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Colorism: Eku Edewor’s ‘Heritage’ Photo Shoot Conundrum


Glance at this photo. What are your immediate thoughts? Does it offend you? Why, or why not? Think about it for a second. Why are you or why aren’t you offended by this picture? Sure, it looks innocuous, but this harmlessly snapped image has had the Nigerian Twirraverse in an uproar for almost two days now, and the reasons aren’t so simple.

Eku Edewor is a British-Nigerian actress, model and television presenter. It is her façade that is front and center of two controversial images that have rocked African social media this week. Her photo shoot for the cover of ThisDay Style magazine and an accompanying spread depict her leading a procession to meet her betrothed on a beach somewhere in what we presume is Nigeria. For some, these images are painful reminders of the class and color issues that Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora – not just Nigeria – grapple with even today. Elnathan John, Nigerian satirist and author took to twitter to explain the psychology of the uproar from his experience and perspective. The diatribe in its entirety is worth a read. Elnathan is very fair (no pun intended) to those who feel that they have to resort to skin bleaching. He rejects the notion that self-hate leads 77% of Nigerian women to bleach/lighten their skin, and rather pins the trend on a need for survival.

I call these images Eku’s Ink Blots. People see different things in these picture based on their own lived experiences or witnessing colorism as it is experienced by others. If you are one of those people who say that this picture is absolutely offensive and smacks of intra-racism: you’re right. It does. And if you’re one of those folks who see nothing wrong with this image or the arrangement of the cast of characters here: you’re right as well. These pictures are a real (and in some cases, painful) reality of the world we exist in today as Black people.

Part of the reason we are so mad at these pictures, is because we are mad at ourselves. We are angry that we are still mentally chained to the color/caste system that was thrust upon us by our European enslavers. Once upon a time, there were 245 delineations to assign or describe Blackness in America based on a matrix of hair grade, skin tone, bone structure and racial mixture. South Africa implemented something similar during Apartheid, assigning citizens their races based on similar patterns. The result was the fracturing of a people group, with “coloreds” and “blacks” existing in one nuclear family unit – for example – but with each of those individuals afforded certain rights and privileges based on their racial designation – and usually with lighter skinned folks being easily accepted and favored by the oppressor. Fairer skinned blacks were given better clothes, better jobs and treated with a modicum more respect. This system has been replicated all over Africa and the Diaspora, and we still have yet to heal from it. So when we see pictures of a light-skinned woman being ushered to her prince by a bevy a dark skinned boys with her Luis Vuitton luggage balanced precariously on their heads, it causes a visceral, ancestral reaction within us.

For her part, Ms. Edewor has had to defend the images and explain them as best she can. She says the purpose was to celebrate her Nigerian heritage and that the children in the picture were there as family members to greet and help her through her procession. Okay, fair enough…but as anyone from a mixed race family will tell you, it’s impossible that eeeeeveryone in your family is going to be blue berry black while you turn out lily white. Don’t spit in our eyes and call it rain, Ms. Edewor! A more ‘realistic’ representation of the bride’s “family” would have been to have some diversity in skin tone amongst her helpers. Unfortunately, a part of our collective Nigerian/African heritage is that this picture smacks of classism and racism. It is eerily colonial mistress-esque.

For me, what has been most unfortunate is that Eku Edewor has been denied her Nigerianess because of her complexion. I don’t know how hard Eku rides or reps for Nigeria, but as a hybrid myself, I can identify with whatever internal crisis she may have experienced in the past/present by being rejected by a culture and people you call your own. This denial has only been compounded by her foray into the entertainment industry, where many assume she has only gotten to the heights she’s achieved by virtue of her skin tone. While I don’t know her and have never seen any of her work, but I doubt this is true. I’m sure that her skin color likely opened some doors for her, but it is her performance that keeps her in the game. That her skin color that she was born with affords her privilege is not her fault; it’s a system wide disease that plagues us all. It is the same illness of colorstrickeness that keeps darker skinned women from gracing the covers of magazines (unless they are high fashion editorials and exotic in nature) or in music videos. It is the colorstricken gatekeepers at the helm of banking, fashion, advertising and entertain that promote these attitudes and trends…and they largely affect women. As Elnathan John noted, you adapt to survive – even if that adaptation means risking skin cancer and liver failure. Once you are born in dark black skin in this world, society is quick to offer you a prescription for that existence.

