Racism In The Cruelty-free Community

Disclaimer: The point of my post is not to point fingers at these commenters in particular but to address attitudes I’ve been noticing that Westerners have towards non-Western countries. This is not about targeting these commenters in particular, which is why I blocked out their names and profile pictures.

Yesterday Leaping Bunny announced that in additional to banning animal testing for cosmetics, India has decided to extend the ban to household products as well. This was amazing news and a great victory for animal rights advocates everywhere but then I read some revolting comments. There were in the minority, but it was still disgusting, especially when people had ‘liked’ their comments.

Elitist Commenary in the Cruelty-free Community

First, the more minor problem with these comments are they are distasteful for the topic. The post is about an animal rights victory and these comments tarnish that happy news with pointing at negative things that are happening in India. Why not applaud a country for such an amazing decision, especially when such a decision does not even seem to be on the horizon for Canada or the U.S.?

What is extremely problematic with these comments is their racist and elitist undertones, and I see attitudes like this so often. Yes, rape happens in India and there have been a couple of horrific incidents recently that have brought a lot of global attention, but rape also happens everywhere else in the world too, including Western countries. Pointing fingers at an entire country for not treating half of their population well while rape, violence against women and systemic sexism and rampant in the West too, is not only showcasing the denial about the lack of equality in Western communities but also shows the elitism that many people have in which they believe that we in the West are civilized while other parts of the world are not.

India in particular is a fascinating country that is full of dichotomies, including complex layers of class, caste, wealth, education, religion, urbanization, etc. You will have areas where there is utmost poverty and exploitation while other areas are filled with wealthy individuals and highly educated people (including women). To assume that there is a rape problem in all of India assumes that they are still a ‘backwards’ country, which was a prevalent attitude by the West for centuries pre-, during and post-colonialism. Comments like the ones above really show how these attitudes have not changed for centuries.

It’s quite possible that these commenters, like many others, find news like this shocking because it shakes up their belief that India is an uncivlized, backwards place where women are treated like second-class citizens and are offered little to no protection from their communities. A decision like upholding animal rights is unfathomable and a slap to the face when they think that their wonderful Western country should be at the forefront of decisions like this but rather are trailing behind. It scares them to think that they will be surpassed in the “country fighting for goodness and morality” department. Just look at this comment.

Elitist Commentary in Leaping Bunny Post

Now I know this person meant well and wasn’t trying to offend anyone, but the message is offensive. What they are saying is that the U.S. should be ashamed that a country like India, who is not as civilized as the U.S., can make such a progressive decision and meanwhile the U.S. is lagging behind. In fact, the U.S. is struggling to not only ban animal testing on cosmetics but is now under threat of making it mandatory under the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Act (read about it here). Basically, commentary like this shows the underlying belief that one’s country (the U.S.) is superior than another country (India) regardless of what the reality truly is – that all countries have parts about them that need changing for the better. Throwing each other under the bus is not healthy or acceptable.

It’s also interesting to note that when Leaping Bunny posted an announcement a week earlier about an animal testing ban on cosmetics in Sao Paulo, Brazil (read here) there were all comments commending Brazil and not a single comment was made about something bad that is happening in the country. Why is that? Possibly because they are not in central Asia where people ‘don’t treat their women right’.

The solution to alleviate thinking like this is to recognize one’s assumptions of other people and not generalize or stereotype entire groups of people based on small amounts of information one receives from the news. As well, one needs to recognize their own status and privileges and recognize that their circumstances constrain the way they view the world and they should try to see things from other peoples’ perspectives to have a better appreciation and understanding of what is reality.

The full thread of comments can be found here. Please do not target and harass the commenter that I featured here. That is not what I want to happen and I don’t think fighting fire with fire is the right way to solve problems.

Why Do People Tan or Bleach Their Skin?

I recently saw this picture floating around facebook recently about an ad in an Indian newspaper from Ponds. It has caused quite a bit of uproar from people who are outraged that Ponds could publish such a racist ad, and I agree with them. However I noticed a couple of themes in people’s comments though that I wanted to address.

1. Ponds is reinforcing the belief that fairer is better, not introducing it to the Indian market.

2. People bleach their skin for the same reason people tan their skin – to attempt to indicate affluence through their skin tone.

Here goes my sociology brain to explain.

Growing up with brown skin (and not being “fair” enough) it was reinforced to me that I should do all that I can to lighten my skin. I never used bleaching creams but I distinctly remember being told that I shouldn’t play out in the sun, I should wear long sleeved clothing in the summer, and I should apply lemon juice to my skin before showering all in an attempt to reduce the darkness in my skin. Of course I still played outside, wore t-shirts and often didn’t apply lemon to my skin (a natural bleaching agent) but it was made apparent to me by my fellow darker-skinned relatives (mostly aunties) that I just wasn’t fair enough.

