Not since Michael Jackson’s de-pigmentation have we witnessed the likes of Sammy Sosa’s shocking skin lightening. Have you seen him? Since the pictures surfaced last weekend, there has been much speculation about the former slugger’s strange metamorphosis. People wondered: Is he ill? Has he lost his mind? Is he trying to be white?
Earlier this week, Sosa’s representative offered the following statement:
“He’s not trying to be Michael Jackson. He is going through a rejuvenation process for his skin. Women have it all of the time. He was surprised he came out looking so white. I thought it was a body double. Part of (the photo appearance) is just the lighting.
“He is in the middle of doing a cleansing process to his skin. The picture is deceiving. He said, ‘If you saw me in person, you would be surprised. When you see me in person, it is not going to seem like the picture.'”
Sosa has since clarified the situation. He said in a recent interview that he is “doing well thanks to God. [He is] a little surprised by the tsunami of attention … [and] with the controversy this has caused.”
His new look is the result of an unspecified European cream he has applied nightly “to soften his sun-damaged skin.” When asked about the green contact lenses that he has also taken to wearing, he says he just wants to “try something different. I’m not trying to be superficial.” And no, he is not trying to be like Jackson. “Not at all, I respect him very much. … I’m not a racist. I’m not like that. I’m just a happy person.”
Happy? Rejuvenation? Softening? OK. So that’s what we call it now. But wait, it gets better.
Sosa, an ambassador for his homeland, the Dominican Republic, is floating the idea that he is in negotiations to endorse the miraculous cream and market it. That’s right, if the entrepreneurial Sammy has his way, you too can look forward to happily “rejuvenating” your skin.
Are you speechless?
For days now, I have been mulling over this tragic spectacle. I have wanted to write about it but I haven’t known quite what to say. My first reaction was revulsion, which soon gave way to sadness. It was only after discussing this matter with my African American Literature students that my thoughts began to take shape.
As usual, most of my students have a different take on Sosa’s bleached skin than I. First of all, they informed me, he is not Black. He is Dominican. And there is a difference, they explained. I then listened to varying accounts of what their Dominican friends told them about their non-Blackness.
Even after I explained to them that the Dominican Republic is comprised almost wholly of African descended people — although most do not self-identify as Black— they still were not convinced. In fact, I do believe they think I’m crazy.
Further, they feel if there is something about yourself that you don’t like, you should change it. A couple of them insisted Sosa’s skin lightening has nothing to do with race but rather it is about making himself happy.
And perhaps that’s how Sosa sees it. It’s simple. He is unhappy with his Blackness, so he decided to bleach it out. Now he’s “happy.” No biggie, right?
Let’s not kid ourselves. I mean, will this psychosis never end? What we have at work here is a textbook case of Black self-loathing. And if Sosa has his way, more material gain is at hand—in the tradition of Madame C. J. Walker, God rest her soul. Franz Fanon wrote of this disorder—and the self-mutilation that often accompanies it — in his work on the workings of the colonized mind.
At the time of Jackson’s passing, much was written about the persistent, lingering damage caused to the African-American psyche by centuries of enslavement and dehumanization, including my essay, “Michael Jackson and the Toxicity of American Culture.”
Sosa has reminded us this dysfunction does not begin or end with African-Americans. This is a worldwide phenomenon within the African Diaspora — and on the African continent itself (as well, among other dark peoples, like on the Indian sub-continent).
And much like Jackson, it seems Sosa could no longer bear to behold his beautiful Blackness in the mirror.
Dr. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.