When I was about 9 years old, I set a goal for myself. A goal so big and important that it would change my life. Goals at that age was pretty much a big deal, because at 20, some people still have no goals and plans, but I did at 9. Nevertheless, that goal was never fulfilled, and it never would be.
The almighty goal was huge but there were several steps to get there;
First, I had to focus on my education. No boyfriends at all, because of the 6Bs – Boys Before Books Bring Bastard Babies. A warning from my Nigerian secondary school teachers I kept very close to my heart.
Second, write my final state exams and pass it all with flying colours just so that I was admitted into a prestigious university in Nigeria, where I could study Law, Theatre Arts, Medicine or Fashion (I had quite a lot of things I wanted to be at that time).
Third, focus well on university, graduate and get a good job, be very successful and wickedly rich.
Then finally reach my goal; Bleach with expensive quality products. Yes! That was my childish goal. Looking back, it seemed tragically funny to me, but the situations around me that gave me the audacity to even think of such things were shocking even to the older me. It came off like such a harmless goal and I was confident in reaching it without any hiccups along the way.
Everyone around me was bleaching in the 2010s of Nigeria. Girls, who in my memory were very dark went to boarding schools and universities only to come back looking "fresh" and light skinned, or Oyinbo as Nigerians would say. It was the new rage in town, something everyone should be doing – a vogue even. You got a boyfriend or husband quicker that way, especially that is if he has not set eyes on the previous you. But even some women bleached after getting married and their partners did not mind. In fact, they even treated, their women better - like a fragile egg.
It seemed normal to me. Amongst everyone who was bleaching, no one talked about the dangers. If they did, they merely brushed on the surface, afraid to go in too deep so as not to be swallowed by the guilt of misinforming the younger girls. They glorified bleaching creams but ignored the Black knuckles and elbows they had, they did not mind that they had that "Coke and Fanta" kind of look.
I admired the aunties with fair skin and was even more jealous of girls my age who were naturally light skinned. I have a rich dark skin which at that time, I did not like at all, because most of the dark-skinned girls, some who were even darker than me did not like their skin and they did not hide the fact that they did not, because I was never picked for a lot of things compared to my light skinned friends, because I was involved in looking down on people with dark skin when I was wearing one myself. As I would later come to learn, they spent their time complaining because they did not have the money to buy bleaching creams. Any kind at all.
The only thing that gave me consolation was the fact that one day, I would not wear this colour.
Fast forward to a few years later at the age of 12 in secondary school, I came across a post on a website about the advantages of dark skin. I laughed at the title which was something across the lines of The Power of Melanin. I did not know what melanin was, so I proceeded to google it and I discovered a lot. Google told me that melanin is a dark brown to black pigment found in organisms which darkened the skin, eyes, and hair, it is the reason why the sun does not “burn” us Black people, it was also responsible for tanning White people too.
Imagine the pride I had in gaining such knowledge. I quickly told my girlfriends; the boys did not really care. But not my girls. We literally boasted about it, we showed off to light skinned girls who slandered us or were rude to us. That was the revolution. We praised the power of melanin.
Prior to that, I would avoid the sun like a cancer so I would not get darker than I was. But not anymore. I am always uplifting my Blackness wherever I am, raising my sleeves and putting my Black arms beside a friend. I do not hide my skin or edit my pictures to lighten my skin tone on photoshop (I tried it once and it looked ugly).
Knowledge, they say is power. If we do not teach our dark skin sisters and daughters about the benefits and beauty of their skin; whether mocha, honey, ebony, coffee, or chocolate they will grow up wishing to fit society's standard of beauty – light skin. They will grow up feeling inadequate and unimportant. They will grow up with low self-esteem thinking they do not matter at all.
We need to educate our women. I am so grateful for women such as Lupita N'yongo, Nyakim Gatwech and Khoudia Diop, who despite growing up in a society that discriminated against dark skin prevailed and accepted their skin as it was. They might have been tempted several times to bleach or tone or whatever we want to call it, but they did not. Lupita once talked of a girl who was about to bleach due to hate and discrimination but after hearing Lupita talk about her Black skin in a positive light, she did not. She wrote a letter to Lupita thanking her for appreciating her skin, because through this, Black women around the world would follow in her footsteps. Especially the young ones.
While bleaching still exists, there are side effects, and I am not blind to the fact that some women do it to fit in or get that job or date that guy. But it really is not worth it. If a White woman can be successful without changing her skin colour, dear Black Girl so can you. Your skin is your identity, you would not deny your identity.
Do not strip the melanin from your skin. There are so many people paying fortunes for the features you got for free, so many people trying to be you. You were stunning before the definition of the word was created. Be unapologetically you. Be boldly Black. You were and will always be beautiful.