The air is getting chillier as some of our neighbors remain hot-blooded from the election results. The stress from a worldwide pandemic, record high unemployment, and another lockdown has basically aged everyone ten years. As a happily melanated mother I can certainly vouch for the fact that my eczema has proven to be a worthy foe for my Cetaphil. Despite the overall status of this year, I would like to say...Happy Healthy Skin Month! It’s time to give credit when credit is due to the biggest (sorry fellas), hardworking organ on the human body. I want to talk about the history of healthy skin for my fellow melanated brothers and sisters in America because we have come so far!
The first highly esteemed African-American dermatologist in the United States didn't earn his reputation as the “skin wizard of the world” for nothing. Dr. Theodore Kenneth Lawless was the first African American certified by the American Academy of Dermatology and Syphilology which we know today as the American Academy of Dermatology. People that remain either neutral or just plain racist often ask the question, Why does everything have to be about race? And the answer to that microaggression is shown within the career accomplishments of Dr. Lawless. He couldn’t complete the clinical portion of his medical training at the University of Kansas because Black people were prohibited, which is why he was only able to complete the preclinical portion and transfer to Northwestern University in Chicago. The clinical portion of medical school training is required to graduate and race was a forced obstacle for Dr. Lawless, but that didn’t stop this pioneer from being published in the Journal of the American Medical Association-whose parent organization (American Medical Association) openly rejected African American members. He couldn’t even get promoted at Northwestern because his white colleagues were intimidated by an intellectual Black man making history for his race. Dr. Lawless switched gears from medicine to businesses by helping Black owned businesses with financing in the banking world of Chicago. He developed a middle-income housing project which is in his name to this day. Dr. Lawless is without question the definition of Black excellence because despite his profitable success, he continued to see patients and never rejected people who couldn’t pay.
We all remember and miss the late great David Bowie and the beautiful widow he left behind Iman Abdulmajid, but let this writer recognize the Queen for a moment because we need to discuss her Black excellence resume. Iman was a successful fashion model and actress who would mix her own make-up for artists to use on her. Note that this little piece of history is echoed through the partnership of Fenty and Rihanna that America is graced with today. The struggle has always been real in the beauty industry for people of color because America depicted “color” as ugly before it was ever painted as “exotic”. Before Rihanna’s epic fashion show and make-up line, it was Iman, who paved the way for diversity in 1994 with Iman Cosmetics and her modeling career in 1975. Another microaggression that’s spoken a lot in the blue state of Oregon is, Why is there so much emphasis on Black films or other forms of Black representation in America? Dr. Benjamin Rush was an abolitionist who signed the Declaration of Independence and he believed that Blackness was a strain of leprosy, that if spread throughout the body would change hair to be woolly, flatten noses, and swell the lips. This was the diet racist of his time that believed that Blackness was a defect and Henry Moss was the path to the cure. Henry Moss was a Black man with vitiligo in the 1790’s that used his skin condition as a side-show attraction in Philadelphia’s taverns and museums. America paints George Washington as a founding father but America’s classrooms omitted President George Washington as being one of the patrons who paid the 25 cents to see a white negro [sic] on display at Mr. Leech’s tavern in 1796.
Before being the top draft pick for the Ducks or being the lyrical flavor in the ear of every DJ at am Oregon high school prom, Black was never “trendy” in the eyes of American society. Black skin was put in zoos for the merriment of the white ego from skin pigmentation to the endowed figures of African women. Every essence of the humanity of Black people has been exploited and disenfranchised to the fullest extent in American history but never spoken. The worst atrocities committed by European colonizers to African people out of hatred for being “different” is what’s making Hollywood plastic surgeons so much money today. In the spirit of National Healthy Skin Month I want all of my fellow people of color from Asian American to Native American to show their skin some love. In a country that continuously depicts all of us as “exotic” today, what they really mean is, white is the standard for being human. For those Americans that say they don’t see color, you have a very bleak and gray outlook because life is more vibrant than that.
Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jennifer Frank
Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present Harriet A. Washington