These Shocking Pictures of a Baseball Legend Strike a Deeper Conversation About White Supremacy

July 13th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

Baseball Legend Sammy Sosa's recent appearance on ESPN, in which his skin was far lighter than it was during his playing days, has reignited a conversation about an often overlooked form of racism known as "colorism."

The 48-year-old Dominican baseball legend has talked publicly about using skin-bleaching creams for years.

"It's a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and whitens my skin some," he reportedly told hosts of the Spanish-language Univision program "Primer Impacto" in 2009. He said that he did not have any skin condition.

In 2011, Sosa's appearance received attention again after he showed up at a basketball game with straightened hair, green contact lenses, and even lighter skin.

As ATTN: previously reported, skin bleaching creams are a billion dollar industry.

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Posted by ATTN: on Thursday, April 7, 2016

Skin bleaching creams are often used by people in darker-skinned ethnic groups around the world, who live in societies with a history of slavery or European colonialism and that favor lighter skinned people. The prejudice that darker skinned people face, including blacks in the Americas and the Caribbean is known as colorism.

People on Twitter suggested Sosa's skin lightening was the result of him internalizing negative feelings about dark skin.

Some people pointed specifically to the history of colorism, colonialism, and slavery in the Dominican Republic.

Sosa has never publicly addressed why he chooses to lighten his skin, but he's also asserted it is not the result of a skin condition or his alleged use of steroids during his playing career.

Colorism is not just a problem in the United States.

Colorism is a legacy of slavery in the U.S., and most of the conversation about slavery centers on its history in the states. However, as Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. explored in a PBS documentary, the Trans Atlantic Slave trade brought 11.2 million slaves to the "New World," but only 450,000 of those went to the present-day United States. The remainder were sent to the Caribbean and South America, leaving behind slave descendants who went through centuries of "being embarrassed about how black they were."

Claudio E. Cabrera wrote about his own experience with colorism and self-hatred in Dominican culture for the HuffPost in 2013. He said that as a person of Dominican descent growing up in Washington Heights in New York City, he would take steps to feel less dark.

"I would fight back that 'I wasn’t black.' I permed my hair at one point because I wasn’t happy with my hair. I would refuse to date anyone that was anywhere near my complexion, a fact my friends even pointed out," he wrote. "I dressed up just to hear the 'morenito fino' [many Dominicans call well-dressed dark-skin men this to insinuate they are not your typical black] words because they made me feel better about myself. But what I always understood was that I couldn’t change my skin."

His father helped him change his perception of his own identity.

"We are part of the diaspora. And once my dad uttered those words, my view on not just issues of race changed, but I did," he wrote. "My self-esteem rose. I began to read black literature. I began to embrace my roots, my complexion and fought back when I felt I was being treated differently because of the color of my skin."

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