'I Got Asked To Bleach My Skin': 'The X Factor' Winner Alexandra Burke On Racism, Colorism
Photo Credit: John Phillips

'I Got Asked To Bleach My Skin': 'The X Factor' Winner Alexandra Burke On Racism, Colorism

The pandemic may have halted the plans of many, but it did not hinder British singer-actress Alexandra Burke. She described this year as being the “best thing that ever happened to her.”

The former The X Factor winner recently chatted with The Guardian. In 2020, she took six months off prior to the lockdown to deal with the tragic suicide of a close friend and was struggling with her mental health.

“I hadn’t seen him in a long time and I meant to reach out to him,” Burke recalled. “Instead, I was running on stage thinking I’d talk to him next week and then he was gone. My mental health was really struggling with not putting friends and family first.”

Burke adopted a healthier lifestyle including a plant-based diet, a life coach and tightened the bond with her best friend and assistant, Nalini. Although she felt happier and calmer, the death of George Floyd was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

She told the publication, “I cried for two weeks straight. Every single day. All I could think about was my two brothers, who are constantly stopped by the police, and the black men in my family – my cousins, nephews. My [white] ex couldn’t understand why I was crying. When I tried to explain about white privilege, the first thing he said was: ‘Don’t attack me – I’m not racist.’”

Her yearning to publicly speak out against racism led to the revelations of the microaggressions and blatant racism endured during her 12-year career. She took to Instagram to take part in the much-needed conversation about racism and how its systemic nature.

“I had no intention of doing it,” she said. “I was working on a song about BLM in a studio session Zoom call. I was talking about how I felt about the movement when a shiver went through my body and I heard a scream in my ear. I said: ‘Guys, I need a minute’, shut the laptop, walked upstairs, put my phone camera on and just started talking.”

Burke stated she was advised to bleach her skin and discouraged from wearing braids. “We’re talking about it openly now because we feel safer to speak out. Otherwise, I’d be too scared.”

Recalling an incident at the London Palladium, she explained, “It was a beautiful show in honour of Sir Bruce Forsyth and I had my hair in a bun, with a couple of baby hairs. It was classic, classy; I had a black dress on. Half an hour before I was due on stage, my hairstylist came up to me and said: ‘I’ve just been told you look quite aggressive with this hairstyle. We need to change it.’ I said: ‘What?’ He said: ‘Your record label’s just told me you look aggressive, so we have to change it.’ I said: ‘What part of me looks aggressive?’ He said it was the baby hairs stuck to my head.”

Reflecting back, she visits the moment when her mother was in the hospital with diabetic kidney failure. Her team instructed her to “smile more” to be likable despite her then 53-year old mother lying in the hospital bed fighting for her life.

Burke credits her mother as the reason she has been able to endure. She believes the industry still has a long way to go.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline online or via phone at 1-800-273-8255 (for the deaf and hard of hearing, contact 1-800-799-4889). 

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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