As I grew older I realized the implications of it and refused to tell myself that I wasn’t beautiful or desirable. I’ve grown to accept my skintone and love the benefits that come with it. I do still avoid the sun but it’s only because I take skin cancer seriously and I don’t really like the burning feeling of UV rays on my skin.

I’ve also learned that in many areas of the world where darker skin is the norm that lighter skin is seen as desirable. There is a clear reason why this is. Historically those of the greatest privilege were those who didn’t have to work outside and were served by others – the upper or royalty class. Being inside meant that their skin would be less exposed to the sun and thus, their complexion was more fair than those who served them and had to work outside (ie. general labourers, farmers, etc.). Fairer skin was a visible indication of affluence. This is the reason why historically in Europe and parts of Asia women would wear white makeup to enhance their paleness, similarily to how we now apply bronzer in the West.

Tanning in Western countries (a mostly North American phenomena) is the equivalent of skin bleaching in other parts of the world. I often hear or read people’s explanation for these two acts as humans wanting what they cannot have. It’s not really the whole truth as these two acts are done so in direct reference to the cultural context where they reside. In Western countries most people work inside and tend to stay fairly pale. Tanned skin indicates that people are able to go outside on vacation to warmer climates, which indicates a level of affluence as the person is not tied down to a regular job (or a job at all). Those who are vastly wealthy can afford to take extended vacations and spend most of their time in leisure while everyone else is stuck indoors working.

Relating this back to the Ponds commercial, it definitely is perpetuating the belief that darker skin is undesirable. I really despise this message and I genuinely believe that everyone should stop attempting to achieve unrealistic beauty standards. It’s unhealthy and incredibly damaging. Women tend to be their own worst critics and horrible to each other when it comes to outward beauty and I really hope that more women of colour will stop buying into the belief that they are undesirable just because their skin is darker or not fair enough. Once I accepted myself for who I am and stopped telling myself that my dark skin wasn’t beautiful, I started living a much more happy and satisfying life.

How I Accepted My Eyes Were Black, Not Brown

I remember being a pre-teen in junior high and girls in my class would compare their eye colours. Girls with blue, green and hazel eyes would compare their eye colours and brag about how their eye colour was better than one another, but it was assumed that having lighter coloured eyes was more desirable. Those with dark eyes would try to convince each other that their eyes were a lighter shade of brown than the others, and basically the person with the lightest brown eyes got bragging rights. I always came in last because I had the darkest eyes and kept trying to convince others (and myself) that I had brown eyes. It was only years later when I finally admitted to myself that I had black eyes.

Now I know many people who will say that black eyes don’t exist. That’s true if you take it literally, but it’s meant to be a description of extremely dark brown eyes.

Characteristics of black eyes:
- Black eyes look black to the naked eye
- It is hard to distinguish where the pupil and iris begin and end
- You can only see the eye is brown when light is shone into it

I can only tell that my iris is brown when I shine a light into it. In indoor lighting (that’s not blasting into my eye) I cannot see my pupil unless I am standing within 6″ of a mirror, and even then it’s not very apparent unless I get the light to shine into my eye.

Here are some pictures of my black eyes. The first was taken in indoor lighting and this is how it looks like most of the time. The second two are in morning sunlight so you can see a slight brown tinge on the outer part of the iris, but you still can’t see where the pupil begins. I was giving a bigger smile in my second picture, which is why my eye appears smaller. I think I wasn’t smiling at all in the first shot, and it was taken last summer when I was growing my eyebrows in.

For a while after accepting this about myself, I didn’t think it was anything to be proud of. I still bought into the idea that lighter coloured eyes are more desirable and my eye colour was at the end of the spectrum of desirable eye colours. It was only about a year ago after I decided that I need to start loving myself for who I am and not beat myself down for something I’m not. So what if I had black eyes? Why not make the best of it and stop believing that I’m not as beautiful as someone with blue or green eyes.

After I started to hold this perspective I started to see myself differently and (I know this is going to seem cheesy) my eyes opened to see myself in a different way. Suddenly I started to realize the beauty that came with some of the colours I could pull off. These were colours I had worn before but after changing my view I looked so much more appealing to myself. I started to become proud of my black eyes.

Here are the pros and cons with having black eyes. These are things I’ve discovered on my own and only recently found other articles about black eyes that verified my observations.

Benefits of black eyes:
- I can wear almost any colour (ok colours never look terrible, just ok)
- I can wear black eyeliner everyday and it doesn’t look overdone
- Bright, vibrant blues, greens, purples and golds look AMAZING on me
- I can wear metalics, shimmers and pearl shadows for everyday looks
- Smokey eyes look amazing and I wear them for day looks sometimes

Downside to black eyes:
- Matte colours look bland
- Some light (pasty) colours look unappealing

My message to anyone reading this is to stop believing what others think is desirable and start believing that you are beautiful. Once you accept yourself for who you are and stop trying to be someone else you will begin to have an incredible amount of satisfaction and joy in your life. You no longer strive to get others approval because you believe in yourself.

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