|My dream is to become a nurse, or if not, go to Europe. I'd like to marry a white man and become white myself. I couldn't be completely white, that's not possible, but cream is good for whitening the skin.|
So would it be a mistake for African Americans to read this as internalized self-hate? Or should we assume that something entirely different and specific to Congo is going on? Below, I push against two opposing positions:
1) that Africans (i.e. black people) get the same message everywhere or that
2) the traditional black North American analysis (internalized "self-hate") is outmoded.
Context certainly matters. But the flip side is that we can try so hard to be sophisticated in our analysis that we can miss the obvious. I have seen about half of west Africa and I have talked about race with Africans all over the continent for about 13 years. Every nation in Africa that I know of has individuals who struggle with internalized self-hate (in many instances the white Jesus complex is a primary culprit).
Yes we can go on for hours about complexity and nuance. In fact just yesterday I came across a quote from a DRC villager who has a very astute critique of Europeans (p.14) Perhaps we could do the city-village thing and hypothesize that urban people are more colonized than village folks. We can raise issues about translation and what not. Indeed, we can dance around this issue all day and night. But I don't think its off the mark to conclude that this young sister who talks about bleaching her beautiful black skin, becoming white and marrying a white man is struggling with a colonized mentality.
Would it be better to consider that this Congolese sister desires a better life as opposed to wanting pale skin?
Certainly. But we have been raising these same questions in the US for centuries. When someone desires a better life by bleaching or marrying white or passing it suggests that the individual or group in question is suffered from internalized self-hate. That was Biko's (1970s) analysis. And before him Malcolm X (1960s). And before him Marcus Garvey (1920s). And before him David Walker (1829, p.11). Internalized self-hate and the desire for a better life are not mutually exclusive. The desire to seek a better station in life by bleaching your skin or marrying white people are outcomes of racism/white supremacy. You don't have to understand racism to be a victim of racism.
However, there is a danger in imposing African American assumptions on DRC realities. Clearly, internalized self-hate in DRC is not quite the same as internalized self-hate in Compton or Chicago. But I happen to think that internalized self-hate is a good baseline from which to think more comprehensively about the universal impact of white supremacy in specific places. So, again, my argument is that self-hate and the desire for a better life are not mutually exclusive. An externally imposed (i.e. imposed by white people) inferiority complex is the baseline from which we may raise a host of issues both local and translocal. The mistake, therefore, is not drawing upon older models or black North American models. Rather, the mistake would be to stop asking questions beyond the (correct) assumption of self-loathing.
View more @BBC News - In pictures: The DR Congo at 50
tags: congo, race, post-colonial, aesthetics, beauty, mental slavery