Episode 2

February 27, 2023


Don't Be Toxic, Be Beautiful

Hosted by

Jaron Burke Lonnie J. Portis
Don't Be Toxic, Be Beautiful
Uptown Chats
Don't Be Toxic, Be Beautiful

Feb 27 2023 | 01:01:32


Show Notes

Love hurts and so can beauty - but should it? Jaron and Lonnie talk to a local social media advocate about the role of colorism in the beauty industry and why it is an environmental justice issue.

Guest Information:

TK Saccoh (Creator of The Darkest Hue)

Yuwa Vosper (Policy & Regulatory Manager at WE ACT)

References from the Show:

Safe Beauty Apps: Clearya, EWG Skin Deep, Think Dirty

WE ACT's Beauty Inside Out Campaign: weact.org/beauty-inside-out/


You can also listen to this episode on YouTube.


Got questions? Email us at [email protected] 


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View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:11] Speaker A: Welcome to Uptown Chats, a podcast where we share stories about environmental justice by and for everyday people. I'm your co host, Lonnie, and I'm. [00:00:20] Speaker B: Your other co host, Jaren. And we're both from we act for environmental justice. Us. [00:00:25] Speaker A: Sharon, what is weact's mission? [00:00:28] Speaker B: It's a great question. We act's mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and or low income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. [00:00:44] Speaker A: Speaking of protecting people of color, it's also February, which means black History Month. Exactly. [00:00:53] Speaker C: Ding, ding, ding, ding. [00:00:54] Speaker B: Yeah. Do I get a prize? [00:00:55] Speaker A: No, you don't get a prize because. [00:00:57] Speaker B: I get to keep my job. [00:00:58] Speaker A: You get to keep your job because we celebrate black history every single day at we act. [00:01:04] Speaker B: Yeah, absolutely. It is very much a part and embedded in the work that we do of celebrating the work of people of color. [00:01:11] Speaker A: Even our executive director, Peggy shepherd, is an important part of black history, specifically through her role in the environmental justice movement. So 35 years ago, she helped coordinate a demonstration against the North river sewage treatment plant that shut down the west side highway. And that led to a lawsuit against the plant, which resulted in millions of dollars to fix the plant and also led to the formation of weact. [00:01:36] Speaker B: So cool. A little bit of history about Peggy and about weact. [00:01:39] Speaker A: So we wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for Peggy. [00:01:41] Speaker B: Yeah. Thank you, Peggy. And guess what else February means? [00:01:46] Speaker A: Valentine's Day. [00:01:48] Speaker B: Yes. How do you like to spend Valentine's Day, Lonnie? [00:01:52] Speaker A: I haven't spent a Valentine's Day doing anything since elementary school. We all used to give out the little cards and the candy, which I love. [00:02:01] Speaker B: I wish we would do more of that. I miss my cute little Valentine's Day cards I used to get, and I wish adults would bring that back. Our generation needs to. We're full of nostalgia. We love bringing things back. All the reboots. Let's reboot old school. Valentine's Day. Next Valentine's Day, when you go to work, cut out your little heart envelope, put it on your desk, and tell everyone to bring their cute little Valentine's cards and candy. [00:02:27] Speaker A: I think we can make that a part of office culture. [00:02:30] Speaker B: Absolutely, we should. I want to bring it back. Reboot Valentine's Day. How do you feel about Alani? Do you feel beautiful on Valentine's Day? Does it make you feel beautiful? [00:02:40] Speaker A: I don't know if Valentine's Day makes me personally feel beautiful, but I do know that a lot of people on this day, they get beautiful for their significant other, or they might be going on a date or something like that. So they're going to get all dressed up. They're going to probably put on some makeup, some per cologne, perfume, maybe take a shower. Hopefully they're taking a shower that doesn't. [00:03:03] Speaker B: Speak to anything about my personal hygiene. I take a shower every day, but sometimes there's people that, it's a good reminder on Valentine's Day, oh, yeah, I should probably shower. [00:03:11] Speaker A: Come on, buddy. [00:03:14] Speaker B: Wear deodorant. Just the basic things. But it's interesting to think about this proximity between Valentine's Day and Black History Month and how those two things kind of mix in society. When we think about being beautiful and people of color, what are some of the barriers in our society that prevent people of color from feeling beautiful? And we actually had a report come out recently from Weact about a survey that we did with adults in northern Manhattan looking at beauty and beauty standards, especially in terms of how that impacts their health. And as part of that survey, there were about 300 adults that were interviewed and asked about their perceptions of beauty and different products that they used, including hair relaxers and skin lighteners, which often feed into perceptions around beauty and colorism. [00:04:14] Speaker A: Yeah. I also read this report, and there's two things that struck me. One was that 50% of the respondents believe that other people think that straight hair makes them look more beautiful and more professional. And also that more than half of the respondents believe that others think that light skin makes them beautiful. So this kind of perpetuating this idea of a beauty standard that is straight hair and light skin. [00:04:40] Speaker B: Yeah. And it's really interesting to think about how that penetrates into our society. And one thing I like about this report is it starts to answer some of these questions about what are some perceptions around beauty and how that impacts product usage, especially specifically in northern Manhattan. But it also leaves room to answer some of these other questions that I think are still lingering about impacts of racialized beauty standards and society in general. One of them, I think, is, what are european beauty standards and how do they show up in our society, and how does that play into colorism? And what does colorism look like in our society today? [00:05:23] Speaker A: Also brings up how do these standards translate to the use of beauty products? Why are some of these products that we use so toxic, and why aren't they regulated? [00:05:34] Speaker B: It's a great question. It's kind of scary, honestly, but we won't spend too much time talking about that. We'll definitely get into it. And I think one of the last questions I think is important to answer is, how do we protect our health and reclaim