So, L´Oréal decided to remove words like white, light and fair from its products – all in the aftermath of global anti-racist protests all over the world.
My very first reaction was on the fun side and I eventually read it on some Facebook post: then they should also remove words like bronze, tan, brown, dark, coloured – because that would be appropriation. Just to be on the very safe side and make sure we are all politically correct.
Then I thought that logically speaking, racism – or any other -ism – is not defined by words as semantic categories (parts of speech), but by their use and the significance it is given to them. So, in order to get rid of this nonsensical headache, maybe we should try to not put the cart before the horses: you fight racism with information, education, explanations, communication. Basically, by using your words – not by eliminating them. Language shouldn´t have to adapt to the speech; it´s the complete other way around.
I kept going and thought that if race and racism are based on colour – that is, the colour of the skin – many people should start to think again. To begin with, watch this video to see just how many shades and nuances and true colours the human skin actually has. Where does fair end and dark begin? Where is ginger and what is yellow, anyway? To continue, maybe all purists may reflect on what one can find out from the first year of college: race is an utterly social construct. The colour of the skin is, ultimately, the only physical aspect taken into account when defining race. Yet there are so many other physical characteristics within all the shades and nuances of human skin, that I find it impossible to reduce it to that: are the Northern Europeans the same race as their Southern neighbours? Are the Indians the same race as the Native Americans? (probably not, Columbus made that mistake already)? Are the Mongolians the same race as the Japanese? Because all these people sure look different within what some usually call their respective races.
I believe that any attempt at categorizing people according to physical appearance or ethnicity only is shamefully obsolete in this 21st century.
I am not saying that there are no biological or even moral characteristics that different groups of people share, depending on where they come from. But that´s just normal; this is what happens when people live together. It´s called society and evolution.
I am not saying that racism doesn´t exist. Obviously, there are still people who see colours and pretend not to. But it´s quite idiotic to deny it: of course we all see colours. Colours exist and we see them. It´s empirical proof based on the human power of sight, that helps us distinguish colours. The problem starts when one thinks and acts on the sight of colour by allowing pre-conceived notions to impose judgement on the bearer of a specific hue of skin.
How is racism fought? With education, with information – most of which we should easily be able to find in places such as: schools, universities, libraries, and bookshops, to name a few, or basically the ones I prefer. Oh, but wait: not just any book, documentary, movie or newspaper would do. No, just the ones somebody randomly decides are politically correct.
When HBO eliminated Gone with the Wind from its archives, I first thought: aaaw big fat bummer, who still watches movies from before WWII on pay-TV? I mean, when you could buy the DVD, download the movie at no cost or you know, just look it up on YouTube? I don´t personally agree that it´s a racist movie (personally, I learned a lot from the perennial story of how we fail to see the right person, the right choice, the right moment right in front of us and choose to chase ideals instead), but that can obviously be debated, along with different other facts, such as: it´s based on a novel that got the author the Pulitzer Prize (maybe they should take that back, like a plagiarized PhD title?); it tells the romanticized episode of a very controversial time in US history that was only the beginning of a horrible period for a country that prides itself with defending human rights and fighting discrimination. What are we going to learn from anymore if only some books and movies are good enough? Specifically, only the ones who are respectful on the whole with all people and races; only the ones who talk about nice and cute things; only the ones who are not prone to interpretation; only the ones who puke rainbows and unicorns.
On a more serious topic, this can get to be very similar to a debate I´ve had a couple of years back with my workmates in a Madrid bookshop: should we order Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler? We did a quick search and the book can be found in many different formats and editions as well as translations in public and university libraries, offered on the market by distribution houses and bookshops all over the world. If we ordered it, would that twistedly mean we promoted it and its contents? Would that somehow absurdly imply that we agreed with its contents?
I guess it all comes to the free choice of the editor, the bookseller, the TV company and the consumer, for that matter: offer it or don´t, read it or don´t, watch the movie or don´t. But think for yourself. The choice and its possibility must be there – otherwise, it´s called censorship. A book or a movie can be good or bad – but there is always something to learn from, a perspective to know, an account to see.
One cannot just pretend the book or the movie doesn´t exist, erase it or destroy it, because we don´t like what it portrays.
That´s simply because at some point, somebody did read it or watched it, judged it offensive and had the opportunity to make the decision of its elimination. But when that someone reads, judges or makes the decision for you, it´s just like when a parent says to its teenager offspring: you´re not allowed to go out today because I say so.