The notion that silence contributes to an issue has been weighing on my mind heavily recently. By being a straight person and not supporting LGBTQA people, you are contributing to the problems that these people face. As a man, if you are not actively promoting equality (in your actions, and also your speech) you are promoting sexism. As a white person, no matter your views regarding other races, if you are doing nothing to help these people, you are promoting racism. These problems grow larger in silence. Additionally, as a black woman, if I do not speak about these problems, I am furthering the issue.
So today, when I walk into a pharmacy and come across ‘skin lightening cream’ in the afro products section, I decided FOR ONCE to actually speak up instead of ranting to a friend or on social media. I was not expecting radical change. But I thought I could have a short, nice discussion with the shop owner, perhaps write down a formal complaint and…well, every little helps.
I told the shopkeeper politely that I had an issue with the product. He spoke over me, and interjected to say there were no issues with the product anymore, as ‘X’ ingredient had been removed. He was very civil. I then went on to explain that my problem was not with the ingredient, but the idea its promoting – namely that lighter, whiter skin is better. I ask whether he knows that the product is being marketed towards black/asian woman as a healthier alternative to laser skin whitening. He suddenly FLIPPED. Started slamming his palms down on the counter, yelling at me. (Bearing in mind I have phrased everything so politely, and have not raised my voice). He tells me to leave his shop. I ask if there’s a manager. He says, “I own the **** shop!” ‘Oh’ I say, ‘Well is there anybody I can talk to? Or can I write a complaint?’ This man tells me that I am not allowed to make a complaint; he won’t take it. This woman behind the counter tells me that me complaining is like being a vegetarian telling other people not to eat meat. She tells me that if I don’t want white skin, then I don’t need to buy the product. I tell her that I’m not buying the product, I just wanted to discuss it. (I’m incredulous that she is linking vegetarianism to racial oppression, but say nothing.) This man then makes a joke, which I don’t hear, but which prompts all the customers (white females) to look at me and snigger. He tells me to get out of his f***king shop, because he’s very angry with me. I say, ‘I know you are, but why? I’m just telling you what I’m seeing as a customer, and just wanted to talk to you about it’. Then I look around at the sneering, smarmy faces, and it hits me like a truck: As a black woman, my opinion literally does not count here. I leave, asking him consider how he treats his customers. (Bearing in mind, I have not raised my voice ONCE. Because a soft answer turns away wrath, because love is the number once force). I make it out of the shop, still polite, still civil, but a few paces later, collapse into tears. At first I’m embarassed, but then I realise that my emotions are justified. If anybody on the street asks me what’s wrong, I will not pretend that I haven’t been crying; I will tell them exactly what this shop and this shopkeeper have done.
He made it so difficult to talk about race. I HATED bringing up the word, because I knew instantly they would categorise me as an easily offended black girl who goes around saying ‘is it cause I’m black?’ I was so terrified of bringing up that word. I realise that, yes, of course speaking out about it for the first time would affect me a lot. But as I keep going, my skin will get thicker and thicker, (definitely not lighter and lighter :p) and we can chip away at such issues, breaking them down just like water, over time, breaks down rocks. CONVERSATIONS PEOPLE. Have them! And stay woke. (Y) People will discount your opinion because of your age, nationality, race, gender, sexuality, and so forth. But keep speaking out. Let’s not let our silence contribute to the issue. ❤