So by now you’ve probably heard about former major league baseball player Sammy Sosa’s “skin rejuvenation” with a “moisturizer.” When I first saw the photo of him at the Latin Grammys, I thought the image had been electronically altered or retouched, only to find out that it wasn’t.
There are tons of jokes that we can make about Sosa’s physical transformation, but I am choosing not to. I am instead filled with a certain sadness for him. We live in a society where skin whitening is equated with “skin rejuvenation” and “moisturizing.” Any time a person must chemically alter and lighten their physical appearance in an attempt to “rejuvenate,” there is something SERIOUSLY WRONG. We use the words “rejuvenation” and “moisturizing” as euphemisms to detract from what is really going on. There is a worldwide epidemic that’s sweeping people of color in Africa, Latin America, the U.S., the Pacific Islands, and India: people DON’T want to be who they are. They don’t want to be dark, of color, or black and will go to great extremes to become as close to white as possible.
I once sat in on a lecture at SF State, given by Africana Studies Professor Antwi Akom. He stated that the practice of skin whitening across the diaspora was clear evidence that white privilege and racism do exist in the world. Why else would someone risk having their skin burn, peel off, or even endanger their life with hydroquinone side effects (which many of these skin whitening creams include)?? It’s not about protecting one’s skin against sunburn as Sosa claimed. No one has to become white in order to ward off the effects of the sun. How else can we explain this, but to look at the detrimental effects of Eurocentric standards of appearance and shared colonial histories, and how achieving “whiteness” through skin color is somehow believed to make life better for people, thus providing evidence for their motives.
When asked about his new skin, Sosa said, “I’m not a racist. I live my life happily.” That’s great to know, but I have a hard time believing a “happy” person would alter their appearance the way Sosa has. I also wonder if Sosa ponders the role that society, with all its Eurocentric ideals of beauty and appearance, had in informing his behavior, and how he just became its latest victim without any chance for reversal.