Since Sunday the media has sparked a witch hunt, and no, I’m not talking about finding who “Becky with the good hair” is. I’m talking about the echoes of headlines giving their two cents on what has happened to Lil’ Kim, after the rapper posted a series of Instagram selfies where her appearance looked distinctly lighter.
Before I delve into colourism and institutionalised racism, I want to address the fact that, as a young black woman who has struggled with my blackness for years, I have jarring feelings about this issue. Before embarking on my journey to becoming woke, I was constantly toning down my blackness for certain audiences and adjusting my personality in fear of scaring non-black people. If you think this is ridiculous then just ask yourself this question: would my life be easier if I was white? Yes, it would be. And this is why the scandal behind Lil’ Kim’s drastic change goes well beyond self-hate. Whilst I don’t agree with skin lightening, I certainly understand why some people might think it’s their only option.
Lil’ Kim is not one to shy away from discussing her appearance. She has already explained why she first started getting plastic surgery as a response to an abusive partner breaking her nose. She even set up a foundation, Lil’ Kim Cares, for survivors of domestic abuse (though nobody talks about that). On top of this, in an interview from 2000 that has recently re-surfaced on Twitter, Lil’ Kim basically explains her drastic transformation:
“I have low self-esteem and always have. Guys always cheated on me with women who were European-looking… that left me thinking ‘how can I compete with that?’ Being a regular black girl wasn’t good enough.”
However, what has become evident since her Instagram post on Sunday is that people don’t understand what long lasting effects the constant bombardment of Westernised beauty standards can have. To be a woman, no, to be a black woman, in the music industry means you are under phenomenal amounts of pressure to look a certain way. Fairer skin, straighter hair and whiter features are the unspoken rules of beauty that women have to conform to. This is why if you type in #teamlightskin on Instagram, you’ll be overwhelmed by posts dedicated to celebrating black women with lighter skin. Misogynoir – where racism and sexism meet – is a major issue. It’s the reason why women can be turned away from night clubs for being too dark, why Serena Williams doesn’t get paid as much as her white competitors, and why Beyoncé was deemed a “born again black woman” after Lemonade.
Sophie, designer at Panty Hoez, addresses the situation eloquently:
“Lil’ Kim is a classic case of misogynoir. It’s exhausting to be a woman in a public space and in the public eye. If you think about black women and the amount of abuse they receive it’s unfathomable. With Lil’ Kim, it’s just a manifestation of hurt caused by society.”
Colourism is an issue that goes way beyond Lil’ Kim. What saddens me is the onslaught of abuse she has received when it should be directed at our failing society, and more so the racist beauty industry that profits off the damaged self-esteem of women of colour. If you need more convincing that our white supremacist society pushes these ideologies upon women of colour, then just read gGal-dDem’s skin lightening series. Our bodies are not a commodity and neither is Lil’ Kim’s. Why we feel entitled to bash a woman who is obviously in pain is beyond me. Our energy should be focused on changing a system that is so obviously broken.
DJ and activist Munroe Bergdorf sheds further light on colourism within the black community:
“Seeing people of colour sharing Lil’ Kim’s selfie around social media as a form of entertainment, or shaming her for changing her appearance, shows how unaware we are as a community of the effects of colourism. How can the same black men who wouldn’t date Kim when she had a darker complexion turn around and berate her now she has a lighter one?
The pressures on women of colour on how to look are real. Yes, they may come from Westernised ideals of beauty that say ‘the whiter the more beautiful’, but with hash tags like #teamlightskin on Instagram and members of the black community consistently vocally announcing that they wouldn’t date anyone darker than themselves, we need to look at how we as a community are treating each other.”
Don’t pity Lil’ Kim. Be angry for her. Be angry for every black woman. Be angry for the black women who wake up questioning their place in society because of the colour of their skin. Be angry for the black women who have to code switch to get by in everyday life. Be angry for young black girls, because we can’t grow up with another generation of queens thinking they aren’t good enough because of the colour of their skin.