Sammy Sosa’s Skin Silliness (and Sickness)
Loyal reader Miriam posted a link to the Huffington Post article about Sammy Sosa’s drastic skin color change, and added the note: “As far as I’m concerned, this is a Thembi-mergency.” Miriam, I am on the case.
This is Sammy Sosa. For those of you who don’t know, he’s considered one of the greatest baseball players ever. He’s of Dominican descent and his home run hitting ability was a source of pride for Latinos until he was accused of using performance-enhancing drugs and corking his bat in 2003. Sosa retired earlier this year, and since then seems to be passing the time gettin’ purty. That’s Sammy in May on the left, and on the right we have Sammy in early November. Before and After, thy name is Samuel Sosa.
The mainstream media’s treatment of Sosa’s obvious transformation makes me uneasy. Sure, the change in his skin color could be due to a failure of flash photography, or the after-effects of steroid use, or, as Sammy claims, an unfortunate side-effect of laser-based cosmetic skin improvement treatments. As a friend of his claims, “he was doing a dermatological skin process after years and years (of playing baseball) in the sun.” Nice try, but a glance at his conk and green contacts tells me that unless he’s experimenting with the Cab Calloway Skin Rejuvenation Process, I’m not buying it.
I once worked on a 2001 ad campaign that featured Sammy Sosa. I have little interest in sports, so I wouldn’t recognize the May 2009 or November 2009 versions of the guy if he bit me on the nose. Perhaps I’d recognize a more vintage Sosa:
Yes, that’s the guy whose photos I had to sort through for Time magazine! He had kinky hair, brown eyes, and brown skin at the time. So the question becomes, what skin rejuvenation gives you green eyes and a slickback like Sosa is rocking now? Why are we so worried about the specifics of his face, but ignoring the overall picture of a man who takes time to straighten his hair and wear green contacts?
Initially, we’re all immediately shocked by such a startling change in physical appearance, no matter what kind. I’ve already read Sosa compared to Michael Jackson, another person whose changes in appearance made us scratch our heads and point fingers (please get over it people, the man had vitiligo!). Regular folks like us also have to wonder who has the time and resources to do such unnecessary mess, and secretly wish that we had an extra few bucks to get purty like Sammy’s been doing, even if not in such an extreme way.
Secondly, the novice at race politics asks “why would anyone want to look white?” Wake up people – ‘we are the world’ and all of that stuff, but the rest of society is not trying to hear that. Having more European looking features confers social privileges on a daily basis, and that’s just the way it is. The desire for lighter skin is no new thing, and as disturbingly pathological as skin bleaching and the like are, people have been doing it for hundreds of years and will probably continue.
Third, and at the deepest level, Americans who don’t see the desire for whiter features as a pathology look at his appearance and mock the sickness of self-hatred and the denial that comes with it. That’s all we have to focus on because Sammy Sosa doesn’t really need to impress anyone. Having whiter features shouldn’t help him get a better job, preferred table at a restaurant, or a hotter wife. He’s a famous athlete, the world will accommodate him no matter what, so he must be so flawed that when he looks in the mirror he doesn’t like what he sees and that’s that. So let’s make fun of him, criticize him, and lament the fact that he’s ditched the post-racial self-love of the new millennium and settled into the Dominican racial turmoil of the past three-hundred years that’s so much like the American one, just laced with an extra layer of denial. Let’s be especially flip in commenting on his choices because he’s a man – a straight man and an athlete. Let’s also be miffed because he’s chosen to abandon features that so many of us hold dear because life is a tad harder when you’re darker and he is one fewer black man fighting the good fight. If you’re light, ask why does he want to be light like me? If you’re dark be insulted that he doesn’t want to be dark like you.
That’s where I get off of my racial politics soapbox and into my intellectual pseudoscience bag of tricks. A grown man who bleaches his skin, conks his hair, and wears green contacts, isn’t just silly, he’s sick. Other than making for great alliteration, why anyone would do such things? Sammy Sosa has that sickness, and you know which one. Poor thang. Feel sorry for him.