In a live video streaming through her Facebook fan page, Azealia Banks addressed her controversial decision to bleach her skin. Banks claims her choice to lighten her skin shouldn’t take away from her pro-black platform:
I think that for so many people to say ‘Oh you wanting to lighten your skin’ to say that it negates anything that I’ve said about the current situation of blackness in America is ignorant and just stupid. What do body modifications have to do with somebody’s level of intellect. The two don’t correlate. They absolutely do not correlate. I think it’s petty. I think it’s very contradictory.
If people were looking for me to be some of messiah for black empowerment or black rights and my decision to bleach my skin, lighten my skin made you not believe in me, I would just kind of question your priorities.
“I told you all two years ago that as a black woman I stand for reparations and autonomy. All of the rest of the shit is petty. Cultural appropriation, who wears what, natural hair, relaxed, bleached or not, NONE of us will be getting any real respect until we’ve been given what we are owed. And I think it’s unfair to the cause to negate all of the very IMPORTANT things I’ve said in regards to that, just because I like to relax my hair and lighten my skin. As a group it’s VERY important to stay focused and not get side tracked by these small moments of artists “putting it in the music,” because they do so and then they disappear/aren’t coming up with any REALISTIC solutions to all of the pain and suffering we go through as a people.
…Self love means nothing when you don’t have the means to defend/protect or FEED yourself and your people. Honestly, whether or not you decide to wear an Afro isn’t going to change anything about the dire position black peoples bodies are in globally. What we need is a clear plan and to stop getting to hung up on petty shit that doesn’t matter. Me having an Afro puff or dark skin is not going to stop a police officer from gunning down innocent citizens. THE TWO SIMPLY DO NOT CORRELATE… So please I BEG YOU ALL, to worry about the important things like where we’re going to muster up the funds to fix our part of society and/or get the fuck out of the United States . What kind of lotions I use is irrelevant.”
Banks also stressed that she feels there is no difference between a hair relaxer and skin lightening cream.
Banks’ passion for black issues should definitely not be cast aside because she bleaches her skin. But her statements are dangerously misguided. Self-love matters for one major reason: little black girls. We simply CANNOT raise the next generation of black women to feel they are born unacceptable. Low self-esteem in girlhood is linked to ALL KINDS of psychoses. And as someone who speaks often about being raised in an emotionally abusive home, Banks should know this. If we are raising our black girls to be powerful, and to take on this very messed-up world we live in, we must aggressively send the message that their minds, souls and bodies are beautiful.
It’s also misguided to say self-love does not matter on a grander scheme. It certainly does. Self-love and self-appreciation fueled the natural hair industry, it fuels the #buyblack movement, it’s fueling indie black media, it fuels the Black Lives Matter movement and, ironic given Banks’ protest, it is fueling a small but growing dark skin appreciation movement in black culture. Fighting against police brutality and institutional racism is important, but so is black community-building. And black community building begins with self-love.
Banks’ video and essay did spark a thoughtful conversation on social media.
Her lightening her skin doesn’t take away from anything she said in that Hot 97 interview.
— Frank White. (@fioyb) July 2, 2016
Because despite Azealia lightening her skin, she’s spoken on black issues A LOT more than some of your favorite artists…
— Frank White. (@fioyb) July 2, 2016
This tweet, though it pre-dates this dialogue, illustrates the point.
Lmao how are u gonna be woke yet mock those who struggle with self-love like we don’t all struggle with internalized racism
— ART MAMI ☭ (@sofahood) February 29, 2016
While we disagree with Azealia’s logic, we are grateful for her transparency and vulnerability around a very sensitive topic. And the reality is that it is NOT unique to her — black women face incredible pressure to present an image of strength and confidence under some pretty ridiculous odds. Banks’ skin bleaching perfectly embodies the black culture dichotomy — she was clowned for being a dark-skinned black woman, now she is being clowned for bleaching her skin. And honestly, that is uglier than the skin bleaching itself.
What are your thoughts on all this?