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Edit: Written on 03/05/20
This is extremely hard for me to write about at a time like this but I cannot stay silent anymore. It seems like the whole world is protesting yet another series of murders by the police on innocent Black men and women (all while a pandemic that disproportionately kills Black people rages) and a lot of people are finally waking up to the racism in the world, but when it comes to the beauty community and industry, we cannot pretend like this a new issue.
I didn’t plan on coming back to Instagram at this time and honestly thought many times I wouldn’t, but seeing all the #blacklivesmatter posts from influencers, bloggers, brands and leaders in the industry who have engaged in racism has been too much to ignore. George Floyd’s murder did not happen in a vacuum and the problem is not overseas. The beauty industry, especially in the UK is rife with racism and has been for decades. While I see so many brands and bloggers jump on the hashtag and black squares, nothing can truly change unless the racism that all of you have participated in for so long is acknowledged and openly discussed.
I have been writing about and trying to talk about the racism in this industry for years. I tried to bring it up in relation to what happened to Brandon Truaxe from Deciem (article coming soon) and I tried to talk about it with Oskia when they got caught in racist costumes (article here), but each time I was met with gross accusations of “pulling the race card” and further racism. I found myself crying all the time, getting anxious any time I logged on and generally just feeling physically unwell. Confronting and experiencing racism is a heartbreaking, soul-crushing mental health crisis and two years ago I abandoned my platform because I couldn’t handle it anymore.
In 2018 I had a column on Victoria Health. Once Trump became President in 2016 I couldn’t help but write about the effects of that because it was all I could think about. I was sick and worried about what his leadership would do to America (and the world) and current events prove we were right to be scared. In February I decided I wanted to write about the racism in the beauty industry (original unedited article here) because it was such an important issue to me. I had seen it and experienced it and I wanted to start a discussion that would hopefully spark a conversation for change. I wrote my article for the March newsletter, but once submitted (and after a bit of back and forth) I was told it would not be published.
To say I was devastated is an understatement. I had been a long time loyal fan and customer of the site and had forged what I thought was a real friendship with the founder. To then be told that my experience as an Afro-Indian blogger in the industry wasn’t appropriate for the site felt like a gut punch. I was so angry, confused and hurt, but also felt worthless and small. I felt betrayed and like my voice didn’t matter. Most importantly, I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Ashamed of my otherness and embarrassed that I had spoken out of turn when I should be grateful to even have a column in the first place.
Even before I was officially hired for my paid column I know I generated a lot of traffic and sales to the site. Both Deceim and Victoria Health took my first blog post on The Ordinary when it launched (here) and posted it to their site. I don’t remember if they asked my permission but I do remember being really happy and grateful, not realizing that they had basically just took my work and used it for their own profit. Looking back, I feel quite cheated by that, but at the time I was genuinely so excited about the launch and was more than happy to answer all the questions I was getting.
It is actually this blog post that started a lot of the bullying and gossiping about me. Some of the biggest accounts in the industry (allegedly it was Caroline Hirons) spread rumors that I had been paid to write it (edit: Caroline denies any involvement in this and I am choosing to be believe her) and I even remember seeing a comment she wrote to one of followers along the lines of “you can’t review products you haven’t tried” (edit: Caroline has apologized for this) in response to my post. Well, no shit. And if any of them had even bothered to read what I had written I simply compared each product to others already out there and explained what the ingredients COULD do. Despite that, the lies and bullying continued and from that point I was essentially ostracized/black-balled, whatever you want to call it. These people could have just asked if I had been paid or asked me about the post, but instead they ridiculed me and positioned me as a fraud. I cried a lot during this time. I felt powerless to do anything and even writing this now those same feelings of shame and fear are coming up again.
For the record, I have never been paid by Deceim and in all the years since their inception I only ever received TWO products for free. Any other product I received was from Victoria Health as part of my column. And this is part of the problem, Black and brown people are always being met with skepticism, suspicion, disbelief and distrust. ‘There must be something shady going on, we can’t possibly be telling the truth, come on what are you really hiding?’
In the wake of protests I have felt sick seeing the people who have done harm to me and others, positioning themselves as allies or claiming to stand with Black lives. I have cried over seeing white bloggers and brands talk about being scared to speak out against racism when they are the ones who have ignored and perpetuated it for years. It has felt like a slap in the face to read about their sadness and fear when I have been sad and scared for years because of the racism I actually experienced and witnessed at the hands of them and their friends.
