#1: The scourge of colorism has had a stranglehold on Latinx communities for centuries, and it manifests in insidious ways. Although nicknames like “la morena” are often used in Latinx families as a term of endearment, these seemingly-harmless labels can create deep roots of self-hatred within the subject. This self-hatred can be especially prominent in young women and girls who are taught to tie their self-worth to their outward appearance. And although the Latinx community is doing more now to tackle colorism than it ever has before, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
According to public health officials, the as-yet-unnamed woman arrived at an emergency room “slurring her speech” and “unable to walk or feel her hands and face” public health officials said. She is now in a semi-comatose state. According to friends and family, the woman frequently bought her face-cream from a friend in Mexico. But this time, her Pond’s Rejuveness Anti-Wrinkle Cream had been laced with the toxic heavy metal, mercury. According to officials, the woman is the “first known victim of methylmercury poisoning from a cosmetic in the U.S.”, making her case especially alarming. According to The Daily Beast, the sale of skin-lightening products is “a bustling market” that is “driven by immigrants who buy them from their home countries”.
Although the FDA is tasked with monitoring imported cosmetic products to make sure they reach our health-standards domestically, it is impossible to keep track of unreported and/or illegal trade. That’s why you should be wary when accepting beauty products from a friend or relative who lives out of the country. According to Businessweek: “no one knows how many of the world’s skin-lightening creams are tainted with mercury.” Even if you are sure your friend is trustworthy and the product is safe, in the end, there’s no way to know for certain.
In many Latinx countries, the skin-lightening market is a widespread and lucrative trade that holds no stigma for its customers.
Reports suggest that across the world, the skin-lightening market is valued at $20 billion, which proves how ubiquitous the desire for lighter skin is, cross-culturally. Because of its known melanin-suppressing effects, mercury is often found in skin-lightening products–including “legitimate” products that insist their ingredients are safe. Methylmercury is an extremely toxic compound and is used in things like “thermometers, batteries, and mirrors”. According to experts, long-term exposure “can cause kidney damage, loss of peripheral vision and lack of coordination”. That means that many of these skin-lightening creams that are marketed as being safe are actually laced with poison and are extremely toxic.
Colorism comes from the history of European colonization and oppression in Latin America. Europeans used the socially-constructed idea of race in order to divide and subjugate the people they were trying to conquer. Identifying with white Europeans was a way to prove superiority and therefore align yourself with power. But subsequently, the idea of lighter skin being more desirable has persisted until today. And, as is evidenced above, some Latinos will go to great lengths to appear whiter–even if the outcomes are dangerous.
Fortunately, there are a vast number of Latinx people on Twitter who are vocal about the negative effects of colorism within the community.
Many people in the Latinx community (especially the younger generation) are finally waking up to the realities of life for people who are darker-skinned. Luckily, there is a large cohort of people who are no longer staying silent on the issue.
This Latina has seen colorism manifests itself within her own family:
The beautiful part about being Latinx is the spectrum of colors of the community has–a spectrum that sometimes shows up inside a family.
This Latina recognizes that, while she thought colorism was “normal” when she was younger, she now knows it’s a harmful social construct.
Sometimes it’s hard to see when something is wrong when it’s so ingrained in society.
This person sees colorism as a major divisive factor in the Latino community:
Even when we see representations of ourselves in the media–often the accepted version of a Latino is European-looking one. Look at any telenovela.
This Latina understands that colorism isn’t just a black/white issue:
In reality, colorism is nuanced–it comes from outdated colonial mindsets of white and European-supremacy.
Although it’s terrible that this woman was victim of this black market cream, this incident is bringing to light the undeniable harmful impact of colorism within the Latinx community as well as the dangers of skin-lightening products.
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