our definition of beauty in the face of all of these external factors and external forces that are shaping our standards and impacting our bodies? And luckily, we are joined in this episode by two guest speakers, including TK Sako, who is a great social media advocate around colorism and the impacts on our health and beauty standards. And also, we're going to be joined. [00:06:15] Speaker A: By Wex's very own Yua Vosper, who works on our federal policy team and has done a lot of work around actually trying to regulate some of these toxics in these products. [00:06:24] Speaker B: Exactly. So two great guests for you today. We're going to roll our interview with TK first, and then we'll be back with you with Yua afterwards. [00:06:43] Speaker C: Okay, so my name is TK Sako. I was originally born in Freetown, Sir Leone, but I moved to the states when I was around five years old. I've lived in Philly for most of my life, which has been exciting. I really love Philly. I have so much family there. There's so many west african people in Philly, so it's like a little cultural bubble of West Africans, which is really nice. Reminds me a lot of Harlem, actually. These parts of Harlem are like Nicholas Ave. 125th. I recently graduated from Columbia University, where I studied psychology and public health. I really enjoyed my time there, despite Covid and all of know. But while I was at Columbia, I got to do a lot of work at Mailman School of Public Health, which really opened my eyes about just environmental injustice. And it just made me look at laws differently and how laws impact environmental injustice. And I want to be a lawyer in the future, maybe at the intersection of law and environmental injustice. So I'm still figuring that out, and that's been very exciting. In 2020 summer, I started the digital platform, the darkest hue. And it started off as an online space to give dark skinned black people who also experience misogyny, a platform to really delve into their experiences and be truthful and vulnerable and super honest about how the world makes them feel because of their dark skin. And since then, it's erupted, and so many people have found the platform, and it's helped so many people really be self reflective. And not just people affected by colorism and misogyny, but also people who perpetuate it. It's made them reflect on the ways they are implicated in making black people who experience those vices feel lesser than they should be feeling. So that's been a very interesting ride, and it's taken me several different places, including here, which I love. And right now, since graduating from Columbia last year, I've started my first full time adult job, which is really nice. I work at exalt youth. It's a nonprofit that serves 15 to 19 year old New York City youth who've had some type of contact with the criminal justice system. So, as you imagine, I'm working with a lot of youth of color, a lot of black youth. And the experience is so fulfilling because although I went to a pretty resourced high school, and obviously Columbia is very resourced, I did go to a middle school in southwest Philly that was super underfunded, bars on the windows, like, very punitive, like, hyperdisciplinary. And it was just like the school to prison pipeline personified. So I'm grateful that I have an opportunity to work with youth who do go to those kind of schools, not just for middle school, but also for high school who might not ever make it onto a college campus. I'm glad I get the opportunity to work on them and be a part of their support network and help them with. Help them manage everything that's going on in their lives, educationally, criminal justice wise. And it's just a very fulfilling experience. So that's where I am currently. [00:10:18] Speaker B: Thank you for that. That's super helpful to have some context for how you got to where you're at now. [00:10:23] Speaker A: And that's so inspiring for you to kind of do that. And there's been a lot of conversation about social media and kind of their health effects, particularly on young girls and teens. And so it's interesting that you take a platform that can basically proliferate or even make things like colorism worse and kind of create a space within the platforms that are kind of perpetuating these problems and create a space so that you can have the counter conversation about that. So I think that's great that you were able to do that. And so before we kind of keep going on with the conversation, you do use the word colorism. So how do you define colorism? [00:11:02] Speaker C: How I define colorism? It's more than just your romantic preference for lighter skinned people. Colorism has a lot of systemic implications for health and employment, and it just creates unfavorable life outcomes for darker skinned people. And it's something that can be traced back to colonialism and chattel slavery, and it's something that also has a lot of class implications. So, like, historically, people who had to work, had to be out in the fields, had to experience more sun, were darker, and their darker skin became a class signifier. So it's really also important not to divorce colorism from all the other isms and institutional vices that exist. So that's how I like to think of colorism holistically. I think people are complicating their definitions of colorism, which is good. I think in the past it was just, oh, I just don't like dark skinned girls, and that's my preference, and blah, blah, blah. But I think people are starting to realize that even besides the more systemic structural consequences of colorism, even your romantic preferences say a lot about who you're willing to advocate for, who you think is smart, who you think is worthy, really, who you think is human. And I think people are, I hope at least, that they're becoming more self reflective, even about the things that they think are like no one's business and don't really affect how they treat other people. So one of my biggest goals is just for people to take colorism as seriously as they take all racism and really complicate these conversations around systemic inequality, because I think they're very surface level right now. And I think colorism can be like an entryway to think about other intergroup oppressions, like fat phobia, or even futurism or texturism. I just want people to understand that it's not just black and white. It's not just like, black people. All black people experience oppression the same way. It's like, oh, what about trans black people and queer black folk? I just want people to complicate their understanding of inequality so we can not leave people behind. Colorism is really an entryway to think about oppression, not just happening between these