Melanin Envy

A scholarly review of melanin envy or bias in art and media.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines envy as “malignant or hostile feeling; ill-will, malice, enmity.” It is also referred to as “active evil, harm, mischief.” Furthermore it is described as “the feeling of mortification and ill-will occasioned by the contemplation of superior advantages possessed by another.” According to the article “Distinguishing the experiences of envy and jealousy,” Parrott & Smith defined envy as being the emotion that “arises when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.” Envy has been known since Aristotle as “…the painful emotion caused by the good fortune of others.”

Envy is also known as having two types: benign and malicious. Benign envy motivates the person experiencing it to improve themselves in someway. Malicious envy results in a “pulling-down” that results in an effort to sabotage or damage the superior other.

In this post we will examine the possibility that much of the behavior exhibited by people who we define as being “melanin challenged” towards those who are “melanin rich”represent the emotion we refer to as “melanin envy.” By recognizing the behavior as a characteristic of “melanin envy” we envision a way of discussing the behavior in a rational and meaningful manner to acknowledge the true source of the behavior. Thereby we can openly discuss ways to mitigate the behavior in an honest and sincere manner that could lead to modification of the behavior in the future for no other reason than that we now know the cause of the behavior and can act against its effect.

The subject of this post occurred to us as we were researching a previous post on the Urban legend of “melanin thieves” or “melanin harvesting.” The examples below are just a sample. We envision the perception of the behavior diagnosed here can only change when it is examined thoroughly. Henceforth, we expect the list to grow.



The third episode of the fourth season of the X-files television program was entitled “Teliko.” In the episode, the plot follows Fox and Scully as they investigate the murders of African American men in Philadelphia. They all have had their melanin removed from their skin. The tricky part about it was that the culprit was a character from African myth, the so-called Teliko. Why was it necessary to transport an entity from Africa to extract melanin when Africa is the largest source of melanin on the planet? Interestingly, this demonstration of malicious “melanin envy” seemed to focus on melanin being removed from African Americans by an African.

The Tanning industry

In the United States upwards of 30 million people use indoor tanning facilities. This happens despite the dangers and risks associated with the practice. A UV radiation session in a tanning bed is equivalent to taking a “radiation bath” yet, the practice occurs anyway.

Results of a study on indoor tanning by adolescents:

indicated that several psychosocial or demographic variables significantly predicted use, including being female, older, and White; having a larger allowance and a parent who used indoor tanning and allowed their adolescent to use it; and holding certain beliefs about indoor tanning’s consequences. Living within 2 miles of a tanning facility also was a significant predictor. Residing in a state with youth-access legislation was not significantly associated with use.

Efforts to modify behavior related to artificial melanin production through the process of tanning have met with limited results. This indicates a form of benign melanin envy at work. Those who engage in the practice of tanning risk life and limb to “improve” themselves through an increase in skin melanin. This, of course, does not include the spray tanners, etc. however, they too represent a form of benign melanin envy.

Coon songs

Over 600 coon songs were written between 1880 and 1920 primarily in the United States and the United Kingdom. Most were by melanin challenged people. Though a few were written by melanin rich African Americans, the different types of coon songs make a distinction. The typical coon song represented a caricature of African Americans as buffoons who steal, hustle and gamble for a living. We observed that coon songs include those written in the first person and those written in the third person. Why would such songs exist in the first place? Was this a malicious effort to express melanin envy.

Blacking up

A frequent aspect of the minstrel show, from which coon songs were an outgrowth, was the practice of “blacking up” or blackface. The most notable example of blackface occurred in the first ever sound motion picture, 1927’s “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson.

Although examples of Blackface can be found going back to performances of Othello in 1604, the caricaturing of African americans as a form of entertainment began as a tradition around 1830 and continues in some forms to this day. Was this desire to experience life as an African American, even only for brief moments a form of melanin envy? We think it was.

In our opinion, by designating the above behavior as “melanin envy” is a means of rendering it undesirable. By associating negative connotations to melanin envy we feel that the demeaning feelings that it produces in those envied can reverse efforts to dehumanize others. Also, the health implications regarding skin tanning can be also addressed by informing the participants in the practice that it is a form of self-hatred embodied through melanin envy.