Launch of 'Beneath the Surface' by Lynn M. Thomas cancelled

Owing to Wits University's current effort to limit social contact this event has been cancelled

13 March 2020 - 12:29
Join Thomas in conversation with Prof Hlonipha Mokoena for the launch of 'Beneath the Surface'.
Join Thomas in conversation with Prof Hlonipha Mokoena for the launch of 'Beneath the Surface'.
Image: Supplied

For more than a century, skin lighteners have been a ubiquitous feature of global popular culture — embraced by consumers even as they were fiercely opposed by medical professionals, consumer health advocates and anti-racist thinkers and activists.

In Beneath the Surface, Lynn M Thomas constructs a transnational history of skin lighteners in SA and beyond. Analysing a wide range of archival, popular culture and oral history sources, Thomas traces the changing meanings of skin colour from pre-colonial times to the post-colonial present.

She investigates indigenous skin brightening practices and the rapid spread of lighteners in SA consumer culture during the 1940s and 1950s, and the growth of a billion dollar global lightener industry.

Thomas shows how the use of skin lighteners and experiences of skin colour have been shaped by slavery, colonialism and segregation, as well as consumer capitalism, visual media, notions of beauty and protest politics.

In teasing out lighteners’ layered history, Thomas theorises skin as a site for anti-racist struggle and lighteners as a technology of visibility that challenges and entrenches racial and gender hierarchies.

Lynn M Thomas is professor of History at the University of Washington, co-editor of The Modern Girl Around the World: Consumption, Modernity, and Globalization and author of Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction, and the State in Keny


  • Date: Wednesday, March 18 (5.30pm for 6pm)
  • Venue: WiSER, 6th floor, Richard Ward building, University of the Witwatersrand  
    It is generally easiest to Uber onto campus because parking is often difficult. Ask to be dropped at the Origins Museum at the top of Yale Road. WiSER is about 100m east in the Richard Ward building.
  • Guest speaker: Hlonipha Mokoena 
  • RSVP: 

Article provided by Wits University Press