Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
On December 26th, 2012 I began my research to understanding beauty and its representation in Dancehall music in the sweet land of Jamaica.
Many have heard the saying that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” But what happens when the beholder’s understanding of beauty is fixed by colorism, racism and its historical roots of slavery? This narrow perspective of beauty can be applied to Jamaica as the old proverb “anyting too black nuh good” (anything too black is not good) holds persistence in Jamaica today. This proverb has become the foundation of my research and Senior Year Experience as I examined racism and colorism, a byproduct of slavery, correlation to beauty through a Jamaican context.
Jamaica, located in the Caribbean, is the home to more than 2 million people whose roots sprung from African, European, Indian, and Chinese ancestry. Although Jamaica has racial and ethnic diversity, 90 per cent of Jamaicans identify as Black. While the understanding of being Black takes on many forms, for my research, the Black identity is understood through African ancestry. The negative association to Africa and Blackness that lives in Jamaica, allows the proverb “anything too black nuh good” to live and consume the minds of many Jamaicans. This negativity has resulted in the recent phenomenon of skin bleaching. Skin bleaching is the lightening of one’s complexion through chemical agents. The active chemical, hydroquinone, within skin bleaching products has been linked to harmful effects such as cancer and disfigurement; yet, the perception of skin bleaching benefits has only increased its use. The complexities attached to Blackness and skin bleaching has been widely represented within Dancehall music and its culture through songs such as “Love Mi Brownin’” by Buju Banton, “Look Pon Wi” by Vybz Kartel, and “Proud of Mi Bleaching” by Lisa Hyper.
Such songs in Dancehall send a narrow message that a lighter skin complexion is better than a darker one. Although majority of Dancehall music promote a fairer complexion, there is a counter movement by the Jamaican government and musical artiste. The sub culture of skin bleaching identifies the harmful effects and conversely endorses a positive Black image.
Through my experience and research thus far with the topic of beauty, skin bleaching, and music has led to my understanding that human beings constantly strive to become a better version of their self. Thus the act of skin bleaching and lack of it is an individual’s attempt to be better. This understanding of identity and human relations plays a key stone in the progression of my research and the way in which I plan to convey my findings.