Monday, October 29, 2007

Should skincolour manipulating products be developed and sold?

Nice article today on the CBC news website. Some students from Carleton University have developed yet another cream capable of whitening the skin color of darker skinned people. It's kinda old news, due to continuing racist ideologies insisting that a lighter skin coloration is kinda better than a darker skin coloration, skin lightening products have been on the market for a very long time. You'll find them in most drug stores in places where larger numbers of darker skinned folks live. In many parts of India it is common knowledge that the darker a young woman is, the more difficult it will be for her to find a husband (or her family for her - don't ask). Now, the question is, of course, whether one should aid such skin color related prejudices by means of developing products that permit folks to lighten their skin color. We should never develop any kind of technologies that serve such purposes. They will only prolong the existence of such prejudices over time, because the cremes in question will be seen as an easy way out of the dilemma by many, while really they help cementing views about the inferiority of particular skin colors.

The inventors of the concoction in question insist that they're no racists (a claim likely to be true), and that in fact their creme could also be utilized by folks wanting to darken their skin color.

At first this seems an innocent enough idea then, as the technology kind of cuts both ways. It stops being innocent when we ask ourselves why some light skinned people like to look a bit darker (but not really dark, of course). The reason is that to many pink skinned folks a slightly darker look translates into ideas of vacation (you know, beach, sun and tequilas) and health. Of course, darker skinned folks will not have this kind of motive in mind. They are more likely to think that they might move up in societal status if they're lighter skinned. Equating then the two possible utilisations of the technology seems remarkably naive. Interestingly, one of the students is from India and should be painfully aware why such products are so popular in that country, yet clearly it doesn't seem to have hit home that, big as that market might be, it's nonetheless a market created by racist interpretations of skin color.

So, in the same way that I would not want a prenatal genetic test predictive for homosexuality in a homophobic society (even if it could be also used by homosexuals to detect heterosexual etc etc), I would not want to see products on the market that support racist societies' take on skin coloration.

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