broad groups, but also happening internally within groups, within black people, within same race people. So that's my definition of colorism. I look at it very holistically, and I look at it as intersectional and intersecting a lot of other things people are already thinking about. So I encourage people to also complicate their understanding of colorism. [00:14:22] Speaker B: It's a very holistic, like you said, definition that I appreciate. And there's one thing I want to circle back to really quickly. You mentioned a couple of other isms that might be helpful for us to define again for folks. So, texturism. I think there's one other one I mentioned. [00:14:33] Speaker C: Texturism. Texturism, futurism, fat phobia. I alluded to ableism, at least for a couple of. [00:14:43] Speaker B: Could you give the basic understanding of what those mean. [00:14:47] Speaker C: Yeah. So for texturism, it's the idea that looser patterned hair is more desirable. It's more rewardable. Longer hair is more desirable. And you see that a lot with how black hair is vilified in the workspace and how we have things like the crown act, even the fact that we need legislation to combat black hair. Hay is crazy to me, but it's something that happens. And I think with texturism, it just makes me think of just black women in general have to make so many sacrifices to conform, and they really have to dissuade certain things, like, what? Am I going to get my hair done, or I can't even roll out the bed and just comb my hair because it has to look this way and I'm going to get stairs? It's going to be called unprofessional. So that's what texturism is. And then futurism and a lot of these things overlap, of course, but futurism is the idea that certain physical facial features have been just historically vilified, like large noses. And futurism is not. These things are just not unique to black people. Of course, I think a lot like, for example, with the jewish community, there's a lot of stereotypes about their noses and a lot of anti semitism there that's just centered around some of their physical features. So I think about that. I also think about black people, and I've seen on TikTok that it seems like a lot more black women are opting for nose jobs, and they think that bigger noses are more masculine and smaller noses are more feminine. And there's, like, a history there. I also think about big lips, and it's complicated because cultural appropriation and stuff like that. But more people seem to be liking bigger lips these days, but can be too big, because then it's, like, weird. But then there's also, like, a history there with big lips. And even if you think about depictions of just menstrual characters, they have super big lips and big noses, and there's such a deep history there. And then I also mentioned fat phobia, which is something I'm trying to learn more about recently, and fat phobia. It's not just, like, the dislike for bigger bodies. It also has implications for anti blackness and black people being historically associated with different sized bodies and weird, bad proportioned bodies. And there's such a history there, and there's an ongoing history there with medical racism, when bigger people, from what I've read, go to the hospital or the doctor's office. If they're experiencing some type of illness or pain that's not immediately investigated, their bodies are blamed. It's like, oh, go lose weight first, and then we'll talk about the cysts or the fibroids in your stomach, even though one has nothing to do with the other. So I've just been thinking about all these other things besides colorism that also intersect with colorism, mainly because the people who talk to me, the dark skinned women and girls who talk to me, will bring up the other things. They'll be like, I'm not just dark skinned. I'm also fat. And this is how that has uniquely shaped my experience. And that's why probably me and you have a different experience as someone who is not fat. Or they'll say, I'm not just dark skinned. I'm also disabled. I am in a wheelchair. I have limited mobility. And that also uniquely shapes my experience. It's not just colorism. So I think it's really been the different perspectives I've heard from dark skinned people that have really compelled me to delve into the other isms and phobias that exist that are making for very unique, distinct experiences for black people. [00:19:17] Speaker A: It seems like you've created your platform to also further complicate that, right? To explore all of these different dimensions. I love when you say we should start complicating those kind of conversations, because it's not as simple as people may want to believe in. There's a lot of different layers, and people have so many different identities and so many different things that they have to deal with. And it sometimes can be hard to isolate or silo these individual things. For sure. [00:19:44] Speaker B: It's all the ven diagrams over. [00:19:45] Speaker C: Exactly. [00:19:46] Speaker B: Ven diagram on ven diagram on ven diagram. So many. [00:19:50] Speaker A: Can you talk about a little personally? Kind of like, how has colorism showed up for you in workplace or in life? [00:19:59] Speaker C: But I used to live in Washington, and I went to a predominantly white elementary school up until the third grade before I moved to Philly. And it was such an experience in a lot of my classes. I was the only black girl. So I'm sure I was also experiencing colorism because white people also notice colorism. What I was really experiencing there was racism and anti blackness, xenophobia, and just like, why do you talk like that? Why do you have an accent? Why do your parents have an accent? Why are. You know. But when I moved to Philly, I was relieved and excited to be surrounded by other black kids because I thought, oh, that was the only problem that exists in the world. Like, just, you know. But then I moved to Philly, and with more homogeneous racial group, you discover that there are other issues that exist in the world, like intra group issues. And that was my first real run in with colorism because kids can be cruel and they can be very honest with what they're thinking. And you would just hear just, like, the most awful things being said about yourself if you are dark skinned or your classmates. If you were dark skinned, you'd almost be relieved if you got put in a class where you're not the darkest person in the class because you're like, okay, I'm dark skinned, but that person is darker than me. They're going to get it a little bit more than me. And it's like, selfish, but it's like you're also in the fourth grade and you're also just hoping for some kind of respite from the bullying. So that