Growing up as a very white-passing Hispanic boy, I was very accustomed be being called a “gringo” which is the equivalent of White person. Being called this always irked me because I did not identify as a “White person”. Coming to Ghana, I am greeted with the same comments that I have grown up with. However, here they use words like “obronie” which refers to a foreigner with light skin. I have always struggled with the idea of having to prove my Hispanic heritage to others in America and get discouraged when people in Ghana keep referring to me by the phenotypic appearance of my skin.
However, in Ghana I have come to only begin to understand the focus and appeal of having visibly lighter skin and effects of colorism by the interactions I have with people at my service site or by simply walking around a toy store at the mall.
“White man! White man! Save me, I beg of you!”
“Hello, nice to meet you. Sorry if I am too dark.”
“They [the police] didn’t stop us because you are white.”
I hear these comments nearly every day. It disappoints me to learn how the systems of oppression imposed on Ghanaians by people of similar skin color to me are still prevalent today and can be to blame for the “preference” of having lighter skin. On my daily commute to work or school, I see countless ads through the tro tro windows for skin lightening creams or hair relaxers that turn beautifully natural Ghanaian hair straight.
One of my closest friends always tells me how agitated he gets when his Ghanaian brothers and sisters show such disdain for their dark skin and act as if they are also white when in the presence of obronies. It pains him that they are not proud to be African as much as he is or how they value the ideas of outsiders more than those who are from Ghana. This phenomenon is far too common and is instilled into people at very young ages due to western media’s standards of beauty as well as the toy industry. Children are implicitly taught to give preference to the white dolls as they are the more expensive models for the same toy made by the same company at GAME in the Kumasi City Mall. To learn more about the effects of marketing on the development and continued prevalence of colorism, click here.
Another experience of colorism I have witness was while attending a mutual friend’s mother’s funeral. The grieving family members flocked to greet me first out of the group I was with simply because I was not from here. I made sure to acknowledge this to my friends and they quickly dismissed it as being caused by my white skin which made me feel as I was taking away from the focus of the event by just being there. Why show such preferential treatment to someone who does not belong to your culture in such an intimate and private moment such as funeral for an immediate family member?
As I leave Ghana, these experiences will linger in my mind as I interact in similar spaces back in the United States and return to being known as that gringo boy from Miami. I will continue to make connections between Ghanaians affinity towards whiteness and most Hispanic household’s ideas that marrying a white person will improve your family’s status. I also hope to study the effects of colorism more not only in a Ghanaian or American context but instead on a global scale in order to truly understand the effects of this phenomenon.
Nittle, Nadra Kareem. “The Origins of Colorism and How This Bias Persists in America.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 25 May 2019, www.thoughtco.com/what-is-colorism-2834952.
Pierre, Jemima. “’I Like Your Colour!’ Skin Bleaching and Geographies of Race in Urban Ghana – Jemima Pierre, 2008.” SAGE Journals, Feminist Review, 1 Oct. 2008, journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1057/fr.2008.36?journalCode=fera.