Skin Bleaching a Growing Problem in Jamaica Slums

David McFadden, WTOP-FM (Washington, D.C.), April 11, 2011

Mikeisha Simpson covers her body in greasy white cream and bundles up in a track suit to avoid the fierce sun of her native Jamaica, but she’s not worried about skin cancer.

The 23-year-old resident of a Kingston ghetto hopes to transform her dark complexion to a cafe-au-lait-color common among Jamaica’s elite and favored by many men in her neighborhood. She believes a fairer skin could be her ticket to a better life. So she spends her meager savings on cheap black-market concoctions that promise to lighten her pigment.

Simpson and her friends ultimately shrug off public health campaigns and reggae hits blasting the reckless practice.

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People around the world often try to alter their skin color, using tanning salons or dyes to darken it or other chemicals to lighten it. In the gritty slums of Jamaica, doctors say the skin lightening phenomenon has reached dangerous proportions.

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Most Jamaican bleachers use over-the-counter creams, many of them knockoffs imported from West Africa. Long-term use of one of the ingredients, hydroquinone, has long been linked to a disfiguring condition called ochronosis that causes a splotchy darkening of the skin. Doctors say abuse of bleaching lotions has also left a web of stretch marks across some Jamaicans’ faces.

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Hardcore bleachers use illegal ointments smuggled into the Caribbean country that contain toxins like mercury, a metal that blocks production of melanin, which give skin its color, but can also be toxic.

Some impoverished people resort to homemade mixtures of toothpaste or curry powder, which can stain skin with a yellowish tint.

{snip}

“Bleaching has gotten far worse and widespread in recent years,” she said. “(Bleachers) want to be accepted within their circle of society. They want to be attractive to the opposite sex. They want career opportunities. But we are saying there are side effects and risks. It can disfigure your face.”

Health officials are running warnings on local radio stations, putting up posters in schools, holding talks and handing out literature about the dangers. But a similar anti-bleaching campaign in 2007 called “Don’t Kill the Skin” did nothing to slow the craze.

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The most public proponent of bleaching is singing star Vybz Kartel, whose own complexion has dramatically lightened in recent years. His ‘Look Pon Me’ contains the lines: “Di girl dem love off mi brown cute face, di girl dem love off mi bleach-out face.”

{snip}

Others, however, say it raises awkward questions about identity and race.

“If we really want to control the spread of the skin-bleaching virus, we first have to admit that there’s an epidemic of color prejudice in our society,” said Carolyn Cooper, a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, writing in The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper.

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  • Anonymous

    skin bleaching, tanning salons, people are crazy.

    Reminds me of a song,

    Everybody’s beautiful in his own wayay…

  • Tim in Indiana

    “If we really want to control the spread of the skin-bleaching virus, we first have to admit that there’s an epidemic of color prejudice in our society,” said Carolyn Cooper, a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, writing in The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper.

    Why do I get the nagging feeling that this woman who is so concerned about teaching black Jamaicans that they’re the hapless victims of rampant prejudice in their society is herself white?

  • Anonymous

    Is this suppose to be an article in which whites take

    pride in the fact that some blacks from a poor country

    in the third world where close to half the people, if

    not now then had been so in the past, are unemployed

    and about the same are at the poverty rate want to

    be white since they are bleaching their skins?

    Isn’t there anything else more important to feel good about?

  • Peejay in Frisco

    We white folks have the same problem, but from the other direction.We sit out in the sun, trying to look darker.House speaker Boehner is a prime example of this.The best color is somewhere in between.

  • olewhitelady

    Of course, people in every society in the world for thousands of years have known about “color prejudice”. It’s not going to change, and apparently many women who appear before the public are giving up on the diversity nonsense and going as white as possible. Note three newsreaders on Fox News: Harris Faulkner appears to have lightened her black (probably straightened) hair and brown skin as much as possible without going totally blonde and white-skinned. Uma, a typical Indian woman, now has dark-blonde hair and light skin. Julie Banderas, who used to look like a beautiful Spanish woman, now has brown instead of black hair. I haven’t noticed whether any of them has light-colored contacts, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

  • Anonymous

    It sure worked for Michael Jackson.

  • Anonymous

    Blacks, like ‘Hispanic’ Mestizos, know they are ugly to whites. They see success in not being as darkly pigmented as the man or woman next door and so set up their own racial bigotry index as a ‘color continuum’ of false attraction biase based on false assumption that being ‘light enough’ to mimic whites will get them in the door.

