A couple weeks ago, on my way to the United Theological College of the West Indies (UTCWI), I heard a newscast about the billion-dollar skin-bleaching industry in the United States. This obsession with having a lighter skin tone is an issue among people of colour in the US, Jamaica and Asia. It is based on the belief that a lighter skin looks better and helps in getting a desirable mate, job and recognition.
Tomorrow is celebrated as Christmas Day when Christians worldwide remember that God appeared as flesh in Jesus the Messiah. By becoming flesh, God was affirming that flesh is wholesome, noble and has dignity. Furthermore, all human life has worth and all are equal before God.
White a symbol of purity
However, there has been a bleaching of Jesus, in which Jesus is portrayed as a Caucasian, when chances are, He was a person of colour. In addition, 'white' people were seen as superior and white was a symbol of purity, innocence, civilisation, rationality, modernity and industry. Professor Orlando Patterson, renowned sociologist, showed that, in the West Indies there was a pattern of marrying lighter, with the aim of upward social mobility.
Many Jamaicans have been brainwashed concerning images in the Bible. However, in 1973, Bishop Alfred Reid, then rector of St Jude's Church in the suburbs of Stony Hill, had a bronze Negroid crucifix which depicted Jesus as a person of colour, commissioned and erected in the church. This Christopher Gonzales piece was removed form the church some two decades later as it was claimed to be inappropriate. Jesus should remain bleached.
This bleaching of Jesus is partially responsible for our self-hate, disregard for things African and persons of colour, and lack of self-belief in dealing with our serious socioeconomic problems. For many, Black is a symbol of evil, wickedness, backwardness and superstition.
It might be sheer coincidence, but on the same day I heard the results of the skin bleaching industry in the US while on a visit to UTCWI, I noticed that an exhibition at the library on the significant events in the history of the Baptists in the last 400 years there was a failure to mention the African American George Liele who started the Baptist work in Jamaica in 1783. Baptist history is still Eurocentric!
In fact, the society is regressing in matters of social equality. A couple months ago before Tiger Woods' transgressions, I heard a church leader saying he hopes that Usain Bolt gets married to someone resembling Woods' wife. And no doubt there are others in Europe who would love that. How else could you explain a BBC article with a caption about Bolt liking Jessica Ennis, British world champion?
Outstanding men of colour
In a long article there were two sentences that Bolt fancies Ennis while 98 per cent of the article was on Ennis' career but the caption gave the impression that Bolt is romantically inclined to Ennis. This type of writing is demonstrating that there is the need for outstanding men of colour to be validated by identifying with a Caucasian.
Instead of this obsession with lighter skin tone what is needed is to recognise that because God appeared as flesh it means that Jamaicans have the ability to deal effectively with the problems we face. It is not necessary to have a different skin tone to succeed in life. And we need to change the societal values in which persons are judged by skin colour rather than character and is valued based on skin colour rather than the values of truth-telling, just dealings and compassionate actions.
Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church and author of Rebellion to Riot: The Church in Nation building. Feedback may be sent to email@example.com
THE DAILY GLEANER
Published: Thursday | December 24, 2009