Why This Rapper Bleached Her Skin

Azealia Banks says it's no different from getting a nose job

by Ann Oldenburg | 08 Jul 2016 at 6:44 AM

Azealia Banks has a reputation for stirring things up. In April, she spoke out against Beyoncé’s new “Lemonade” album. In May, she went on a racist, homophobic Twitter tirade against Zayn Malik. Last year, she dubbed the LGBT community “the gay white KKK.”

“It can be hypocritical for people to jump out and say shame on you for skin bleaching.”

The Harlem rapper’s latest missive comes via Facebook, where she delivered a 20-minute monologue defending skin bleaching. In April, gossip sites noticed she was lightening her skin — with one saying it looked “horrendous.” Now, Banks is defending her decision.

“Hey guys,” said Banks, 25, stopping her bike by the Hudson River to film herself.

“As black people in this world you assimilate and there are things that you accept, not out of necessity but things become norm because it’s just happening all the time … I guess people look at skin lightening thing as something different but I see it as another assimilation thing.”

Skin bleaching has been a celeb topic since at least the days of Michael Jackson and his sister LaToya. Entire photo galleries can be found online devoted to stars who have whitened, lightened, or bleached their skin. But it has recently surfaced anew on social media.

It is a larger issue in these explosive, divisive #BlackLivesMatter times. Ebony reported on the phenomenon last month, saying we live in a society where skin color is seen as “a determinant of life chances and social relations.”

Ebony talked to skin bleachers in the African country of Ghana — where it has become so prevalent and dangerous the government banned the practice in May. Those doing it said the reason it was appealing is its “presumed connectedness to Whiteness.”

They said that when living in a society where the large majority of people are relatively dark-skinned, to have light skin means that you may have White (or other) ancestry. And historically, whiteness has been “projected as inherently better than blackness, to have White blood automatically renders one better than average.”

In the past, Banks has talked about her preference for white men because black men have rejected her for being too dark. In this new commentary, she didn't claim to have done it to make a social statement. Her attitude was more: What's the big deal?

She likened her lightening to a chemical peel, which takes off layers of your skin and makes you look brighter and fresher.

"It can be hypocritical for people to jump out and say shame on you for skin bleaching." After all, she says, "What's the difference between getting a nose job and changing your skin color? What's the difference between getting a weave and changing your skin color?"

Finally, she said, "All and all I think if people were looking to me to be some sort of Messiah for black empowerment and black rights and my decision to bleach has made you not believe in me, I would question your priorities. Like don't we, as a people, have bigger fish to fry? ... I don't think me rubbing on some kind of bleach soap is the end of the ... revolution."

And yet, it is part of the revolution.

Because as much as Banks dismissed it, others were quick to jump on it.

"Colorism has had a heartbreaking effect on people of color globally," wrote Bene Vieira in Billboard. "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."

The point is: Skin bleaching will never not be a direct reflection of what one feels about their dark skin.

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