“Mummy can I paint my face white” How racism works


It was extremely painful watching the video, ‘Mummy can I paint my face white’ that was first aired on BBC a week ago. In it the little boy seems desperately to want to change his skin colour from Black to white, and his quick fix solution was to use some  nappy cream that he found in a friends' house paint his face and hands white . When asked why he asked his mum to paing his  face white, he explained that he, ‘doesn’t want to be brown’.

The video very much reminded me of those experiments done in the 1940’s and early 2000’s. in fact the latest heart wrenching televised experiment was done in 2016 in Italy.

In all three experiments very young Black girls/children are given a white doll and a Black doll. After sometime they were asked, ‘which is the good doll, and which one is the bad doll. Not unsurprisingly in 1950’s ‘Jim Crow’ , apartheid America in which most things Black were bad; -‘the Black sheep’, a ‘Black look’, and everything white was good; ‘The White House’, a ‘White lie’, all of the Black girls chose the Black doll as the bad doll and the white one as the good one. But fast forward 50 years and you’d expect the challenge to have changed dramatically, but no. 80% of the Black girls still chose the white doll as the good one and Black as bad. In the Italian experiment although one Black child liked the Black doll, he along with all the other children still concluded Black doll was the bad doll.

None of these children would be of the age to read newspapers, or - today- be on social media, so their information about how the world works and how they see themselves in that world would come from their experiences at, home, school, neighbourhood or TV.

Their conclusion, at an age where their minds are just forming had already formed a profound opinion on themselves and race in general.

From a child’s point of view, who then wants to be seen as the bad child ! Of course no one . So, for some, the quick fire escape from this hyper negative birthright is to paint your skin white, and worse still perhaps hate yourself.

In the 1960’s and 70’s African Americans and Black Brits the UK, embarked on the ‘Black is beautiful’ rhetoric to push back and reclaim our Blackness.

But whilst progress has been made the dominant hegemony of white supremacy, which has had an unprecedented boost by President Donald Trump, still means that the best selling beauty product in the world today is skin lightening cream. And that’s not children but adults.

If you were ever in doubt about the need for Black political empowerment to demand equality in every sphere of our lives, particularly for our children, watch these two videos. That’s all I say.

Simon Woolley