South Africa: Post-apartheid, but still colour conscious
“First world- Third World” Is a common phrase often mentioned, in a tone of nonchalant acceptance. On the one side elaborate hotels and grandiose residences share the same vicinity as tin roofed slums; while people beg weaving through the panoply of Mercedes CLKs and 4 by 4’s.
Since the two years that I last visited, there have been visible changes- new airports and international conference centres and stadiums to cater for last year’s much anticipated and symbolic World Cup.
South Africa is a country keen to exonerate itself of its not so distant apartheid past.
Road signs have been assiduously changed from the Afrikaans names of the architects of apartheid to the now African names synonymous with its demise. However, although the institutions, structures and laws have changed, alarmingly remnants of colour consciousness still exist.
Watching a common national lifestyle television programme, a presenter is shown around the ostentatious home of Sorisha Naidoo- a former Asian beauty queen and now part of the bourgeoisie and highest echelon of society. She made a successful business out of selling “Pure Perfect”- a skin lightening cream. Apparently the 32 year old looks objectively paler in recent years, a phenomenon she seems eager to exhibit and market to others, but that I and many others find offensive and disgraceful.
Absurdly, clients can either chose the Pure Perfect Cream “that will lift as much as 2-4 shades” or the Pure Perfect Parfait a gel-based moisturiser that will lift as much as “4-7 shades or as much as your body will allow”.
Alas, the archaic practice of skin bleaching has existed for centuries and I am aware that such practices are still commonplace in Pakistan and India. However, I expected more of South Africans; that they would not fall prey to such explicit messages that equates whiteness with beauty.
Perhaps what is more upsetting is not that such products exist in the first place and are readily available but that they are condoned and not boycotted like they ought to be- Further reinforcement that those of us of colour are somewhat lesser beings.
There can be a myriad of structural changes; names of roads can be changed for miles across the country, but there has to be something else.
Mindsets have to change, and people of colour need to somehow reconcile their own insecurities of their oppressed colonial past with how they wish to be perceived positively in the future.
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