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The Journal of Pan African Studies


The merging of new technologies with old colonial ideologies has created a context where consumers can purchase "racial capital" through skin-bleaching creams or cosmetic surgeries. The use of skin-bleaching creams is on the rise throughout Africa and the African Diaspora and cosmetic surgery has increased dramatically among people of color in wealthy countries. Public discourse, however, is fraught with tension over these manipulations of the body. This paper examines three competing discourses: 1) the beauty discourse, based on the mass-marketing of cosmetic whitening products, 2) the public health discourse, designed to dissuade potential skin-bleachers by exposing health risks and 3) the cosmetic surgery discourse, created to market cosmetic procedures to the new and growing "ethnic" market. Through analysis of advertisements and public health campaigns this article demonstrates that the focus on individual attitudes in all three discourses obfuscates color-based discrimination and encourages the purchase of racial capital.


open access scholarly peer-reviewed journal Reprinted (2022) in Rethinking the Color Line, Seventh Edition, edited by Charles Gallagher. SAGE Publications Inc.

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