Sunday, May 2, 2010


For some time now I’ve been paying attention to the advertising campaigns in the streets of Libreville. As any other city, it is full of hoarding boards, sporting colourful advertisements for anything ranging from soap to wireless internet. These posters, I’ve noticed, have one thing in common: namely, the skin colour of the models.

Quick question: should African ads use black or white models? Is your answer black? Good, you are not wrong, it’s only natural. Nevertheless, you are not completely in the right, either. The models are never really black, they are never as dark as your regular Gabonese citizen, and their features are not typically African. No wide nose. No big lips. No African hairdos. No African clothes. The models are typically of mixed race, with café au lait coloured skin and, most commonly, very European faces. They are dressed in smart European clothes (sometimes sweaters!) and they do their hair in a European fashion. They are the rare stylish type you see in the French cafés of Libreville.

I am no sociologist but I suppose it’s another proof for the simple truth: the whiter you are, the higher your social status. If it takes a mixed model to sell a product, it means that most people strive to be like the mixed model, yes? They are not white, they are still Gabonese, but not the same, not quite your ordinary African mammas. It goes in line with the commonly known fact that African women do whatever they can to have a baby with a white man, because a mixed race baby will have an easier life - might even marry a white person! On the other hand, I’ve read in l’Union that secondary school girls frantically spend their pocket money on creams that are meant to whiten their lovely dark skin.

Before Gabon, my colour had never been an issue. I grew up in a nearly exclusively white country and it had never crossed my mind that the colour of your skin might define you. Here in Central Africa it’s your business card. You are judged and classified on this arbitrary basis. I have never seen a mulatto cleaning lady. I have never seen a white taxi driver. I have never seen a rough African face on a hoarding board.

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