I’m scrolling through Facebook and I see a flurry of excitement over Band-Aid’s announcement: a new line of bandages available in a myriad of skin tones. Neat!
. . . Cue the anger, derision, and snarky comments in 3, 2, 1:
- It’s just a Band-Aid!
- I’m White, who cares? It’s a Band-Aid, it doesn’t even match my skin tone!
- White privilege means always having had a Band-Aid for my skin tone, what privilege 🙄
- What’s the big deal? It’s a Band-Aid, people are just looking to make anything racist!
Attach, form, collate other forms of dismissal and mockery — you get the picture.
Now, it’s easy to dismiss the nay-sayers as ignorant, the snarky as rude, the demeaning as callous. As a friend once told me: don’t let these joy-snatchers ruin your day.
They’re not; no one is snatching my joy.
Everywhere I turn there is an expansion, an acknowledgment, that flesh can be something other than white. That’s good, and I deserve to celebrate that milestone. I deserve to celebrate that milestone without objection, interjection, or judgment. To all my brothers and sisters celebrating with me, it’s a small step on a long journey, to anyone else, or to those curious why this is cause for such jubilation . . . consider the following:
- Band-Aid is the brand name for bandages; like Xerox and Kleenex, the brand name has become synonymous with its product.
Note that a company so prevalent, so ubiquitous, that its brand name has become the name for all bandages, is acknowledging the breadth of skin tones, which means the stakes and impact is larger than a smaller company doing the same.
The capacity to create a spectrum of hues has been around for over 50 years — and people of different skin tones have been around for much longer — perhaps part of the celebration is the wait; the, at-the-very-least, 50 year wait. Have you ever waited 50 years for something?
It stands to reason, to hope and to project, that if one of their companies has found a way to adjust and market to all people, this will start the momentum for another 249 companies to do the same. This is not an isolated moment, but a possible tidal wave of moments.
Now these aforementioned notes are the simple reasons to celebrate — the least controversial, the most direct, the easiest to share with others. But what’s beneath these layers? What’s behind the Band-Aid?
Band-Aid is first aid, first aid is medical care, and medical care has a long racist history — and that racist history brings us to today’s systemic, institutionalized racist systems causing and contributing to disparate outcomes . . . and those outcomes, as COVID-19 has spotlighted, are quite literally a matter of life and death.
See, in a world built on white supremacy, whiteness is centered. White is the default. And that centered default position is power.
- Centering white existence means diseases predominantly found in white people are the most visible and considered the most pressing, which translates into money and research for greater knowledge and better treatment.
This is better treatment not just to live and possibly thrive while living with a disease, but better as in, someday, outright preventing or curing the disease at-hand.
- Centering white existence means that white pain is taken seriously, and when pain is taken seriously, so too is treatment.
Imagine going to the doctor in exorbitant pain, and having that pain dismissed as exaggerated, hysteria, or downright lies. Imagine going through that, repeatedly. Racism is seeped in every part of our cultural and historical narrative, tropes and lies are not tackled in K-12 education and still not readily confronted in professional settings, so biases persists, racism persists — knowingly and unknowingly, explicitly and implicitly. And in the medical field that means patients of color, particularly Black patients, are not viewed, observed, or treated with the same level of due diligence and care that is provided to their white counterparts.
- Centering white existence means that widespread knowledge and “truths” are actually derived from racist thinking — the kind of thinking that solely centers and only values the white experience. Consider the BMI: a measure of the body and its health — a measurement created, founded, based upon white male bodies.
Findings and conclusions based on a small segment of the global population have been deemed appropriate, for all of us? Is it that the medical industry exists in white supremacy and believes that white male bodies can stand-in for every other body? Or, is it that the medical field is so saturated in white supremacy that remaking and remodeling the BMI to include samples from different demographics is not considered worthy of research and application? Who knows — for now, I will continue to see a BMI nearing obesity and continue to fear what my doctor might think, say, or focus on.
- Centering white existence means scouring the internet for hours for the chance to look at, to see, to find, an image of a rash, a bug bite, a bruise, or any other skin ailment as par for the course . . . for those of us who are not white.
White is the default. Every ailment, every symptom, every disease is studied, shown, and then addressed through that default position. Even in renowned and prestigious medical universities, it is not standard for doctors to be given images or examples of bodies that are not white to compare manifestations, to gain an expansive perspective, or to see this variation as valuable and worthy of medical inclusion. That last part being the critical end result: when people are not deemed worthy enough to know, they remained unknown. And who can or will provide adequate care, let alone high-quality care, when they have not been thoroughly equipped to do so?
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. How white supremacy has infiltrated, saturated, and formed every industry, every sector of society, is unique but the underlying commonality is always that people of color have lost — lost opportunities, lost culture, lost land, lost lives.
So while it’s not that I needed a Band-Aid to match my brown skin, it’s that this match is a form of recognition, another reminder that I exist — not necessarily for me, but for the doctors and nurses who may need to give me a Band-Aid, or anything else I seek during treatment. It’s a reminder to those doctors and nurses that if Band-Aid can provide a variety of flesh tones, so too can their trainers, their textbooks, and every other supplier — and that makes it far more than “just” a Band-Aid.