Yellow Fever

Skin Bleaching and “Yellow Fever”

I’m not one to personally comment on issues of colorism.  Especially if it’s about colorism in Black communities. When “Dark Girls” and “Light Girls” came out last year, I consciously didn’t watch them and made sure to stay out of the comments sections on articles about them.   I didn’t want to remember how as a child, I would watch R&B and hip hop music videos and fantasize about being lighter skinned so that the Black boys in my class would think I was pretty.  I didn’t want to think about how I thought my sister was more valuable than me because she was my dad’s peanut butter color and not the burnt copper tone that my mother and I shared.

My Afrocentric upbringing was supposed to shield me from colorism, after all.  I played with Black dolls (because my mom made sure we had them, all the while discarding the White dolls that relatives and friends gave us).  I read books with Black protaganists.  Hell, I knew the principles and elements of Kwanzaa like the back of my hand.  But I couldn’t escape the feeling– from a multiracial society birthed from racist tenets, and from the media that guaranteed its survival–that I was worth less because of my Blackness.  And let’s not mention the lack of Black culture, politics, and history from my K-12 education.  So, no, I never wanted to discuss colorism let alone skin bleaching publicly because it’s continued existence in society, my community, and in my own life was a source of shame for me.  I was supposed to have overcome it.

And on a scholarly level, the Africanist historian in me has always loathed hackneyed discussions of what Africans do with their bodies (i.e.circumcision, nakedness, and skin bleaching).   I find them distasteful, ethnocentric, and uncomfortable.  To me, they end up as conversations that scorn the backwardness of African practices, erase local agency and uphold a required Western savior, whether in principle or in person.  I tap out of those convos and representations emotionally and intellectually because I can’t stomach them.  So when I saw the buzz around Yellow Fever, I was turned off.

But alas.  My source for hot Diasporan topics (aka my mom) emailed me an article about the new short, “Yellow Fever.”  So of course, I watched it.  And I was glad I did.  Not because it dramatically altered any of my feelings on colorism, or even taught me anything new about Black people going to desperate lengths to alter our appearance (I’ve been to the continent enough to have seen women who failed at achieving a well-balanced skin bleaching effect).  I appreciated it being told by a Kenyan female artist and filmmaker who wants to challenge Western beauty standards instead of chastizing African women for succumbing to the pressure to bleach their skin as Fela Kuti’s 1976 song, “Yellow Fever,” did.  It could also be that I appreciated it because I’m a glutton for the airing out of our dirty laundry.


I applaud  Ng’endo Mukii for providing a new platform–an animated short that employs dance sequences and interviews–to wrestle with these deep-seated global beauty standards.  I find the short’s honesty and thoughtfulness refreshing.  Especially because you don’t walk away from it feeling debilitated as many films of the same topic leave you.  I hope this is another lens to help us come to grips with the power of loving ourselves on our own terms.  She deserves all the accolades she’s received thus far.

Let me know what you think.  Will you watch?  What do you think about colorism and skin bleaching?  How can we overcome impossible and damaging beauty standards?





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