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Edit – I originally wrote this in October 2018. Any edits for further information will be in blue. Updated 06/06/20 with Oskia’s PR manager’s response.
I originally wrote this article (here) back in February, but ended up shelving it for a number of reasons. One of them is my health (both physical and mental, which you can read more about here – my articles are no longer on the VH site), which has taken up most of my energy this year and left me very little time for Instagram or blogging. I always intended to share it at some point, but had no specific timeframe in mind until this past weekend (now 5 weeks ago edit now almost two years ago). What happened left me feeling so upset, frustrated and angry that I just had to share it now because I cannot stay quiet on this issue any longer.
Over the past couple of weeks there has been a firestorm of drama in the YouTube and beauty community regarding racist comments by beauty influencers, but what about the issues in skincare and our Instagram community? Racism isn’t just using the n-word or wearing a MAGA hat. It’s much more nuanced and insidious than that. In this context, it’s holding a launch event and only inviting white bloggers or having an Instagram page that doesn’t feature a single face, hand, arm or appendage that isn’t white (both Oskia in 2018). And it goes without saying that it doesn’t have to be intentional to be racist. The effect is still the same – exclusion, discrimination and the reinforcement of racist systems and ideology.
Of course, sometimes it is explicit like with the YouTubers (Lauralee etc) and the picture above, which is the reason for the blog post. These are part of an Instagram story posted about five weeks ago by an indie/green beauty brand’s PR manager showing the team glamping and dressing up in Native American “inspired” costumes. The ignorant and offensive images (yes there are more) were then posted by @esteelaundry, which is where I saw them a week later. As soon as I saw the image (and then the others) I was so upset and deeply disappointed. This is a brand I have used and raved about on my blog for years and here they were acting like it was ok to use a marginalized culture as fancy dress. This type of thing should not be happening in 2018 and certainly not given the current climate (nor the current current climate) we are living in.
Seeing this image brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings for me. Regardless of intention, they communicate a callous disregard for the important and rich history and traditions of the Native American people. It says, “oh, your people experienced genocide at the hands of white colonizers? But isn’t it like, so fun that I’m wearing this headdress and getting drunk in a field?”. The deeply disrespectful behaviour feeds the false racist narrative of alcoholic Native Americans (article) and reduces the people to ridiculous caricatures. As a society, we (generally) now know and understand that this type of cultural costuming is unacceptable because it is cultural appropriation and erasure. Not only that, marginalization and mistreatment of Native Americans is not something that just happened in the past, it’s happening right now as we saw with how the government responded to the DAPL protest at Standing Rock (and so much more since).
These images were so hurtful and upsetting to me for a few reasons. They made me feel small and “other” because to see the brand so casually disrespecting another culture immediately made me wonder what they think about other ethnicities like my own. It also made me feel stupid and paranoid about supporting and promoting a brand that happily engages in racist and disrespectful behaviour. These are the type of things that I, as a mixed Black/brown blogger have to think about. It’s not just important to me that a product works or if the packaging is cute, it matters where the brand stands on crucial global issues like racism. To take an apolitical stance with everything going on isn’t good enough and is steeped in privilege. Doing that isn’t an option for me and it shouldn’t be for anyone considering the serious consequences we have seen unfold since the election.
Edit 06/06/20: Updated with the shameful response from Klaudia Kedziora (Klaudia Cloud) who was Oskia’s PR/Social Media Executive at the time:
Here response was a disgusting display of gaslighting, white lies/tears and victimhood. She completely lied in her message and refused to accept that engaging in racist acts is racism. These are the type of people that make change so difficult through their arrogance and ignorance.
This image alone was one thing, but the ensuing interaction with a white blogger who made it her mission to downplay their behaviour was something else entirely. Her response is exactly what Black and WOC are up against when it comes to discussing racism with white women. For many white people, racism is merely an intellectual topic they want to discuss because they have no idea how it affects people, but it is not some abstract concept that exists in theory. It has real world effects and consequences that impact millions of people every single day. And again, it’s not only police brutality, Trump voters or Russian bots that reinforce the structure of racism. It’s behaviour like in the image and comments, which position white privilege (in this case to dress up in a culture) above respecting a minority group. It also frames political correctness as a disappointing hinderance to (usually) offensive (intentional or not) freedom of speech and expression, but to me all that says is “you don’t matter and I don’t care”.
