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It was in this context that I came across the picture in Life magazine of the black man who had tried to peel off his skin. I imagine other black children, then and now, undergoing similar moments of revelation. Perhaps it comes sooner for most—the parent’s warning not to cross the boundaries of a particular neighborhood, or the frustration of not having hair like Barbie no matter how long you tease and comb, or the tale of a father’s or grandfather’s humiliation at the hands of an employer or a cop, overheard while you’re supposed to be asleep. Maybe it’s easier for a child to receive the bad news in small doses, allowing for a system of defenses to build up—although I suspect I was one of the luckier ones, having been given a stretch of childhood free from self-doubt.

I know that seeing that article was violent for me, an ambush attack. My mother had warned me about bigots—they were ignorant, uneducated people one should avoid. If I could not yet consider my own mortality, Lolo had helped me understand the potential of disease to cripple, of accidents to maim, of fortunes to decline. I could correctly identify common greed or cruelty in others, and sometimes even in myself. But that one photograph had told me something else: that there was a hidden enemy out there, one that could reach me without anyone’s knowledge, not even my own. When I got home that night from the embassy library, I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking as I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me…

…my vision had been permanently altered. On the imported television shows that had started running in the evenings, I began to notice that Cosby never got the girl on “I Spy”, that the black man on “Mission Impossible” spent all his time underground. I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog that Toot and Gramps sent us, and that Santa was a white man

By

Barack Obama in his 1995 memoir “Dreams of my Father” describing what it was like to learn about whitewashing and consider media representation for the first time, as a young child.

"He must be terribly sick, I thought. A radiation victim, maybe, or an albino—I had seen one of those on the street a few days before, and my mother had explained about such things. Except when I read the words that went with the picture, that wasn’t it at all.

"The man had received a chemical treatment, the article explained, to lighten his complexion. He had paid for it with his own money. He expressed some regret about trying to pass himself off as a white man, was sorry about how badly things had turned out. But the results were irreversible. There were thousands of people like him, black men and women back in America who’d undergone the same treatment in response to advertisements that promised happiness as a white person."

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