was really my first really tangible run in with colorism. But also I mentioned that I'm from Sierra Leone, and colorism is huge in Sierra Leone and just in West Africa because the skin bleaching industry is a billion dollar industry, as it also is in Asia and other parts of the world. So I also grew up in a family where me and my dad were the same shade. I think when I was younger, he was a little darker than me, and my little brothers were very light. So I think I understood at a young age, even when I didn't have the cultural context or the history or the language to describe it, that people associate light skinnedness with femininity and dark skinnedness with masculinity. I think I saw that play out in a lot of the relationships I saw. It would be like, with the husband's dark skinned, the mom is, like, lighter skinned, the wife is, like, lighter skinned, or like, brown skinned. And I think I picked up on comments about people calling my little brothers when they were very light, comparing them to girls. They're just like, they're so pretty. They kind of look like girls. Even so, I think I subconsciously picked up on that stuff. And then when I got to a middle school where it was, like, the most overt because kids would just come up to you and tell you anything, I remember this one comment. This kid came up to me was like, oh, if it weren't for your long eyelashes, I would think you're a boy because you're so dark. And that's literally something he verbatim told me. And it's just like I didn't have anything in my toolbox to process that kind of comment. So I kind of just let it roll off my back. It was really just such a jarring experience to go from one place where I experienced a lot of racism and anti blackness and xenophobia, to go to another place where it's like, okay, the racism is like, I'm experiencing the racism, of course, because I'm a black person who lives in the underfunded Southwest Philly Hood, but I'm going to a school now with predominantly black kids, and I'm experiencing some other vices. [00:23:53] Speaker B: I appreciate you sharing all that for two reasons. One, I think that a lot of people can probably relate to it, and it's probably cathartic to know the stories of other people experiencing it and being able to feel less alone in that experience. But also for a lot of white people, including myself, to be able to hear that and understand probably a lot of examples of things that they are working on and things that they can do to improve the way that they're contributing to or trying to not contribute to colorism. So I really appreciate that. And there's something that you mentioned. It's a great segue. I really appreciate you bringing it up, which is the skin bleaching and skin lightning. And that feeds into a lot of the issues around racialized beauty standards. And I think that is something that wanted to unpack a little bit more and specifically talk about how colorism contributes to racialized beauty standards that we see today in general. [00:24:45] Speaker C: Yeah. So I think colorism contributes a lot to racialized beauty standards. I think it would be way harder to even sell a skin bleaching product if colorism didn't exist, because you're selling this product so people can approximate this ideal, which is that lighter skin is better or more beautiful, or it makes you look more intelligent or more capable or cleaner. So without colorism and without those societal beliefs, I think something like a bleaching cream would be rendered, like, useless, because it's like, you're not like, what is the goal of it then? And I think it's really interesting, because I think when we talk about bleaching, we focus a lot on outside of America. So we focus on Asia and Africa, because they have booming skin bleaching businesses and industries. But even living in Harlem, I go to the beauty supply store, and there are skin bleaching products just on the shelf. And I understand that african people live in Harlem, too, and people have immigrated from other parts of the world to come to New York City. So that might be a reason why you're seeing those types of products. But I think colorism is just so ubiquitous. So the products that help that really profit from colorism existing are going to be ubiquitous. So that's very interesting. And I also think colorism is aiding to the problem of skin bleaching. Because you just look at our representation on tv, in the movies, and who gets to be a love interest or who gets to be beautiful in television. And a lot of the time it's lighter skinned people. And if it is a darker skinned person, it's like one of them. And I'm thinking about Lupita diambo or we always seem to have three dark skinned women at a time who get to really embody beauty on television. And even with those people, it's like they're also playing roles where they're subservient, where they're enslaved, or where they're maids or in positions of much less power than people who are white or lighter skinned get to play. So I think representation adds to that because our brains start to subconsciously make connections between light skinned and certain other things. Like, okay, light skinned in freedom, and light skinned in intelligence, and light skinned in beauty, and light skinned and deserving of love. I think our brains make those connections. And even if we don't sit down and think about those connections super consciously, I think those connections are going to infiltrate our consumer habits. And we just start consuming different aesthetics and products that we think will help us reach that idealized version of beauty and improve our lives. And something I also like to. I think when people think about beauty, they think it's, like, frivolous because they associate it with women. But we're all doing beautification things all of the time, whether it's getting a haircut or buying some type of outfit. We're all doing beautifying ourselves all the time, to fit in, to conform, to just get through the day, just get through our lives, get through our jobs. So I also think people ignore that. People forget to just humanize people who do skin bleaching. I think my first step, the first thing you want to do is be like, oh, why are you doing that? It's bad for your health. And it's also like, you don't think black is beautiful. But I've learned to be less judgmental because I think if you're resorting to that kind of beautification, you've had a really tough time understanding that coming to the understanding that lighter skin is privileged and you've done a lot of internal wrestling. So I think now, obviously, I'm not going online advocating for skin bleaching, but when I am denouncing it, I make sure I want to contextualize why people are doing