As you can see from the comments above I replied to the blogger after a few days and her response is everything that is wrong with the conversation around racism. Instead of acknowledging that what the brand did was wrong, she instead criticizes me for calling out the behaviour and wants me to think about why I reacted in this way, as if it’s racist to acknowledge racist behaviour. Luckily, she conveniently happened to know a Native American Shaman who was able to reassure her she was completely right and there was nothing wrong with the image. Besides this assertion being a laughably tired troupe employed by passive racists to excuse this type of behaviour, it’s a hollow defense much like the favored “I know black people”.
You may wonder about the user @deeblue2018 and that’s for you to decide, I know what I think but I can’t know for sure. Out of nowhere while the blogger and I were arguing, this account just pops up out of the blue. They do not follow me, the blogger, Oskia nor Estee Laundry yet somehow here they are here as a BRAND NEW account to jump in to the conversation to say as a Black woman that I am “white bashing”. I watched as this account went from following no one to following a bunch of white influencers to then realizing wait, I’m claiming to be a Black women and then it starts following Black people like Serena Williams. All out of thin air, right when the blogger needed an extra boost to support her claims. How did this account know this interaction was happening without even following any of us? Your guess is as good as mine. After this happened I didn’t bother engaging anymore. I knew that the blogger wasn’t interested in listening, she just wanted to push her racist ideology in defense of her white friend. It also seemed to be like this fake account was created to express what she really meant and I wasn’t prepared to deal with that.
This is straight out of the Twitter/Facebook Russian bot racist playbook and here it is being used on this seemingly unimportant incident which is exactly the point. It isn’t nothing, every single act of racism from the worst to the unintentional matters. We have Trump because in every day life we are not doing enough to stand up against this type of narrative. The stakes are too high to be indifferent, either you are against racism or you support it, regardless of your intellectual views on being PC and freedom of speech. Edit: I also see that fake accounts being deployed to defend Organic Bunny on Josh Rosebrook’s post, so nothing has changed.
I know there will be some who will see the image and the comments and wonder what the fuss is about (read these articles to understand more: one, two, three, four). Seems pretty banal in comparison to what’s going on in the world, but it’s important to me. As far as I am concerned, this is a lower rung on the same racist ladder and it’s happening in my industry with a brand that I have supported. This is personal to me, as it should be. Not only that, it upset me so much because after a summer dominated by stories of #PermitPatty’s, #BBQBecky’s and #PoolPatrolPaula, to name just a few of them, we are again being confronted by white women’s role in upholding white supremacy. Because that’s exactly what it is happening. We might not be living through Jim Crow era or the Civil Rights Movement, but we are certainly not in a post-race society. The rise of white nationalism and far right politics prove that we are dealing with our own modern day global race crisis and every single thing we do either reinforces it or stands against it.
Historically, white women have always been the secondary beneficiaries of the male led all out assault on BlPOC people. They may not have been the ones acting physically violent (in the majority of the cases), but they have enacted their own kind of violence. Whether it’s falsely accusing teenage black boys of rape (just happened last month), or being “the most influential member of the KKK” (please read this incredible article on The Cut about Elizabeth Tyler) or the image below which shows white mother segregationists protesting against 6 year old Ruby Bridges. As the article states, racism does not exist in a vacuum and in the same way neither does what we do in this industry. We are the visible ones, creating content on Instagram, showing up in magazines, on TV and YouTube. What do you think it says to people of colour when we see the same racist old world order happening in this digital industry. This is supposed to be brand new unchartered territory as far as industries go, where the rules don’t apply and therefore should be free from the systematic racism seen in other sectors, yet it isn’t. So is the problem the patriarchy or whiteness and all the privilege that comes with that?For white women in the beauty world it is especially important they do their part to change the landscape. This isn’t like the male dominated Silicon Valley or Wall Street. When it comes to the influencer/PR company sphere, white women are the ones who are the gatekeepers of the industry, so why are we still seeing the same type of discrimination? Is it because white men aren’t the only ones we need to hold accountable when it comes to institutionalized racism? I think so. This notion of woke white feminism being here for every woman is exactly that, a notion. It rarely materializes in actionable change, but go ahead and tell us again how much you love Oprah, or if you’re a millenial, Rupi Kaur.