I know I am not the only person this has happened to and that’s the point. Black and brown voices are constantly silenced or shouted down. Our stories ignored or deemed unworthy of print space. Our presence excluded or tokenized. Our value not recognized nor compensated. Our place at the table not offered nor required. All this, all of this purposeful discrimination feeds into the greater racist narrative that then deems Black lives as expendable in a pandemic and collateral at the hands of police brutality.
The incident with Oskia was basically the last straw for me. I broke down the events in a separate post here (Part 3) and you can see the original Estee Laundry post here. I was stunned by what I saw. As I explain in my post, dressing up as Native Americans to get drunk in a field is a disgusting racist trope and it hurt a lot coming from a brand I had admired and been a customer of for a long time. Oskia’s behavior is completely symptomatic of the green beauty/wellness community overall that appropriates, bastardizes and monetises our culture, heritage and traditions while turning their backs on the people they belong to.
The beauty industry as a whole has a massive problem with racism, but when it comes to wellness, indie and green beauty the issue is something else. The community is full of white women co-opting cultures, tokenizing BIPOC voices and positioning themselves as the authority on our traditions and practices. A lot of the good vibes energy is steeped in anti-blackness and a general disregard and disrespect for the history and people they are stealing from.
Seeing things like ghee, turmeric and gua sha go mainstream all while being reframed as elements of wellness or self-care has been painful. Seeing white women monetize a heritage that has been around for centuries and repackage it as trendy and niche (meaning expensive) without any recognition or remittance is galling. The extreme entitlement and ignorance that goes along with appropriating ingredients, practices and traditions while excluding the actual people has been something to watch over the years. When I started blogging almost 5 years ago, one of the first spaces I felt extremely unwelcome in is the green beauty community.
The way this industry and the white women in it treat Black and brown women is abusive. It is mentally, emotionally, spiritually and yes physically abusive. The toll it takes on our mental and physical health to constantly have to fight to be seen and included is degrading. It is also beyond exhausting and affects us on a cellular level. So while you may think no one has been “hurt” or “injured” while you upheld white supremacy in the beauty industry for your own personal gain, I am here to tell you we have been. You may not see yourselves as the aggressors or architects of racism but you are.
While many of you have spent years raging against the patriarchy and fighting sexism, in your pursuit of equality you have created the exact same system of oppression as your male counterparts. This is a female led industry yet racism is just as prevalent as any other. We have events with no representation outside of tokenism. We have white feminist’s tone policing the anger of Black and minority people. We have never been allowed to talk about racism as freely as you are allowed to talk about sexism or literally anything else (anti-vaxxers, animal cruelty, mental health). This is one of the most visual industries out there with campaigns, billboards and adverts, so it becomes very obvious when a brand doesn’t care about Black and brown people. We saw you then and we see you now.
So now these people are heartbroken and triggered at the state of the world and want to change it (Part 4)? Good. It’s about fucking time. But not before being completely transparent about the system you helped create here. If you can’t even acknowledge and speak on the role you played that has allowed this industry to be as racist as it is now then your #blacklivesmatter posts are completely disingenuous. The problem isn’t just out there or in the US. It is here in YOUR industry and nothing has been done. How many of you have been to events with all white bloggers and not cared? How many of you have worked with brands that employ next to zero Black and brown people in any position, let alone senior ones? How many of you care if a PR company doesn’t send to or work with Black people? You want to know what work needs to be done? It’s this. Your industry, your colleagues, your business partners – this is where the change needs to happen.
I am finally writing about this now because this is my space, my industry and if there are going to be any real tangible changes then it has to begin with acknowledging how we came here and the harm that has been done. Racism in the beauty industry is not a new issue. Yet many who are claiming to be against it now have seen it, participated in it and ignored it. For me, and many others, the racism I experience on a daily basis is a violent spectrum. Yes it’s the government and the police, but it’s also the people on this platform and in this community who have excluded and oppressed Black voices in the industry. My racists aren’t just “yobs” on the street who call me the n-word, monkey, “Indian cunts” or “p*ki”, it’s also the Carolines, Lucys, Annas, Emmas, Victorias and Sallys who have made me feel like an outsider and made this industry inaccessible to the majority of people like me.