and a number of other chemical, proteins, acids and extracts have been used to change the tone of skin. The process itself is not only problematic, but it promotes the idea of self-hate, colorism, and denouncement of ethnic identity. However, many others state that the process of altering one's skin color is similar to recreational surgical enhancements such as rhinoplasty, and others state that the act of skin coloring falls in line with straightening or bleaching one's hair in order to appear more mainstream. The question then becomes: how much is too much? When is someone making simple cosmestic changes, and when are they surgically/chemically denouncing their ethnic identity?
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