Speak ‘whiter’.

Dress in muted colors.

Straighten your hair.

Bleach your skin.

Marry outside your race so your kids won’t be so ****ing black.

Anyway, in a week we will have forgotten all about Eku and her Ink Blot and moved on to something else for which to be outraged. I have a suggestion: Why don’t we talk about child labor? Why were pre-pubescent boys responsible for carrying her luggage? What, there were no big men around? Mmmm, see? Nobody ever thinks about the kids!


This article has 13 comments

  1. Kushite Prince

    Great post Malaka. Colorism is a real sickness in our diaspora. It’s in America,Africa,Brazil and Jamaica. It’s global. Self hatred is a disease given to us by our oppressors. We must learn to love the face in the mirror. And embrace our black beauty.

    “The “social position” of a race is determined by the social position of the female.” – Karl Marx.

    In EVERY culture the mother is sacred; the “civilizer” of her culture, community, children, and society.

    The black female is the CREATOR of all authentically black life. She is the FIRST TEACHER and her primary responsibility is to “civilize” the children by passing along the values and traditions of her culture to the next generation. The way the female sees herself will determine the way her offspring ultimately SEES, VALUES, and RESPECTS THEMSELVES.

    When the white media degrades the black female’s physical features and moral character, they are DELIBERATELY devastating the self-esteem of the products of her WOMB: little black girls and boys who will one day grow up to be low-self-esteemed black men and women.

    If the “Mother” of a nation is a worthless whore how can the products of her womb (her children) have any value?

    Once the BLACK MOTHER (the black female) is so degraded and demoralized that she becomes “uncivilized,” she will not be able to civilize anyone else. As a result, her children, her men, her community, and the ENTIRE BLACK NATION will become demoralized, self-hating, self-disrespecting, and UNCIVILIZED. This lays the foundation for a ‘Manufactured Black Inferiority Complex’ that will last a lifetime.

    Until blacks collectively understand the importance of protecting the IMAGE of the Black Mother of our Black Nation, we will continue reaping one damaged black generation after another.
    Peace. 🙂

  2. Tosinger

    Not only colorism.. I see classism here..

  3. DrSwag

    ….Maam…you are a beautiful writer!!! I believe the whole thing is a storm in a teacup! Like you rightly pointed out their are weightier matters out there demanding our attention….

    • Malaka

      Thank you, Doc! Much appreciated. This is a small matter that we’ve made worse with time. I hope you read Bii’s comments. It is a select few gatekeepers that keep this mess going.

  4. Bii

    Such a nudging read.Is a very pathetic situation for we blacks.Before going for my msc, I had successfully scaled through all the required test to be recruited into a certain reputable company in Nigeria, unfortunately during d last recruitment process, which was oral interview, I was told the position requires a light skinned lady, I was so shocked and till date keeps wondering what that has to do with an administrative position.God help us.

    • Malaka

      I wish you could see my face. What?!?? I can’t believe they said that to your face!

      My heart can’t take this.

  5. An Afrikan Butterfly

    Really good piece, Malaka.

    I guess I wasn’t on Twitter the day(s) this was the topic. Colorism is very alive in our community & probably every black community elsewhere. It’s something we cannot deny.

    For people who bleach, all I feel is sympathy, and pity. Because the way society is set up, I really can’t blame them. One of the yellowest girls at my church, has been bleaching it seems for a while. She was naturally very yellow. And naturally pretty. Her mother in her 60s is still very naturally yellow so I wonder what she was afraid of. In the last year or two she has bleached herself to the point where she is almost translucent. And her skin now looks bad, with exaggerated creases when she wears makeup. If she is bleaching, what should we expect of dark girls like me?

