Before heading into work a few weeks ago, I tweeted an original, now viral series of tweets about a surge of competing emotions that had unexpectedly hit me after placing a bandage on a stubborn, four-day old cut on my finger. But it wasn’t like the typical Johnson & Johnson brand adhesive bandages I’d worn on the same injury earlier in the week.
Instead, I decided to try something new—one of the Tru-Colour brand bandages that had stood out to me months earlier as a rare consumer sight, considering I was browsing an online national retailer. The manufacturer had clearly designed the product for people of color, given the distinctly brown hues of the bandages’ fabric.
So as someone who tries to be better about shopping with his values in his personal life, and given my work life as a researcher at the nonprofit racial justice organization Race Forward, it felt doubly important to help demonstrate that there is indeed consumer demand for products that center people of color.
But as I wrapped the darkest of Tru-Colour’s three current shades of bandages around my right hand “pinky” that morning, I was taken aback by the sight of the perfect blend created by the brown fabric against my brown skin. The beauty left me in awe. I waved my arm away from me, and the bandage practically disappeared from sight, taking my breath away, which yes, I’ll admit felt, and still feels, a tad ridiculous. But there was no denying it.
This wasn’t the same feeling I’d gotten all these years from traditional “flesh-colored” beige bandages that used some tone of whiteness as the default, or even one of the “clear” variety that features a white gauze patch that contrasts with my dark skin. Like many people of color, I’d resigned myself long, long ago to the idea that those products were not designed with us in mind.
But the new experience of wearing a product designed for people who look like me gave me a feeling of belonging.
I felt seen. I felt cared for. I felt valued.
I felt included in a way that I quickly recognized was a very foreign feeling, not just for me, but sadly, for so many people of color, and many black people in particular. So I shared my thoughts with a few hundred Twitter followers, along with two images—one showing my hand in the distance with the bandage almost invisible and another closer up so that folks could witness the flawless blend for themselves.
And it resonated, to the tune of a half million “likes” in four days. Women of color from not just the United States, but from the United Kingdom, from France, South Africa, Kenya and elsewhere testified about similar exclusion in their shopping experiences with cosmetics, undergarments, women’s clothing, ballet shoes, dancing tights, and more. And others wrote about the hypervisibility of people of color with various medical conditions, such as diabetes, that require visible bandages of all sizes, or with hearing loss, which can involve a “flesh-colored” hearing aid.
Ultimately, it’s not about the Band-Aids or about any of these products in and of themselves. It’s about belonging.
The products—or absence thereof—are just symbols of a far broader exclusion, the deeper wound reflected in our collective experience of racism and its manifestations in our everyday lives.
We live within the context of a far broader anti-blackness that much of mainstream white society—and the institutions that are supposed to serve all of us—refuse to admit even exists.
The point of my tweets was not that the industry must provide an adhesive bandage to match every shade of the human family. The call is for more of us to consciously work to end the anti-blackness and white supremacy culture that broadly relays subtle and not-so-subtle messages that black lives don’t matter. To fight the ever-present message and experience that here and around the world, that white lives and lighter skin matter more. To do that, we’re going to have to talk about much more than Band-Aids.
Dominique Apollon, Ph.D. is the vice president of Research at Race Forward, a national non-profit working to advance racial justice. He’s a writer and researcher on race, and is based in Oakland, Calif.