“212” rapper Azealia Banks has not only publicly admitted to bleaching her skin, she defends her choice. After being banned from Twitter for several controversial comments, the artist turned to Facebook Live to reveal the reason behind altering her skin color.
Rapper Azealia Banks. (Rich Fury/Invision/AP)
On July 1, Banks told her followers: “I don’t really think it’s important to discuss the cultural significance of skin bleaching anymore because I think that, just as African American people, just as Black people in this world, you assimilate, and there are things you accept, not just out of necessity but things become norm because they just happen all the time.
“I guess people see the skin-bleaching thing as something different but I see it as another … assimilation thing. It’s a continuation of the falsification of self that comes with being a Black person in America,” Banks added.
Banks also compared it to other forms of cosmetic enhancement, saying that it was no different than wearing hair extensions or getting a nose job.
“Nobody was upset when I was 30-inch weaves, tearing out my edges, and doing all types of shit like that,” said Banks. “You guys loved it, but what is the difference?”
This came as a shock to Banks’s audience because the rapper often uses social media to condemn cultural appropriation and discuss issues that plague the African-American community. On Banks’ Instagram page, the rapper revealed that she was using the lightening product Whitenicious to bleach her skin.
Banks has previously talked about the difficulties she’s faced as a darker-skinned Black woman. In February of 2015, Banks tweeted: “Seriously… the treatment I get for being a dark skinned woman just makes me want to lay down and die sometime.” She also wrote, “I don’t care what anyone says: men in general despise dark skinned women.”
Women with darker skin tones are often marginalized within the hip-hop industry. Rappers often glorify women deemed as a “red bone” in their lyrics or cast women with lighter skin tones in their music videos. Many artists such as Tyga, Kanye West and Lil Wayne appear to solely date women who are lighter than them or outside of their race.
Colorism has taken a toll on other female hip-hop artists including Lil’ Kim, who has bleached her skin, worn wigs and received various plastic surgery procedures that gave her more European features. In April, Lil’ Kim made headlines after selfies of her with bleached skin looked disturbingly unrecognizable. An interview she did with Newsweek in 2000 resurfaced where she spoke about her low self-esteem.
“All my life men have told me I wasn’t pretty enough—even the men I was dating. And I’d be like, ‘Well, why are you with me, then?’ It’s always been men putting me down just like my dad. To this day when someone says I’m cute, I can’t see it. I don’t see it no matter what anybody says,” she said.
Kelly Rolland, a singer with a dark skin tone, spoke at South by Southwest about the importance of representation. “I feel it’s so necessary for my niece, my unborn kid, she has to see more chocolate women,” she told the audience. “No disrespect for lighter women, but we have to see all colors.”
In an interview with BET, rapper J. Cole discussed how colorism runs within both the hip hop world and society as a whole. “We’re still Black Americans. Those mental chains are still in us. That brainwashing that tells us that light skin is better, it’s subconsciously in us, whether we know it or not,” he said. “I might not be as successful as I am now if I was dark skin.”
Despite these barriers, Banks claims that this assimilation is simply cosmetic and that it is not important to analyze the cultural significance of her actions. She also said that bleaching her skin does not negate her previous pro black stances. “To say that negates what I’ve been saying about blackness in America is ignorant and just stupid,” Banks said during her Facebook live stream. “What do body modifications have to do with somebody’s level of intellect?”