it in the first place. So it's not like people wake up and like, oh, I'm going to harm my health today. I'm going to put myself at risk for whatever type of cancer. I think they wake up and they want to feel beautiful and they want to feel seen. They want to be able to navigate their workplaces a little less stressful. Like the world is already stressful. So I think through beautification, people are just trying to be less stressed and trying to be a little more happy. And so it's not really about blaming the individuals. It's about blaming the billion dollar industries that even advertise. I've seen crazy advertisements in India about skin bleaching products where it's like they'll literally say, you won't find love until you're lighter skinned. And here I think in America it's less overt, but it's definitely still there. It's definitely in our media representation and who we think is beautiful and who we represent is beautiful and our television shows and even with our policies and just the fact that the crime act exists because there was such a need to legislate, just like equality. Like hair, people show up in the world and they're acutely aware of how they are received and I think they internalize that. It's like if you show up and all your natural blackness and your fro, your short fro and your dark skin and people treat you differently, people are smart. They're going to understand that. They're going to internalize that and it might compel them to make modifications and opt into something like a skin bleaching cream or a hair straighten chemical relaxer or things like that. So that's how I think colorism and the world's investment in colorism really contributes to the skin bleaching crisis. [00:31:28] Speaker A: Yeah, you mentioned, and I like that kind of full answer because it talks and touches on kind of the psychological, the psychosocial aspect of what's going on and how colorism then drives the skin lightening and hair relaxers and what that does and how you kind of approach that on your platform. But can you talk a little bit about kind of like that public health aspect you talk about? Why is this? I think it seems like it should be obvious as to why this is a bad thing for chemical relaxers and skin bleaching, but from a health standpoint, why is this a bad thing? [00:32:04] Speaker C: Yeah, for sure. Well, first I want to talk about how the world in general is just calibrated, I think, for lighter skinned. I did some work during my final semester at Columbia with Dr. Elis P. Monk. He's a sociologist at Harvard University, and he has tons of scholarship and research around colorism and how it affects public health. And something he's been looking into is pulse xometers, medical devices, and how they're not really calibrated to register dark skin. And you can imagine the implications of that with COVID disproportionately affecting black communities and pulse xometers not really being effective with darker skin. So I think there's one part of the public health connection is that we live in a world that just really privileges the health of lighter skinned people and white people. So a lot of people, unfortunately, get left behind. And I also think another public health connection is that sometimes when you're so focused on beautifying yourself and achieving or approximating some type of ideal because of the immense societal pressure you're feeling, you're going to disregard other very maybe obvious things, like, I've had a chemical relaxer when I was younger, way younger, and I didn't know anything about carcinogens or whatever, any future implications. But it just did not feel good. It was like burning my scalp. So I think people are even having those experiences way early, before the research catches up, where the research is telling you, like, oh, there might have very detrimental effects to your health. We are going through these rituals where it's like, it really hurts to put on chemical relaxer, and you kind of feel like there's something wrong. You shouldn't be putting anything on your scalp that's like burning it and making it feel like it's on fire. But that pain, the pain of trying to fit in can be more compelling than that physical pain. So I think it's really important we study colorism, like skin bleaching for public health, because people are just. We need to understand that beauty is such a force that people will forego health. They will incur any type of health risks to just be able to navigate the world and navigate the world with a little bit more ease. Which is why I think we have to humanize people in these conversations. We can't just be like, oh, this is the literal research. The research is showing you that you're going to be at risk for whatever type of cancer, whatever type of illness. Why can't you get it through your thick skull? Why can't you just forego these products, just forego these beautification processes? It's because beauty is such a force and racism is such a force and colorism is such a force. And people are a lot more compelled by that, I think, than they are about or they will make sacrifices that kind of disregard their health. So I think it's another avenue to have that holistic conversation about it. Just presenting the data, I don't think is enough because it is enough to spook some people, but some people are just so deeply invested in that stuff where it's like it's not going to be enough of a deterrent. I think. I also think larger societal overhaul and transformation would really be needed, but that's a lot more involved, I think. [00:36:13] Speaker A: Yeah, it's a lot of unlearning, as you mentioned before, that has to happen at a large scale. [00:36:18] Speaker B: Exactly. And people say government moves slow, society moves slow. As a society, we move culturally. Definitely very slow. [00:36:27] Speaker A: So when it comes to colorism, beauty standards, how can people get more involved in this work and feel like they can participate to where they are helping with the unlearning? [00:36:43] Speaker C: Yeah. So I think people should definitely seek out content that's made by dark skinned people, which sounds just very common sense. But I think sometimes in the online advocacy terrain or landscape, people just think certain impressions are just cash grab. So they'll just take something, make it their own without being very personally affected by it. So I think definitely listen to people who have experienced colorism, talking about colorism, because that just makes the most sense to me. And I think reading also really helps. And even if you're not a reader, there are podcasts that are helpful. I think listening to people's experience, like just talking to people, I don't know, I think that's