Bleached Skin, White Masks…

One of the articles I was proud to publish recently was this one in Caravan, out of Delhi, a superb magazine if ever there was one. Between Caravan and Chimurenga I think I can truthfully say I’ve published in some of the best magazines in the world. One of these days I’ll post my Chimurenga Chronic piece on Peter Abrahams, in the meantime enjoy the one in Caravan. The article was in Caravan’s January 1, 2012 edition:

DJ Vybz Kartel (left), whose decision to lighten his skin in order to better display his tattoos set off a flurry of protest and criticism.

A former British colony of slave plantations, roughly 85 percent of Jamaica’s three million strong population is of African origin. So when Vybz Kartel, born Adidjah Palmer, the most popular DJ in Jamaica, released a song called ‘Cake Soap’ in which he appeared to be promoting a blue soap bar used to bleach white clothes as a skin-lightening agent it didn’t go without notice. Just a few weeks later it was followed by a second song, ‘Coloring Book (Tattoo Time Come)’, in which the DJ bragged about women’s responses to the numerous tattoos decorating his newly bleached skin. 

Gal a seh mi pretty like a coloring book

She seh mi skin pretty like a coloring book

Kartel was unabashed about displaying—even flaunting—his own considerably altered face, with an epidermis several shades lighter than his naturally dark skin. A tattoo fanatic, the DJ explained that his bleaching was motivated by a desire to exhibit the designs on his skin, making it “a living, breathing canvas” rather than a sign of low self-esteem or a desire to pass as white. He was a proud black man, he asserted, just as he had always been, and his decision to lighten his skin should be viewed in the same vein as a white person tanning theirs.

In March 2011 Kartel made his way to the University of the West Indies. His lyrics had been a popular choice of students when they were asked to select songs to analyse in a course on Reggae Poetry, and so he was invited to present a guest lecture. The university, however, found itself underprepared for the massive throng that descended onto the campus to catch the popular DJ’s words of wisdom. Taxi drivers, itinerant vendors, hair dressers, touts and walkabouts from all over the city descended upon the appointed spot, straining the university’s facilities to breaking point.

During the lecture, titled ‘Pretty as a Colouring Book: My Life and My Art’, Kartel, armed with a PowerPoint presentation, elaborated his position on the subject of skin bleaching:

For more go here.

Author: ap

writer, editor and avid tweeter

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