    One of our new female acts on the pop music scene was dragged last year on Twitter. Someone found a picture of her when she was still dark, very dark and posted it, tagging her and calling the old her a monster. Like my head snapped. Since she was such a dark monster, do you really blame her for lightening her skin?? Ugh.

    As a university student in Ghana, one time my friend and I applied for our residence permits to be extended. We did this like two days after it had expired, so we had to pay a penalty (one third the cost of the permit) We pleaded with the secretary to waive it for us as it was just 2 days. She told us that my friend should have no problems talking to the boss because she’s yellow. At that, I didn’t bother begging with my dark self lol, I paid the penalty.

    Every opportunity to talk about these issues is welcome, but I have to say that personally, I see nothing wrong with the editorial. I looked at the magazine again this morning & I noticed that Eku was even made darker for the shoot. Lynxxx is lighter than he appears in the magazine, so by making her (the two of them) darker, the “villagers” also appear darker than they really are. I’m a big fan of Eku Edewor. Sure her looks may have opened doors for her, but as you pointed out, NO way she’d still be on top of her game today if she didn’t have what it takes. She has been around for at least 5 years & to my eyes is very Nigerian. So, seeing people carry her boxes for her in a photo shoot where she’s appearing as a queen, or princess, I am not at all offended. Like it did not even cross my mind. I would be offended if Kiera Knightley or some other white celeb was in an editorial like this, but to me- Eku is Nigerian through and through, and it is very unfair for her to be denied of her Nigerian-ness in this moment. I get it, the conversation is a welcome one, but it’s kind of eye opening for me that she isn’t widely seen the way I see her.

    • Malaka

      First of all, THANK YOU for being so open and honest about your experience with colorism and for sharing your views. It means a lot.

      I want to ask you a question as delicately as I can, but I can’t seem to find the words. I’ll just have to ask you straight out. Do you feel that as a dark skinned woman, you are worthy of less respect, deserve poorer treatment, and never be the recipient of favoritism? I ask this because of the example you gave with the fee. I wonder if on some level you might also be colorstruck, but not in the way we generally think of it. Do you believe that you are a “lower grade” of human being because of the color of your skin?

      If so, you would not be alone. It’s a frightening phenomenon. Many dark skinned women (and men) find value in the color of their skin or feel that they have any agency over it. There was a documentary called Dark Girls that tackled this very subject. It’s heartbreaking. I hope you read this and reply!

      • An Afrikan Butterfly

        Hey Malaka, I’m sorry I just read your reply!

        No, I do not feel worthy of less respect, or that I deserve poorer treatment in any way, not at all. Favoritism is discretionary, and I do my best to avoid situations where I cannot proudly and loudly assert myself on my rights/ entitlements. It wasn’t my right to have the penalty waived, so I just shook it off. I’ve had people be nicer to me in certain situations because they see/ hear my name is Igbo, or because they think I’m pretty. On the other hand, whenever people exclaim with extra seriousness- “Oh! But you don’t look Igbo!” It’s really funny because I think what they mean is, you’re not yellow! Which is interesting, that “Igbo yellow” is a stereotype whereas there are soooo many more of us that are dark skinned, lol.

        I saw Dark Girls this christmas and it was a lot to process. It’s frightening really, and it made me wonder if I’d be so proud of my melanin if I worked in the entertainment industry or maybe even marketing/banking in Nigeria today, where your work is less important than how many eyes you please. I have friends who “tone”, and it’s their mothers that introduced them to the not so harsh toning/ light bleaching creams. My mom is very proud of her skin, so I guess that’s one of the things I learnt from her.

        • Malaka

          Ahhh, ok good! I was honestly worried. I was ready to plan an intervention! I get what you’re saying. In the instance you named that wouldn’t be time time to call a bigot out on his stupidity. He would have just labelled you an angry black Black girl.

          Big hugs to your mother!

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