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On Colorism, Or: I Simply Wanted to Refresh Our Website

On Colorism, Or: I Simply Wanted to Refresh Our Website

Dec 30, 2021

Rozella Kennedy

New Website, Who Dis?

As Brave Sis Project moves into its third year (!!), I determined it was time to update and refresh our website. I began looking around for inspiration, wary that I might blow the entire balance of our bank account if I wanted to hire a designer.

Website design is one of the most marked-up of all the creative offerings, and with a Shopify site, you’re starting from a decent architectural baseline: I could do this on my own. It’s largely a matter of changing the “skin” (bookmark that note), updating some photos, resizing a few elements. A more crisp design template would also  give me the chance to streamline the content and cut more directly to the chase of Brave Sis’s journey so far and our proposition to the world.

UNAPOLOGETIC, AUTHENTIC WELLNESS AND SISTERHOOD FOR YOU, FOR US.

Brave Sis Project is a social & wellness brand building an inclusive sisterhood—for BIPOC women wishing to better know & celebrate ourselves and each other & for white women seeking to move beyond performative allyship

I had the week between the holidays off, and having dispatched all the pre-orders of the 2022 Journey-Journal, I felt fortified. I spent a few hours looking at different website designs on a graphic design brokerage site. I found several that I thought would convey the next phase of Brave Sis and one was particularly attractive to me. I liked the fonts, the cleanness and sort of elegant simplicity; I even felt the clean design would help direct me towards a different way of using photography and images on the site.

As we start to segue to Brave Sis moving beyond the journal and merch into a broader community and especially the 2023 Workman Press book with illustrations by a very prominently uprising artist, it felt important to create a visual bridge between this year and next. Landing upon a design I found gorgeous, I started flipping through the prototype. 

Imagine my delight when I saw the sample pages: on what purported to be a beauty website very arresting, beautiful dark-skinned women with naturally textured hair. After all, beauty is related to lifestyle, and lifestyle is related to wellness, and wellness is related to journaling, so it didn’t feel as abstruse as the designs for drop-shipping websites selling toys and shoes. I also liked that it felt could support the needs of a “storytelling” website, which is something we’re working on for Year Three.

But... Imagine the stomach drop and heart rate acceleration when I clicked to the next sample: a beautiful medium-toned Black woman toting the virtues of skin lightening cream!

I quickly exited the site and continued my search.

It's All In the Stars

After about an hour, my search algorithm returned me to the original design. Was Website Goddess talking to me here? I tried to set aside the revilement. It really did provide the flexibility I wanted, and I could streamline it the way I wanted. Holding my nose and crossing my fingers behind my back, I hit “purchase.” 

Now in general I am satisfied. I was able to entirely redesign the website all by myself within one working day. The photos are still a work in progress, but it is actually not easy to illustrate a concept of “sisterhood” and a blank journal/day planner is not supremely exciting visual copy (the value is in what you, the user, put into it!) So it was good for now. There were a few tweaks that I couldn’t figure out on my own, so I wrote the developers, who were extremely responsive and cheerful. Everything seemed great. Until they asked me to give them a rating, a five-star rating if you please.

I gave them four stars and here’s where it gets interesting. 

Company:

We have noticed that you have provided us with 4 stars rating. We are ready to help you to resolve the issues. Let us know what is the issue with our theme so that we can resolve the problem. Ratings play a major role in our profile, a bad rating affects the entire theme and our whole profile. Please revise the rating that you have done now. We are always ready to help you.

I took a deep breath. I know it’s all about the money for these companies, and purchasing the template through them as opposed to hiring a designer had saved me probably 700% of the cost of redoing a website (solopreneurs eat last, and my personal hourly rate is not in the four figures!) But I could tell by the tenor of the language used that this was probably someone from outside of the United States; I surmised a former British Colony.

I’m not a sleuth but knowing where much of this graphic and Internet content is created, and the time zone difference between their response window and my Pacific Standard Time Zone, and thinking about the history of colorism in South Asia. I made an educated guess I was dealing with a group of male engineers India.

(Courtesy: Scholastic)

Why should I even care? But of course I do: if Braves Sis is really about creating an inclusive sisterhood and helping people become better allies, I was going to have to be an active participant in the mission. So I replied:

I will update the rating when you remove the skin lightening cream demonstration. It is very toxic for Black and Brown women in the US and India to feel the pressure to lighten their skin, and in fact my entire brand is about helping women of color feel their power and purpose. I almost didn't buy [your template] b/c of that page copy; it literally took my breath away. In 2022 this is imperative.


As colonized minds do when they are gently called in, my poor engineer tried to deflect and minimize my indignation.

A Side Rant

Let me say, on a scale of 1-10, my outrage was like a 4.5; my expectations were low in this case. Last week, however, on the day our shipment arrived, we arranged with the local bookshop to use their parking spot for a few hours so the delivery truck could park next to the rented U-Haul and we could easily transport the two pallets and move them to our storage facility.