    Except the elite blacks, who are the upper crust endgame for most bleachers, will find a dumb, pretty, real-deal white to marry and so get the mulatto effect for real.

    While all beneath them can only move downmarket in trade for huge health risks and ultimately, early old age (i.e. try keeping a man genetically predispositioned to marital wanderlust if you look 50 at 30…).

    The sadness being that we could fix this with genomic therapy very simply.

    What will be harder to do will be to change the morphologic (EQ) and brain chemistry functions that continue to keep blacks with 115+ IQs from expressing as more than 2.5%* of a mean IQ=87 American genotype and probably half that for African/Haitan IQ=70 equivalents.

    THAT is where the real money is. Because that is where blacks can form an upper class whose privilege is based on what our own used to be: taking care of the classes beneath them as a sole-source provider because whites want to have nothing to do with them, including profits.

    *(2.5 percent times 36 million = 900,000, not even close to sustaining a modern societal infrastructure which allows blacks to be truly independent of whites. Our own fractions of 16% above 115 equates to roughly 30 million from 180 million and we can barely take care of our own group.)

    Fear. Fear of being less than someone else to the extent that you won’t let them make you better. It’s a childish vicious cycle that rewards ignorance and creates poverty based on social fads rather than real (proveable) assumptions of worth.

  • Justin

    Haha, I got a kick out of this article. Even with all the corruption, crime and chaos in Jamaica, the liberal press will still find a way to bring “White Racism” into it. If I were a Jamaican some idiots bleaching their skin would be the least of my worries.

  • Seneca the Younger

    So they want to lighter, most dark people do. Look at the middle east, India, and even east Asia.

    But why be lighter? I thought you all hated white people? Could most of this hatred stem from some kind of jealousy issue? Hmm…

  • Cousin Charlie from TN

    “No comments yet”

    I sure hope there aren’t those usual comments coming soon, that “whites like to get suntans, so everything’s equal & we’re all just the same.”

    I posted this type of thing here several years ago relating to this same ridiculous issue.

    To wit: Tans are a sign of vigor for whites, mainly men, indicating that they spend untold hours outdoors in the hot sun getting things done. That’s been true for millennia. It does not have anything to do with DNA, fashion, IQ, etc.

    Even blondes & redheads can tan. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me–there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, as there always has been.

    Sailors have been tanned for eons. Did they “choose” that? Hah! The sun made them do it.

    Glad that’s been cleared up!

  • Anonymous

    Michael Jackson deja vu although he tried to mix genders too.

  • John Engelman

    This is sad. The problem with trying to look white is that a black person will never look as white as a white person.

  • We Be Men, Yo

    “and favored by many men in her neighborhood”

    Mikeisha, good news. You can stop fretting. These “men” are not fussy. They’ll favor something defenseless first, and something which will not cost any money or barter goods.

  • Ben

    “So they want to lighter, most dark people do. Look at the middle east, India, and even east Asia.

    But why be lighter? I thought you all hated white people? Could most of this hatred stem from some kind of jealousy issue? Hmm…”

    and guilt complex…

    Ones who aspire for equality know deep down that they down feel worth anything…

  • Ben

    I will say though, against the conveying norms on this site, that Jamaicans tend to be very chill and different than other blacks like African Americans and even though directly from Africa. Also never involved in blaming at the extent that others do.

    Jamaicans never seemed like those who have guilt, I’m surprised.

  • Ben

    @Peejay in Frisco

    “We white folks have the same problem, but from the other direction.We sit out in the sun, trying to look darker.House speaker Boehner is a prime example of this.The best color is somewhere in between.”

    Sitting in the sun and naturally producing slightly more melanin (there is only a certain level of plasticity) is not the same as injecting poison into your skin to bleach your epidermis white. One does it out of guilt the other doesn’t (trying to get a tan isn’t trying to be darker or black but rather enjoying the beige color that is produced).

    Try again.

  • flyingtiger

    I thought Black was beautiful!

  • Daniel

    I am surprised that this is happening. I thought black was beautiful.

  • Clint Chesnutt

    This article reminds me of one of the most inadvertently hilarious short stories I was ever forced to read as an undergrad in college. It was in a “world lit” class that focused on “African’ literature. Can’t remember the entire plot, but it dealt with, I believe, a South African black prostitute who bleached her skin in order to make herself more attractive for the customers. Trouble was, she could only afford to bleach her face and hands, and the customers would get extremely angry when they saw “the rest of the goods.” I do feel sorry for these blacks with such low self esteem that they would spend what little money they have in order to disfigure themselves to look more like those they hate with all their passion. Truly sad.