How often have we heard “Black don’t crack?” Its prevalence permeated the cultural landscape long before social media came along.
Hand-in-hand with that all-too-famous saying is the belief that Black people don’t need sunscreen or protection from the sun.
On one of the best songs from the 2010s, ‘Clique’ by Big Sean, Kanye West boasts that his skin is way too Black to burn from sun rays. I believed this too. I never wore sunscreen as a child. The idea was laughable to me.
I truly believed, like most Black people I knew, that sunscreen was a ‘white’ thing. It had nothing to do with me. Why would it?
But when you know better, you do better. I got older, wiser, and started to pay serious attention to my skincare routine. In the quest for knowledge about the different ways to take care of one’s skin, there was one thing that stood out: sunscreen. I learned that sunscreen is key in protecting the skin from aging.
More importantly? Sunscreen is the first step in protecting oneself from skin cancer. And yes, Black people can get skin cancer, just like anyone else. This is something that many people are finally starting to realize in a logical sense.
Emotionally, however, there is still an attachment to the idea that the darker you are, the less your need for sunscreen exists.
I remember seeing my Black friends passing me odd looks at my constant slathering of sunscreen. Their sentiments always went something like this: “If my grandparents didn’t need it, then why do I need it?”
Sunscreen just wasn’t seen as a necessity.
The news of Slick Woods’ skin cancer diagnosis may be the final nail in the coffin for this misguided belief.
Slick Woods is one of the most well-known models today, thanks to her unique aesthetic that translated into her iconic features in Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and Savage x Fenty campaigns. She famously went into labor while walking in the first Savage x Fenty runway show.
Her hiatus wasn’t something that immediately set off any warning bells, because we all live in the age where celebrities go dark for several months, eventually reappearing with a revamped image.
That was, however, until she came out with the devastating news of her diagnosis, packaged with her particular dose of wit, on Instagram. Her announcement just read “How I feel about chemotherapy, shout out to everyone that gotta go through it #atleastimalreadybald.”
According to The Shade Room, the 23-year-old confirmed exclusively to them that she has stage-three melanoma cancer. “She says she’s currently fighting for her life,” the Shade Room wrote.
Even though Slick has specifically stated via Instagram about not wanting to be treated as a victim to the diagnosis, the truth is still straightforward.
But the fact that Slick Woods, a proud Black woman, is suffering from skin cancer offers us as a community the chance to realize that this type of cancer can affect anyone, regardless of race.
It’s also an opportunity to discuss the many ways dermatology and medicine, in general, continue to overlook and mistreat Black people. The Skin Cancer Foundation found that the survival rates for skin cancer among Black people are at 65%, while it’s at 91% for white people. Some signs of melanoma are missed in Black patients by dermatologists because there are fewer studies on darker skin tones.
Between the still-prevalent idea that skin protection should be optional for people with darker skin and the racial gap in caring for Black skin, there is a lot of work to be done regarding educating all of us about this type of cancer.
The medical community needs to do a better job in treating Black people because a dismal 12% of incoming medical professionals gaining specific knowledge in treating skin of color isn’t going to cut it.
However, we need to do a better job as well. A better job of educating our loved ones and our community at large that this can affect them. A better job communicating that the sun is not man-made, that it does not bear the effects of institutional racism. That it’s time to pick up the sunhat and sunscreen.
Our health depends on it.
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