something people take for granted. You have dark skinned people in your lives, talk to them about their experiences and really listen to them. Don't go into the conversation planning to get defensive or offended if they say something, or if they even call you out about something you did that made them feel uncomfortable or lesser than because of their skin tone. Just go in with an open mind and talk to people about your experiences. Because I think I had this spotlight series on my page where dark skinned black people who are affected by colorism and misogyny send in their stories and they're super vulnerable and personal, and it'll just be like the worst things ever about how they were bullied since as early as ten years old, even earlier for their skin color. And black people would be in the comments like, oh, wow, maybe I should talk to my dark skinned daughter because maybe she's going through something that, I don't know, maybe I should talk to my nieces about this, because sometimes kids won't outright come to you. But I think talking to people who are affected by whatever vice you're trying to unlearn and understand is super accessible, first of all, and super impactful. So I think that's one way if you're not like an online person, if you don't really have the time or the desire to do the reading or the researching. Anecdotes, personal anecdotes, experiences. That's expertise in itself. People are experts in their own lives, and you can gain a lot from just listening to people and their experiences. [00:39:30] Speaker B: Yeah. So hopefully we'll let this be a warm up for people to start that conversation and use this to fuel that conversation. One last thing I want to ask you. What would you like to leave the listeners with? Is there anything specific that you want to promote, either about your own advocacy and or other things that you think are important for people to look towards as a resource in this space of trying to address colorism? [00:39:56] Speaker C: Yeah, for sure. So my spotlight series has been on a hiatus for a little bit, but I'm trying to restart it. So if you are a dark skinned person, black person affected by misogyny and colorism, and you need a platform or space to talk about colorism and your experiences or your experiences with other oppressions, you are welcome to my Instagram platform, the darkest you to talk about those experiences, or you're welcome to refer someone you know who might have that kind of experience to the darkest you. And I think another thing you might want to do is just follow more dark skinned people, which I don't think people immediately go to. I remember when I first got on TikTok, my feed was just white girls, biracial girls, just light skinned people galore. Same type of hairstyle, texture, same type of features, just very conventionally attractive people. And I realized I'm in control somewhat of my own feed, being intentional about curating my own Instagram and my own TikTok and following people who I would probably not see otherwise if I wasn't being so intentional. So I think people can approach social media with more intentionality. There's a lot of stuff that's out of our control. We'll see people Instagram will promote who they want and the types of things they want. They'll promote whatever drives engagement or whatnot. But if you're coming into social media with more intention, there is a way to curate your experience so that it can be more beneficial to you in your unlearning process. So that's another thing I encourage people to definitely do. [00:41:57] Speaker B: Awesome. And I love that we've just branded this the unlearning process. It sounds like such a meta concept. The unlearning has begun. We've entered the unlearning awakening. We need the unlearning. Yes. [00:42:10] Speaker A: TK is bringing you the unlearning. [00:42:12] Speaker B: The unlearning. Bye, TK. So thank you so much for joining us. We had a blast listening to your experiences and sharing some of your insights with us. [00:42:21] Speaker C: Thank you so much for asking. [00:42:31] Speaker A: All right, we are joined by the one, the only Yua Vosper here at Weact. Yua, can you introduce yourself? [00:42:39] Speaker D: So, as lg just said, my name is Yua Vosper. I am the policy and regulatory manager here at Weact. I basically work in the federal office, but I live in New York, and my portfolio contains toxins and a lot of the beauty justice work. And a lot of my background is in the beauty justice fashion arena. [00:43:03] Speaker B: It was great. She's got lots of knowledge and expertise that she's going to share with us today. We're really excited. And obviously, you just got to listen to a great interview with TK about colorism and how it fits into beauty. And TK talked a lot about skin lightning. And you are here as pretty much an expert on the skin lightning policy world. So can you maybe give us an intro on how skin lightning is a policy issue and how we act? Advocates for skin lightning stuff in terms of policy. [00:43:39] Speaker D: So skin lightning is a policy issue, and it's a cultural issue that has permeated through media and advertising. When we think about media and advertising, we think about what we constantly see as images that are just, like, inundated toward us each day, which is a very eurocentric type of look. In Louisiana, where I'm from, we say light, bright, close to white. And it's the same kind of prevalence that people have, like a standard for the lighter you are, the more eurocentric you look, the more professional you're deemed, the more you're trying to better acclimate into society. So it's, number one, a cultural issue. And when that stems into policy is that toxins and ingredients that come in our cosmetics are not fully regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which is FDA. So they do not regulate cosmetics in the way that we think they do. So we think that they're out here and they are detecting and they're testing, and no, they're not. So what they're doing is a reactive approach. Someone has to call in, a great number has to call in. They have to go to the company, and then it's a whole process of recall. So when we have these ingredients in our products, we're thinking that there's a regulatory body that's protecting us when there kind of is, but kind of not. So it's kind of up to us to be able to determine what is in our products and to have a larger purchasing power. So when we think of mercury and skin lightning products, many people may even go and get these products, thinking, oh, I have, like, an acne spot that I just want to clear up. And they pick up a product in the drugstore, and they don't look on the back to see what are the ingredients. They just want the spot