The recent change in retired ballplayer Sammy Sosa's appearance raises a question most famously asked of Michael Jackson -- did he or didn't he?
Did they, that is, intentionally lighten their skin? And then, if either one did, was it an effort to look more "white," more European? Or just to look "better"?
Regarding Michael Jackson, I'm in the camp that believes his skin grew progressively lighter not because he wanted it to, but instead because he had Vitiligo. But then, what about certain forms of plastic surgery he had? Were his narrowed lips and disappearing nose an effort to become merely more attractive? Or were they efforts to become more attractive by the racist measure of white/European standards?
As for Sosa, he apparently says that his lightened skin is a result of a cream he purchased in Europe "in a bid to soften his sun-damaged skin." But then, according to msnbc, the product itself is indeed a "skin lightening product," and Sosa is currently thinking about swelling his bank accounts by endorsing the product.
And then there 's those green contacts that Sosa seems to be wearing in the after photo [?]. . . Is Sammy Sosa whitening himself? If he's instead trying just to "look better," is he necessarily exhibiting symptoms of the pernicious mental and emotional condition known as Internalized Racism?
Among the most sad and even horrific symptoms of this deep-set disorder are the many ways in which non-white people alter their appearances in order to look more "white." I think another common sign of internalized racism, and of de facto white supremacy more generally, is the claim that such people are not doing so to look more white; they're instead said to be "deracializing" themselves.
That's a term used repeatedly in the following British TV show on cosmetic surgery and lightening skin creams -- "deracialization." Of course, while many non-white people who want to look better choose ways that de-emphasize their racial features, they also choose new features that match up with those of Europeans.
In this respect, when non-white people alter their appearance in order to "look better," rather than to consciously look more like people of European descent, their efforts are often, nevertheless, a response to white hegemony. By "hegemony," I mean the power of white people to mask their political, economic, and cultural dominance as something else -- something normal, ordinary, and seemingly natural. As ethnic studies scholar George Lipsitz wrote over a decade ago, “as the unmarked category against which difference is constructed, whiteness never has to speak its name, never has to acknowledge its role as an organizing principle in social and cultural relations.”
The following episode of Channel 4's fascinating television series, "Race: Science's Last Taboo," focuses on facial features, and the efforts of three non-white individuals in England to drastically alter their own faces. BEWARE, though, if you decide to watch it; I found this program fascinating, instructive, and ultimately heartbreaking, but it contains very graphic flashes of plastic surgery (as well as a brief glimpse of a supposedly inadequate penis).
I think while this program may be sensationalistic in some ways, it's graphic elements make it a true and pointed horror movie. Its point, for me, is an instructive reminder of the ongoing, pervasive, and insidious power of white supremacy, and how incredibly brutal it can be to the identities and bodies of non-white people.
This program also makes me wonder (as I briefly explain below) -- how long will this insidious cultural abuse go on? Cosmetic surgery and other methods of "enhancement" are becoming far cheaper and more available; but, will the decline of the West, in numerical, financial, and other terms, eventually inspire fewer non-white people to resort to such methods in other to "deracialize" themselves?
As I said above, I wonder if the decline of the West, and of the U.S. especially, will result in fewer people seeking to "beautify" themselves in these drastic, self-mutilating ways. Actually, I expect that it will; I just don't know how soon that will happen.
In a recent interview, Martin Jacques discussed his book, When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. I'm suspicious of this white British author's claims to in-depth knowledge about "the Chinese" and how they "operate," but he does inspire thought about how the growing dominance of China is going to play out, not just in economic and geopolitical terms, but also in cultural ones:
MARTIN JACQUES: [By] 2050, the Chinese economy will be twice the size of that of the American economy. This represents -- of course, it’s quite a long and protracted process, but it will fundamentally shift the economic center of gravity in the world, and will have also profound political and cultural implications.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about those implications.
MARTIN JACQUES: Well, there’s been a funny old assumption in the West somehow that China’s rise is just an economic story. If you go to the bookstores and look at what’s been written about the rise of China, it’s almost solely economic, in a contemporary sense. But this is obviously ridiculous, because the rise of a new global power always ushers in the expression of a much more comprehensive political, cultural, intellectual, military, moral influence, and this will in time happen with China.
And that’s why I argue the end of the Western world -- not that the West is going to meet its maker and, you know, there’s going to be the demise of the West. On the contrary, I mean, America will get richer, as other Western countries will get richer. But it will no longer shape the world, as it has in the last sixty years, or the West, in general. For 200 years, we’ve lived in a Western-shaped world. That era is progressively going to come to an end, as China becomes more and more influential. And you can see this already happening in certain parts of the world, much more than in the West. I mean, East Asia is already being increasingly shaped by Chinese influence of many different kinds.
Does this profound change, or shift -- which, as Jacques goes on to claim, is already happening -- mean that fewer and fewer non-white people will seek what amount to whitened features? Might we even get to the point where the opposite happens, with a lot of white people longing for, and paying for, non-white features?
Of course, the latter is already happening, in some ways. White people have long intentionally darkened or "tanned" their skin, for instance. And as I understand it, increasing numbers of white women are paying for bigger booties -- excuse me, make that "buttock augmentation." According to a plastic-surgeon-finder site, "Regardless of the origin of this growing trend, it appears that the butt is rapidly replacing breasts as the new point of emphasis, the new 'new thing.'”
What do you think? Where is all this racialized "self-enhancement" going?