So when I drove back from the U-Haul and found a white hipster cavalierly removing the cones we had put out, I jumped out of my car waving him off.

Me: Do you not see the cones? We have a van coming in three minutes!

Dude, gaslighty: you have a van coming?

Me: (in my head) didn’t I just say that, you clown?

Dude, looking at me incredulously: I’ve been parking here for years. This is not a private street.

Me, looking at street sign that literally says PVT, yes it’s a bit of an anomaly in Oakland. “You WILL be towed! I live here and I can tell you that this spot is reserved for the store. Try it and see what happens. But right now you have to move because the U-Haul is coming and why do you think we put down these cones?


After a minute or so of yelling over each other, the dude drives off, angrily shaking his shoulder-length hair.

That was a 9.95 on my Richter Scale of fury.

Yes, he moved his car—but not before trying to minimize what I was saying, and acting like that blinking blond guy meme: do I really obey the command of a short Black woman?  Am I not allowed to do whatever the actual eff I want to, because I’m a young, relatively well-off, groovy cis-het white guy with shoulder length hair wanting my coffee and vegan pastry?

People, it took me about four hours to calm down. End of side rant. 

Teachable Moments, Sigh

Back to the engineer. He was clearly setting up the deck for me to have to do his labor: 

CompanyYou mean to remove this wordings or the image shown in this screenshot?

 

Jolly good, old chap. Taking a deep breath, and at 7:50 am on the penultimate day of the year, I took to my iPhone mail app. Thankfully I can do these things with little effort and could remain cozy in bed!

I don’t know what your internal feelings are about colorism but it’s evil and rooted in self-hatred and white supremacy. Even in South Asia women and society are waking up. Instead of the product being about skin lightening cream you could keep the image and say something like “start your day with the perfect foundation” and have it be about vitamin-enhanced cream. 

Do I really have to enlighten you on this?

I added four easily findable and mainstream articles for his consideration, from various reputed sources: The Guardian, NPR, the NY Times, and keeping in the beauty mode, Allure magazine.

So, I went on:

These things matter! You show beautiful women of color in your website sample and then deliver a gut punch by adding copy that perpetuates racism. So it feels like you don’t have any actual empathy or care about Black and Brown women, you just used the image because it was chic. I spent two hours looking at designs for my website and had to hold my nose as I chose yours.

Please share this with the higher ups. You  can hire me to do a lesson with your team about racial equity and decolonizing beauty. 

We all need to join together and do our part to make a better world 
 
Your company is responsive and creates beautiful products. Now is the time to adopt a better sense of equity.
 

To establish a sense of authority, I even sent him an essay I’d authored about how Equity is never-ending work.

I am not sure what their response will be and if it will go to the higher ups (if there even is one.) Like parking bro, they may just take umbrage that some little Black lady is trying to tell them what to do.

But I paid for their product with real money, and money does talk. More importantly, star ratings bellow.

When some might say “why bother,” the act of bothering seems to be what this whole Brave Sis Project thing is turning into for me.

Chants for Change, from the Football Pitch

We just finished bingeing “Ted Lasso" over the holidays (a good counterbalance to the finale of “Insecure,” which I am not happy about, because I think Lawrence is a goofy turtle). If you’ve seen this truly genial Jason Sudeikis show (highly recommended, if only for Sam Obisanya and Danny Rojas!), or if you’ve lived in the UK, you are aware that football (soccer) audiences love to make up chants for players. A great is the “Jaime Tartt” one sung to the tune of “Baby Shark.” But our fave is the Roy Kent one:

He’s here/he’s there/he’s every f—king where! Roy Kent!

So, on that note I will sign off on this year of 2021 with a chant about Colorism:

It’s here
It’s there
It’s every fuggin where 
Colorism!

 

That’s why I "went there" with a bunch of far-away website engineers. Appropriating Black and Brown beauty for a few sales is just trash.

Don’t play women for a fool, don’t perpetuate harmful colonialist, racist, sexist frameworks. Don’t appropriate Black beauty for clicks (though obviously it worked in my case… gulp.)

I’ll offer a new year’s resolution to get us all started on our 2022 Brave Sis Journey: When you see a micro aggression, don’t just sit there. Keep the remarkable Flo Kennedy in mind:

Freedom is like taking a bath: You got to keep doing it every day.

Or this quote from her, even better as feels just ripe for a football (yes we mean soccer) stadium chant:

The biggest
sin
is sitting on your arse*
(*Spelling deliberately Britishized)

Happy New Year from Brave Sis Project!

Your thoughts on all of this? More resources about colorism and texturism you'd like to share? We have an insta thread on this topic; feel free to chime in!