The Derogatory Representations of the Skin Bleaching Products Sold in Harlem
Journal of Pan African Studies, Vol. 4, No. 4, June 2011
25 Pages Posted: 27 Dec 2013
Date Written: 2011
This study examines the contents of the images on the labels of 45 skin bleaching products sold in Harlem, New York, and whether or not these images were derogatory.This study is informed by social representation theory. A t-test was used to determine the difference in images (derogatory and non-derogatory) between the general American stores’ products (n=12) and an African beauty supply store’s products (n=33). Content analyses of the data on the labels were conducted to understand the content of the representations. There were no significant differences in images on the labels of the products between the stores, t (43) =0.86, p>0.05. The overwhelming majority of the images (95.6%) were derogatory images which devalued black skin. The contents of these images suggested that lightening the skin would not only make the user white but would also make their skin healthy, soft and glowingly beautiful. These images suggest that lightening the black physicality is socially acceptable because white skin is the superior and sought after ideal unlike black skin which is inferior. The persistence and resilience of the same images over many decades, and their contemporary manifestations on the labels of various skin products, which are manufactured overseas and sold in different stores in the United States, suggest that they are uniform, rigid and coercive hegemonic representations that drive the sale of skin bleaching products in Harlem.
Keywords: Harlem, African Americans, derogatory representations, skin bleaching, colorism
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