1949 Look Magazine Article on Skin Lightening

A very interesting old magazine article by former NAACP secretary Walter White discussing the use of a new skin lightening agent as a tool for racial equality.

Click and zoom for a closer look.

Some three years ago I wrote an article, quite innocent that my words might prove prophetic. I said: “Suppose the skin of every Negro in America were suddenly to turn white. What would happen to all the notions about Negroes, the idols on which are built race prejudice and race hatred?”…

…One prominent Negro editor, John H. Sengstacke of the Chicago Defender, has guessed that about 20 per cent of Negroes will use monobenzyl when it is made available. “Negroes,” he says, “are proud of their heritage and do not want to lose it by merging with the white world. They want first-class citizenship, not second-class, as Negroes.”

From the August 30, 1949 issue of Look magazine.

Walter White’s story is a fascinating one. His light coloring allowed him to pass as white as an undercover investigator of racist lynchings. Needless to say, his suggestion that others should attempt to pass by lightening their skin was a controversial one. There’s a thorough discussion of Walter White and the controversy surrounding this article in a 2006 issue of American Studies.

More magazines.

~ by lolarusa on April 21, 2012.

4 Responses to “1949 Look Magazine Article on Skin Lightening”

  1. Sad to say that skin lightening is still all the rage in places like Jamaica — and even Japan, India and Pakistan!

    In Jamaica, women are doing serious damage to their skin and their health with spurious products promising lighter skin. I read about it three or so years ago, so they might be getting wise, or perhaps the trend is passing.

    apparently not: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/AP–Skin-bleaching-a-growing-problem-in-Jamaica

  2. What a world that was. Sad, that in so many ways, subtler, it really hasn’t changed so much.

  3. It’s funny that these folks would even think such a thing being that they both could be white. Anyways, what magazine did you get this from??

  4. Hello Laz,

    As I mentioned in the post, it’s from the August 30, 1949 issue of Look magazine. The article about it from American Studies linked above is very interesting, if you’d like to learn more about the author.

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