"White is Bright"...and other stories

20-minute documentary on "shadeism" below. H/T Clutch.

Shadeism on Vimeo.

I feel like I should be more bothered by this topic, but for some reason, I'm sort off "meh" towards it, and have been so for most of my life. My first encounter with shadeism came when I was five, attending school in Massachusetts and a girl of biracial heritage told me that I could not play with her and her white friends because I was simply too dark. At the time, I could care less, because there were more than enough "dark" classmates to play with (especially this adorable Rasta child, of whom I was completely enamoured with - and of course, like any five year old girl, I displayed my affection by terrorizing him at the playground - I was a bit of a bully back then. So he was my first crush, my second was Michael Jackson...don't judge). It was only when I was older that I realized it was a pathology. But even now, when I encounter such instances of black-on-black discrimination, it hardly fazes me. Like for example, an older relative of mine expressed a desire for her children to wed men of other races in order that they may sire beautiful children (but beyond that, she also has some gripes towards Igbo men, which receives a bit of a "Kanye Shrug" from my end). On another occasion a family friend was lamenting that the others are reticent to discipline their mixed-race four-year-old because of the colour of his skin. Of course, the Nnewi man was not having it, and half-stated/half asked, "This child cannot be more beautiful than me?" Yeah...side eye....not at the instance of shadeism...but rather at the sheer ridiculousness of the question. (Oh, and I'm assuming/hoping that most of my extended family is not aware of my blogging exploits...an aunt was worried that I may get arrested for my opinions, or worse still, not find a husband, because of it. Had to reassure her that it wasn't that serious, yet).

I feel like I should be more aggrieved towards such statements in the same way that I am towards racism. I find that among the African American community, individuals are much more sensitive towards shadeism, while in other communities, such as those represented in this film, expressing a preference for lighter-coloured children has long been normalized.

But, beyond the instances I just mentioned, I feel that overt shadeism may not be as pervasive in the Nigerian community. From my limited personal experience, we tend to denigrate those with blotchy tell-tale signs of chronic skin bleaching, and we extol darker- skinned actresses like Genevieve or Clems Ohameze, who in his day, was known as "black beauty." I think there is an element of "Nigerian pride," which, perhaps in this day and age, trumps the need to adhere to Eurocentric ideal of lighter-skinned beauty. Or perhaps, which is more likely the case, I am trapped in my own, "Black is (unquestionably, regardless the shade) beautiful" bubble.

There are some other bloggers who covered in relation to this film (simply Google "shadeism") - but I have yet to see a Nigerian blogpost on the topic. Though, I have seen a number of them on the politics of hair - which at this point in my life gets a "meh" from me as well.


  1. KT said...:

    Guilty as charged - your last sentence!

  1. Hmm, funny you should mention Genevieve. I've never met a fine dark skinned girl who has wanted to get lighter but I've met many yellow girls who want to look like Genevieve. Fineness conquers all colour prejudices it seems.:)

  1. Anonymous said...:

    hmm, pyoo wata, thats great. come to think of it, when last did you visit nigeria? nneoma, that is a very fine name. do you know how to speak igbo, i mean real igbo, email me, at ugowhite@live.co.uk, I am an igbo living in nigeria and i think i like your bloc, though to some extent. and i think i am more mature than you ...lol think about it.
    ps: my regards to your mum, tell her i need to hear some stories to tell to my kids, they love stories, u know.

  1. Lol! I think it was then that Nigerians were into the-fairer-the-better. Now, not so much oh. I first read about Shadeism in a short excerpt about Jamaica. It's practiced a lot there- the fairer you are the more class you have, even your family members give you that respect. And they actively seek out fairer people to marry.

    It's quite fascinating cause i couldn't care less either.