Dear Azealia Banks: I’m Upset That You’re Comparing Weaves to Skin Bleaching

I’ve never liked rapper Azealia Banks. I can’t relate to much of her music, her social-media hissy fits are annoying, and her political views are saddening. But while I can’t agree with most of her thought processes, I’ve always respected her courage to speak up on issues that affect women of color. But, now my heart has changed.

The 25-year-old’s latest social-media rant drew comparisons to colorism that were off-putting and struck a nerve within my core. Over the weekend, Banks posted a 21-minute video on Facebook where she described skin lightening as akin to undergoing cosmetic surgery and wearing weaves. “What’s the difference between getting your nose done and changing your skin color?” said Banks. “What’s the difference between getting a hair weave and changing your skin color? Nobody was upset when I was wearing 30-inch weaves and tearing my edges out and doing all types of shit like that. You guys loved it.”

Although this is her first time addressing weaves, the Harlem-born rapper has fully supported skin bleaching in the past. Earlier this year Banks posted a photo on Instagram in support of Whitenicious, a dark-spot remover that’s used by black women to lighten their skin. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but skin bleaching reeks of insecurities. It denotes uncomfortableness, implies low self-esteem, and is a mind-set I can’t support. It also nods to colorism and speaks to the mentality of thinking your physical features are inferior to those of your white counterparts. How can she possibly support black pride when she isn’t proud of the color of her skin? The self-hatred must end.

Skin bleaching does have a powerful meaning for some groups. For a 2013 story, Allure spoke with Winnifred Brown-Glaude, an associate professor of African-American studies and sociology at the College of New Jersey, who explained that the practice (as it relates to the Jamaican dancehall scene) is a way of claiming the right to be seen. “These women were historically dismissed. Now you see them bleaching their skin, using dark eyeliner, wearing bleached blonde or hot pink wigs. They’re saying, Here I am! I am beautiful, and you are going to see me.'” I doubt Banks had the dancehall culture at the forefront of her mind when she opted to bleach her skin, but attention seeking is something she’s all too familiar with.

Dissimilarly, weaves are used as an enhancement; they’re a way of temporarily changing your look without resorting to extreme measures. The way a woman (of any race) styles her hair doesn’t reflect her mind-set. Hair extensions are fun and to be worn in good humor, nothing more. But weave-shaming a woman is insensitive and a low blow that falls flat. Did we criticize ancient Egyptians when they wore headpieces? Did we belittle Cleopatra for wearing hair extensions?

I agree with Banks that blackness today is paradoxical. It’s complex, it’s multilayered—especially at a time when having dark skin can get you shot by police without a moment’s notice. However, skin bleaching and body modifications (hair extensions excluded) are an immediate reflection of how you view yourself. Let’s be smart about our decisions when our actions can have a real impact on impressionable minds.