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“Light-skinned women”, a Haitian obsession with serious consequences #HaitiBeat

Many Dominican women are hired to participate in the shooting of videos clips. Valben Valcin, a musician, explains this choice : “The public appreciates them more”

Thamar and Thamara Valbrun, 29 years old, are two fake twins’ victims of colorism in Haiti. This sociological concept explains the differences in treatment based on skin color. It is different from racism because this difference in treatment occurs between people of the same “race.” 

The Valbrun sisters both attended the same elementary and high school. In front of their classmates, they always had to say that they were sisters because their skin color was different. Thamara has a light skin tone and brown eyes. She is called a grimèl wherever she goes. Thamar’s skin is darker.

This color issue is sometimes difficult for twins. Since childhood, they are compared, and Thamar is sometimes told that she would be more beautiful if she had the skin tone as her sister.

Skin color is a thorny issue in the country. Jean Saint Fleur, a young man of 32 years, can testify about it. He is originally from the Southeast and comes from a light-skinned family. It is even a great pride for them. Saint Fleur has darker skin, and for a long period of time, he felt ugly because of this difference.

” My father never really considered me his child, he says. I have five siblings, and there are tasks they didn’t give them to do. During the summer vacations, my sisters had to stay at home so as not to “blacken.” It has kept me from fully enjoying my family.”

To feel better about himself and deal with feelings of inferiority the young man often uses self-mockery and sport. He brings to the fore his white teeth, purple gums, and the muscles he has built over the years. Other young men bleach their skin, to get closer to the “light tone” ideal.

At the time of colonization, there was already a separation between light-skinned and black slaves. The anthropologist Emmanuel Stéphane Laurent reminds us that the first category was considered superior to the others, and they were more involved in domestic work.

“Color discrimination in Haiti is obvious to any observer. It is a demonstration of colonial racism. Blacks are seen as inferior to Whites, and people are given nicknames based on their skin tone. This is where the concept “blan” for light-skinned people comes from.”

According to Emmanuel Stéphane Laurent, it is because the notion of color is associated in Haiti with the social class, that colorism still exists.

“Even today, in election speeches, we find references to social conflicts, related to the color issue,” he explains.

He points out that political actors often use their skin color to legitimize their candidacy. Such was the example of François Duvalier, who used it as a weapon.

The same problems remained as a legacy more than 200 years later. Music, especially Compas, is one of the sectors that expose the practices of colorism in Haiti. According to some spectators, video clips rarely show women with dark skin and nappy hair.

Nowadays, it is even more obvious that most Compas videos seem to be shot abroad. Many Dominican women are hired to participate in the shooting. Valben Valcin, musician, and singer-songwriter, justifies this choice. “The public appreciates them more,” he explains.

Claude Leriche, a great fan of Compas, admits that is a long-standing situation. He owns a bar on Capois Street in Port-au-Prince and collects the group disc of the 1980s and 1990s.

According to this Haitian music fan, when women are shown in videos, it is often in an abstract representation, and it does not illustrate the reality of the country.

“When you watch the video clips of Tantann, Alan Cavé, Daan Junior… There is not a portrait of the Haitian woman, with whom most Haitians will get in a relationship. Since these men represented the sex symbol of Haitian women at that time.”

According to Claude Leriche, musicians and producers are not the only ones concerned; the public is also responsible for this culture of light skin. For example, Emilie Saint Fort, who is in second grade, says that T-Joe the singer is a handsome boy. “He is pretty, he has a nice color and beautiful hair,” mentions the schoolgirl.

Jean Laurent Lerisson, urbanist, fan of Compas, has more discretion on the color issue in this musical style. According to him, there does not seem to be an intention to over-represent light-skinned women. However, he believes that this music is, by its urban origin, linked to a particular target of consumers.

“For a while, it was lounge music with a specific type of fanatics. As the music of the elite, it visually represents the members of this first class. Today, this is changing. The urbanization of the country is evolving, and there are more and more musical rhythms, including hip-hop, that visually represent those who produce them.”

For example, Racine music shows rustic imagery that reflects its target audience.

It is not only in the Compas that the focus is on light-skinned performers. In Haiti women with frizzy hair or dreadlocks rarely appear in advertisements.

Thamar Valbrun says she has long dreamed of looking like a woman who appeared in a commercial film for a champagne brand in the 2000s. “She had long and beautiful hair. She had nice skin.”

Some commercials promote light skin as a beauty and healthiness criterion. For example, Several television channels broadcast an advertisement for a skin-lightening product, comparing the actress’ skin to a peach, a fruit with light brown peel.

Like the Compas, the advertising industry has long been run by elite entrepreneurs who imitated foreign publicity. Today the tendency is slowly changing, as evidenced by, the large number of advertisements for new products, performed with actors whose skin color is more representative of the country.

Being light-skinned in Haiti has its advantages. Furthermore, the psychological problems that this can cause, it is also a reason for healthy young women to change their natural pigmentation.

Thamar Valbrun notes that the pictures on the bottles of lightening products mostly show women. That seems this is primarily a product aimed at this audience.

Some men who are dark-skinned, insist that they don’t want to date a woman of their skin tone. It has already happened to one of the Valbrun sisters.

“At our church, a young man I liked started courting my sister. I was disappointed and angry at the same time,” says Thamar Valbrun. When she asked him what her sister had more than her, his response was because of her skin color.

Her twin sister, Thamara Valbrun, confirms that she has privileges. “People are nicer to me. Sometimes men give me expensive gifts.”

But sometimes she feels like she is just an award for men who don’t hesitate to take her out to show her off, as they would do with a piece of clothing. “Once, in a fit of jealousy, my boyfriend confessed to me that he wouldn’t let another man take his grimèl. In his eyes, I wasn’t even a human being,” she remembers.

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