South Africa welcomed 2016 in on a very racially tense note. People have lost their jobs due to racist remarks, companies are being sued for unfair dismissal. The notion of white privilege has been the hot topic of conversation and it’s a conversation that we all need to have.
What is white privilege?
Wikipedia : White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit people identified as white in Western countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.
Frances E. Kendall: What is white privilege? Privilege, particularly white or male privilege, is hard to see for those of us who were born with access to power and resources. It is very visible for those to whom privilege was not granted. Furthermore, the subject is extremely difficult to talk about because many white people don’t feel powerful or as if they have privileges others do not. It is sort of like asking fish to notice water or birds to discuss air. For those who have privileges based on race or gender or class or physical ability or sexual orientation, or age, it just is- it’s normal. White privilege is an institutional (rather than personal) set of benefits granted to those of us who, by race, resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions. One of the primary privileges is that of having greater access to power and resources than people of color do; in other words, purely on the basis of our skin color doors are open to us that are not open to other people.
In essence, white privilege is not something that white people necessarily do, create or enjoy on purpose. But it creates real advantages and generally makes life easier, for white people.
Hold up, you thought this was a beauty blog?…….Consider the following ‘cosmetic’ advantages:
- Plasters that match your skin tone
- The complimentary shampoo at a hotel being suitable for the texture of your hair
- Stockings labelled ‘nude’ actually appearing nude on your legs
- Finding a foundation shade that matches your skin perfectly
In 2016 there is still no makeup brand that caters for ALL shades of dark skin. Yes, there are many brands that cater for dark skins, but the countries that are producing makeup are producing makeup for the lighter range of dark skins….Halle Berry, Beyonce, Nicky Minaj, Rihanna, Kerry Washington. Dark skin in America does not equal dark skin in Africa.
The majority of makeup is produced in the USA, Europe and Japan… countries with the lightest skin tones. Hello Africa?
Among the darkest skin tones in the world are the Dinka people of south Sudan. The most famous being Alex Wek
If you find yourself thinking she’s not THAT dark, take into account that a highly skilled makeup artist had to combine a number of different products to match her skin tone. And what we see isn’t always what we get….
Gabourey Sidibe Elle Magazine, Sept. 2010. She is of Senegalese descent
(Read this article about whitewashing in the beauty industry: http://www.beautyredefined.net/beauty-whitewashed-how-white-ideals-exclude-women-of-color/ )
This is a real, no filter photo of a south Sudanese person.
Malik Agar, south Sudanese politician. Picture taken from Google
I repeat, dark skin in America does not equal dark skin in Africa.
South Africa is far away from pretty much anywhere. We don’t have access to most of the good makeup brands in the world, brands that have a wide variety of skin tones. The imported brands that are available here are quite expensive.
It’s not just the shade selections that are subject to white privilege. The naming of products excludes a majority of African women who have not been exposed to the experiences that white people take for granted. Nutmeg, mocha suede, caramel, carob, sandalwood, rich mahogany, these are the names of dark skin foundations…these are not household terms for most Africans; however, they are for white people. In order to avoid that pitfall, some cosmetic companies use a numbering system instead of names…. but not everyone in Africa is literate, those numbers mean nothing.
You could argue that cosmetic companies do not target women from very rural areas and that they assume their customers can read and have some degree of general knowledge. A very dark skinned woman, with discretionary income, who is educated, and uses makeup products on a regular basis, would also struggle to find a perfect match for her skin tone. Her main problem would be “I can’t find my colour”. The main problem a white girl would have is “I can’t find a lipstick to match my new top/shoes/handbag/hair colour”.
White privilege extends to knowledge gained from our mothers about makeup use. Many older African mothers have never even worn a lipstick, either because of a lack of funds or a lack of product knowledge. Playing in your mom’s handbag and smearing one of her many lipsticks all over your face is a fond childhood memory of most white girls. Learning how to apply makeup is not a rite of passage for everyone, which makes it especially intimidating to stand in front of a cosmetics counter and not be able to find a shade that suits your skin tone.
White privilege exists. We need to acknowledge it. Cosmetic companies need to acknowledge it. We want a makeup range that includes colour options for women of Nigeria, Congo, Sudan, Kenya, Senegal….all of Africa!
Skin-whitening products form a multi-billion dollar industry. They reinforce the idea that light skin is the beauty ideal, but these products either simply don’t work or contain dangerous ingredients that can lead to skin cancer. Why are we pushing to achieve lighter skin when we should be pushing for products that enhance and bring out the best of each and every skin tone? If every woman was able to feel beautiful in her own skin, we would break away from the ridiculous notion that black is not beautiful. We need to celebrate all skin tones and all women.
White privilege in the cosmetic industry is just a tiny aspect of it, of course there are other areas where white privilege has a much more profound impact. Makeup won’t end wars or find cures for diseases. What makeup can do, is empower women. And an empowered woman can take over the world!