to be gone, and then it works. But in that process, you've put a neurotoxin on your face multiple times a day, and those kinds of chemicals and toxins bioaccumulate in the body. So that's how it becomes a regulatory issue, is that people are using this thinking they're protected from it, when, in fact, they're not at all. [00:46:01] Speaker A: What I think is crazy is that I've actually had conversations with people in agencies, federal agencies, who did not know that cosmetics were not regulated the way that we all think that they are. And so there are people who are actually working in these spaces who assume that they are regulated, and their ears perk up, and they kind of get worried that they're not. And so I think that is definitely a problem. But luckily, we have people like you, because you actually wrote a bill that is now in law, now part of New York state law. So can you tell us a little bit about that? [00:46:33] Speaker D: It's my greatest accomplishment. Yes, I can. I had the opportunity as policy staff to write a bill, and it was focusing on mercury red of skin lightening. And it was a process that I took very seriously because it has a great impact on a community that I belong to, which is person of color, a female of color, and it impacts women of color and nonbinary fem identifying individuals in a huge way, because that's the target that uses nine times more beauty products than any other demographic. So it was very important to me to get the language right, and to ensure that my point was coming across, because a lot of times when you're writing bills, they will read the bill and then you'll get it back. And the driver's like, that's not what I said. So I wanted to be clear what I wanted. And so that took a lot of not expertise, but it took a lot of me asking for help. I graduated from Portham law school, and I was very happy to have a huge support system within that, which is the dean of my program. She was very excited to hear that. I want to learn more about drafting. She helped give me in touch with a professor, and I had the opportunity to kind of learn how to draft legislation for state and federal, what it took to draft legislation. And it also brought a lot of my background because I have a master's degree in linguistics. So using words precisely and carefully was like something I enjoy. So having the opportunity to write the bill and draft the bill and then watch it succeed was a great accomplishment. So it was around Christmas Eve that I found out it was signed into law. So it was a good Christmas present for myself. [00:48:32] Speaker B: So just like in a nice short snippet, what in a nutshell does that bill do? This bill that you wrote, what is it doing and how is it protecting people? [00:48:44] Speaker D: So the bill prohibits mercury to be used as an ingredient in any personal care product or cosmetic in New York state. So basically, no one can sell or manufacture or distribute it. And this is big because it even includes Internet sales. So you can't buy it over the Internet and then distribute it in your store. [00:49:06] Speaker B: Yeah. And for folks who aren't familiar with mercury and why it's harmful, can you say maybe one or two words about why it's important that that gets removed from skin lightning products? [00:49:19] Speaker D: So mercury is a neurotoxin, and it's commonly used in cosmetics because it inhibits melanin from further accumulating or producing. So when it's put into products, that's basically why it's there. It's an inhibitor, but it has horrible side effects, such as neurology issues, reproductive issues. Some people who have used it for years as it bioaccumulates in the body have had seizures. Some are rendered paralyzed. And the worst, of course, is death. [00:49:52] Speaker B: Yeah. And for folks who don't know the concept of bioaccumulation, it basically means when you use a product, it gets stored in your body. And over time, that storing of that chemical adds up to where it has a more damaging, has a worse effect on your body than it would just in a single dose on its own, it adds up basically over time is what that means. Thank you for that explanation. Yoi. I feel like bills are sometimes so daunting for people to think about, and you went through the whole process. You did the thing, and now we have this great law that's protecting people. Circling back to the interview with TK, what did you think about what she had to say? Does any of the things that she said about experiencing colorism growing up resonate with you? Does it align with your experiences? What does that topic mean to you when we talk about colorism? [00:50:42] Speaker D: So I definitely experienced colorism growing up. I grew up in Louisiana, very small town, very rural. We have a Walmart, and we just got a McAllister's deli. [00:50:54] Speaker B: Wow. [00:50:55] Speaker D: Yeah. [00:50:55] Speaker B: It's a sign of a small town. [00:50:56] Speaker D: You got Walmart and then McAllister's deli. [00:50:59] Speaker B: McAllister's deli. [00:51:00] Speaker D: Don't forget, the McAllister just came. We're happy about it. Okay. So definitely experienced colorism within my own family. I'm from a creole family, which tends to be a lighter family in african american culture and households, and my father is african, so I was automatically a little bit darker than everybody else. So definitely, I don't think it was meant to be hurtful, but comments were made. We don't want to be as dark as you are. So I did especially experience that in my own family, and I don't think it was maliciously, but it was done in a way that you think, like, why are they bringing this up? [00:51:41] Speaker A: And has any of that experience that you had? Did any of that go into your bill writing process? [00:51:49] Speaker D: So, definitely, I wrote from a place of knowing, but I also wrote in a place of precision. I did not want, as I said before, I wanted the wording to be precise so that nothing could be dramatically changed, that the bill would not be something that I did not want it to be or be added or something different added. I didn't want that at all. I wanted the bill to be precise. So when I did that, I wrote it with an intention in mind, and my intention was to have mercury out, not to have it measured, mitigated. I wanted it out of product. So that was the intent and purpose when I was writing it, because I know the harmful effects of it. If you do use it to reach a certain standard that probably you can't even achieve in the first place because it's not realistic. [00:52:36] Speaker B: Do you have any other thoughts or reactions or just comments about colorism and contributions in the beauty space and just the environmental justice impacts