What we are doing matters and I cannot emphasize that enough. Social media is a microcosm of society, often twisted and exaggerated, but it absolutely reflects the world at large. Every single thing we collectively do pushes the needle and we are either breaking down the barriers to equality or reinforcing the status quo. So, what can we do? First of all, talk and be honest. How can we make a change when we can’t even have a conversation about what is actually happening? We have got to stop pretending that racism is a male problem and work together to be more genuinely inclusive and fair.
Being a WOC in this industry is not easy. As I discussed in my other article, there is a serious lack of inclusion and diversity that is a major problem, but beyond that it’s this feeling that I now have. That no matter what I do or how many followers/likes I get that it will never be good enough, I’m not good enough. That’s just how I feel a lot of the times and these feelings haven’t come out of nowhere. It’s something that gradually developed the bigger social media became. Seeing brands not feature Black and POC on their feeds and campaigns or work with Black/brown bloggers spoke volumes. It said to me, we don’t see/value you and people like you don’t matter to us. It’s something that I previously accepted as the norm because the beauty industry has always been this way, but in this current heightened racist Trump era climate, it means so much more now.
Again, I know a few of you will be confused over why this one incident matters so much to me and if that’s the case then you clearly haven’t been paying attention. We are slipping backwards and it scares me. Hate crimes are on the rise as is far right politics and it’s becoming harder to view the beauty industry as a safe space because incidents like this don’t make it feel that way. This also might come as a surprise to many of you as I have kept my political views pretty much away from Instagram (that’s for twitter with 40k retweets and counting) but now it’s happening here and I can’t turn away.
Edit: Why didn’t I bring this up at the time? Aside from the personal things I was dealing with, any time issues like this have been brought up there has just been an immediate backlash of “it’s harmless, you don’t know what’s in that person’s heart, they didn’t mean it or it’s not that big of a deal”. The wellness and green beauty arena is full of this wishy-washy hand holding positivity silencing because to them, accountability is an attack. Especially here in the UK where it’s a very British thing to be more aghast at someone being called racist then them actually being racist. Rich white liberal women are the new Laurence Foxes telling everyone racism is boring and being flippant about the harm they do. I didn’t feel safe broaching this topic and definitely feared the community would rally around Oskia to dismiss or minimise the seriousness of what they did. I also worried about being called aggressive or accused of cancel culture (for the record – accountability and consequences for your accounts does not mean you are cancelled. Hiding behind that is playing the victim). I also suspected that the same person who blacklisted me over Deciem in 2017 probably told them to ignore me. They’re long time friends and I felt if I said something she would use her platform to further discredit me. Cowardly, I know, but I just couldn’t take the idea of any more abuse.
The situation with Organic Bunny happening right now is prime example of this. She has exhibited racist and homophobic views for years and many Black women in the community have been trying to highlight it, but it went ignored because #lightandlove. Now it’s being exposed and even in the wake of everything that has happened this week she is still being defended and her insincere apology is already being heralded as a a wonderful first step and reason to just completely shut down the conversation. Her racism is not ancient history – it’s from this week trying to undermine the movement and from her previous #bluelivesmatter posts in the wake of police brutality just a couple of years ago (it’s when I unfollowed). Her racism has been there and yet the green beauty community overlooked it for years. An apology isn’t absolution and a statement does not end the conversation. Accountability is a process that goes beyond being exposed for the harm you’ve done and simply saying sorry. There is also a difference between a mistake and pattern of behaviour. There is always room for forgiveness and compassion for white people, no matter how much damage they have caused, yet and never the same amount for the ones they have hurt.