To Bleach Thine Skin

Congo Town, Liberia | December 2014 (M. Aggrey)

Congo Town, Liberia | December 2014; M. Aggrey


“You can tell by the knuckles,” he said with a vague humor to hide the disgust.

The three of us sat in a hot and sticky room adjacent to a sad concession stand. Two fans hummed as they oscillated a sweet humid breeze. It was the one and only terminal at Roberts International Airport. I was impressed that there was an international airport in this forgotten part of the world. But even more impressed by how quickly I was able to throw back 4 chilled Liberian-brewed Club beers.

“The air conditioning failed just yesterday.”

Our friend, who worked at the airport took a break to slouch his long and rather large handsome body across three leather airport style lounge chairs while waiting with us to board our plane. We gossiped, we drank, we laughed. It was our Liberian national sport. He briefed us on a time when a woman checked four large suitcases full of skin bleaching creams. She informed him of her business scheme: to flip them for triple the price back in the States. Just before his story,  I casually cheered about not having to wear makeup for a couple of months because my skin had darken by two whole shades. He didn’t know that one of my favorite things about being black was getting darker. Sun-kissed by the heavens and in result your entire body looks as though it had been airbrushed to perfection. It had prompted our friend to quietly divulged in tales of a few women he knew who were bleaching their skin. Apparently it didn’t take very much time to notice the change. I was astonished for some reason, even though it was far from news to me. We talked about the side effects of weird smells of the flesh, flaking, and being shit-talked on. All in all it was a sad and disappointing topic of discussion.

“And when you look at their feet, you can really tell. It’s nasty.”

I was immediately disgusted by his last factoid. Mostly because I still had a tender travelers belly and the idea of someone’s hot sweaty half-bleached feet made me want to vomit all the fresh chunks of fish into the non-existent waste basket in our terminal.

This was one of my last moments in Liberia and I was trying desperately to grasp for anything I could that would make me feel like I actually belonged somewhere—somewhere where racism wasn’t so ingrained into my way of being. A place where Nicki Minaj and Vybz Kartel didn’t feel the need to bleach their skin. I had only scratched the surface. It was as though I was picking the dirt from my fingernails in hopes that it would reveal small clues of how abundant my post civil war, Third World, freed slaves-founded, child soldiers country really was.

A chill of excitement rushed over me as they called, “All passengers on Delta flight 479 to JFK…”the chill was from drinking four beers.

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