Students of Color Perspectives: How Do You Make Bleach?

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Hello! My name is Alejandra (Ali) Gatas Johnson and I will be one of your first-year bloggers for Students of Color Perspectives. I blog about what it means to be of mixed heritage (Afro-Venezuelan, American Swedish, and Warao Indian) and what it means to be a student of color in general here at Brown!

What colors make purple? What about green? How about orange? Blue? Yellow? What about bleach?….

Yesterday my heart broke, I was at a science education event for refugee youth in the area and a young African man, no older than 17, in broken English (as he is a refugee) asked me how to make the color bleach. I was instantly put on high alert. This wasn’t a normal question to ask.

In response I said that I didn’t know how to make bleach and that it was probably really hard to do. The young man continued to probe to figure out how to make it. After coming up with no responses, he ask what the medical/health effects it would cause to bleach a person. My stomach dropped instantly. He proceeded to ask what the symptoms would be. My peers and I said that it wouldn’t be good and that people shouldn’t bleach skin.

Not willing to give up the discussion, he brought up Michael Jackson and how he had read on the internet that MJ had bleached his skin and that other black people were jealous of him.

Concerned, we asked the young man why would he want to bleach his own skin. In reply he said, “Bleach is better than being invisible.” He continued to say that he was unable to make friends and he thought that he needed to do anything he could to make friends. In his perspective, that would be to bleach his own dark skin to be welcomed and accepted.

What kind of world do we live in that a young man can be driven to consider something so dangerous to change his appearance to make friends and be accepted? How has society failed so much to be accepting? I had always seen Providence as a city with diversity and relative acceptance. This experience has proven to me that we (meaning everyone, not just of color) need to continue fighting for racial acceptance and the elimination of racial prejudice notions. We can’t let our youth of color think there is something wrong with them. Society as whole needs to make an effort to be accepting.

If you have any questions or comments about this post or about being a student of color in general, please hit me up at alejandra_gatas_johnson@brown.edu.

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