Pret-a-Reporter

Azealia Banks Thinks Skin Bleaching Is the Same as Wearing Weaves, and She's Wrong (Commentary)

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“What’s the difference between wearing a hair weave and changing your skin color? ... There really isn't a difference ... To say that it negates anything I've said about the blackness in America is ignorant and just stupid.”

I am not a dark-skinned woman. I will never understand the real-life experiences with colorism that have had an obvious effect on Azealia Banks.

Her experience with colorism -- how it has likely limited her access to success in the music industry, how it’s shaped how she views her own beauty -- is a discussion worth having. Her valid feelings about her darker skin tone should not be undermined. But what’s loud and wrong is her assertion that skin bleaching is akin to wearing a weave or getting rhinoplasty.

Banks, 25, is the controversial Harlem rapper with bars for days who can’t get out of her own way. Her celebrity fights, Twitter wars, bisexuality and political views make more headlines than the actual music. Following a bigoted outburst directed at singer Zayn Malik, Twitter suspended her account in May. It’s been quiet for the "212" rhymer until recently when she logged on to Facebook to address fans who’ve inquired about her visibly lighter skin tone. Skin bleaching, in the world according to Azealia Banks, is part of assimilation. It’s no different than a black woman rocking 30-inch bundles of hair. 

“What’s the difference between getting a nose job and changing your skin color?,” Banks asks in a 21-minute long Facebook Live video. “What’s the difference between wearing a hair weave and changing your skin color? ... There really isn’t a difference. ... To say that it negates anything I’ve said about the blackness in America is ignorant and just stupid.”

Banks has a right to bleach her skin until it’s pearl white if that’s her desire. But like the saying goes, "Don’t piss on me and tell me it’s rain." She’s going to have to come up with a better explanation than the commentary she’s provided here.

Colorism has had a heartbreaking effect on people of color globally. Black people particularly have suffered from centuries of being degraded for our natural features -- thick lips, wide noses, kinky hair, darker skin. Having dark skin has meant everything from being overlooked for work to stereotyped in media to profiled. European beauty standards reinforce the idea that beauty means waif, blond hair, blue eyes and white skin. Inevitably, people of color have bought into that idea anywhere colonialism has happened.

But unlike a weave or a nose job, skin bleaching is a direct result of how one thinks about black beauty and dark skin. It’s not a cosmetic augmentation that one can temporarily do for a quick beauty enhancement. There is no other reason to bleach your skin other than to make it lighter, and if having lighter skin is the goal, you're likely to believe lighter skin is prettier than darker skin. That is conditioning and potentially a form of self-hate that cannot be called the same as rocking a Malaysian deep wave.

Banks has openly discussed her preference for white men due to black men rejecting her because of her dark skin. Being dark-skinned in a sexist, male-dominated rap industry has also probably not been kind to her judging by rap lyrics that prefer "redbones" (a term often used to describe a "light-skinned woman who is black and another race") and videos full of ethnically ambiguous vixens. It would be easy to understand if Banks admitted she doesn’t think she’s beautiful as a dark-skinned woman, but she’s not saying that. 

Historical context matters. Her correlation between weave-wearing and skin-bleaching falls apart when you consider how long skin-bleaching has been around and the reason (there’s really only one) people do it. Women wear weaves for a number of reasons including saving time, wearing it as a protective style for their hair and for versatility. Weaves don’t permanently alter the natural texture of our hair whereas skin-bleaching is a permanent alteration.

Defending Banks is hard to do these days, but it’s not entirely her fault that she has issues about being dark-skinned. Rejecting centuries of messaging about white beauty is hard work that not everyone has the tools to do. What we’re not going to do, though, is let Banks falsely tell folks skin-bleaching is the same as having three bundles of hair sewn into your cornrows or that it’s an "extension of assimilation."

When Banks is ready to have an honest conversation about the devastation of colorism, her self-esteem and how she feels about her dark skin, hopefully people are open to listen. Until then she has to stop insisting on preaching like she’s this genius oracle and we’re the dumb ones for calling her out on her bullshit. Skin-bleaching will never not be a direct reflection of what one feels about their blackness and their black beauty.

This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.

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