or implications of the work that you do. [00:52:53] Speaker D: So the first of my thoughts would be, I don't want people to feel afraid to buy beauty products or cosmetic products. I want them to be informed so that you have to pick your poison. I hate to say it like that, but you have to figure out where you're going to give and where you're going to take. Some women are like, I refuse to use talc in my cosmetics. And talc is a form of asbestos, if you do not know. And it was a main ingredient in the Johnson Johnson's baby powder controversy. And many cosmetic companies are trying to remove it and are removing it. But some products and some of our faves, such as our good sis, Rihanna, she has talkative products. But do we boycott? You know, we kind of pick what we can do. There's lead in lipsticks, there's toxins in a lot of things. And some women say, you know, I just don't. And men, I don't do anything with fragrance, because fragrance, they don't have to disclose. I don't want you to feel so afraid. I want you to be informed with your money and with your purchasing power on how to use the products and what you have, because education is power. So if you're informed about what you pick up, you feel a little bit safer. You're like, okay, I know it has this. Maybe I won't use as much. It's a balance. And when I think about my next thought, I think about right now in the fashion and beauty space, there's a big push towards, like, organic and clean and blah, blah, blah. But nothing is really, like, there's no standard of definition for clean. There's no standard definition for organic. There's no standard for anything. So when we think about that, we need to really, again, be informed. But going back to what I said earlier, black women and non binary fem identifying people of color, that's where the purchasing power is for this billion dollar industry. And I didn't say million, I said b with B billion dollar industry. So if we are informed, we can take power back. And also today, during about, like, 02:00, 03:00 I did the Harlem Fashion row black fashion summit. I participated in that online, and one of the presenters said that, what does she want to see next? And she wants to see black people and minority companies owning the space in a way that's meaningful. Having black distributors, having black manufacturers, having black chemists, things like that. So that we start reclaiming that space instead of being told what is in that space. And I see that a lot, especially with reports that show how much we spend. Like, we're basically spending the most money in this area, and yet black owned or minority owned cosmetics are the last to receive any kind of funding or the last to be put on the shelves. Where is the black section? Because if you are a person of color, that section in target or Walmart is three shelves and it's meager. You're like, okay, I'm just going to have to see if I have it in the back. And then you call for somebody and they don't know what you're talking about. So that's what I won't want to see moving forward. It's like, yes, we can talk about regulation, but when we start controlling that space is when we're going to see some power, because that's where our money goes. [00:56:47] Speaker A: I kind of like how you kind of approach this as almost like a three pronged approach. Here you've got the education from the consumers themselves. So that way, as we choose to buy and not buy certain things, not purchasing certain things is very important and very powerful as well because it can move a market. But then on top of that, you're also saying we should also be in the industry, we should have black chemists, we should have black distributors, and kind of owning that space as well, on top of having people like you making sure that we get some of these toxic chemicals completely banned or out of our cosmetics or regulated very strictly. So I like that kind of multipronged approach to kind of solving an issue that is both social and an environmental health issue as well. [00:57:29] Speaker B: Well, yes. And just circling back quickly to your point that you made about people being more informed, I know that there are some apps out there that people can use to get information about what are the ingredients in their products, what products are safe to buy. I don't know if you want to speak quickly to those. [00:57:42] Speaker D: There is one that I use. It's called Clearia Clearya. And it's free. And basically you can put any cosmetic in the app and it renders back. And what I like is that it does tiers, so you'll have, like, red, these are harmful. And like yellow, these are harmful in smaller amounts, or this was what this one does. But it gives you information to choose. What do you want to do going back to education so we can all look at the back of our products and be like, what is Tripo fifth floral lane and color 4256? I don't know because I sure don't. [00:58:26] Speaker B: What is super califragilistic xialidocious? Why is this on this product? [00:58:31] Speaker D: Is it good? Yeah, that's what I think. Excellent. [00:58:35] Speaker C: It's what it looks like. [00:58:36] Speaker D: What is xenopholophin 00:34 I don't know, but what it does is it'll tell you. This is what super califragilistic ex fellow dosis is. And this is why it may be harmful, it may be somewhat harmful, or it'll have a big red. This is absolutely harmful. Please put it down. Do not go to the register. [00:58:57] Speaker A: That's literally how ingredients read in a lot of the back of our things, especially cosmetic and skincare, is super califragilistic Xpiala Doshi? [00:59:05] Speaker B: It's hard to say it isn't. [00:59:06] Speaker A: And if you can't really say it, I wonder if we should really be putting it. [00:59:10] Speaker B: This is the super califragilistic xpialidocious test. If you can't say the ingredients on your product, you maybe you shouldn't buy it. But also check out those apps that you mentioned. There's also the environmental working group app and think dirty, I think is another one. And we'll post some links in our show notes for you to check those out. But thank you so much, yua. We appreciated all your words of wisdom and we can't wait to have you back on the show again. And yeah, thanks for joining us. [00:59:35] Speaker A: On behalf of all of us and listeners, thank you for getting Mercury out of our products, particularly in New York state. [00:59:42] Speaker D: It's my luckacing. [00:59:43] Speaker B: All right, folks, thanks so much for listening. If you made it this far in the show, that means you probably enjoyed what you heard. So tune in on the last Monday of every month for new episodes. One thing that we also forgot to mention during our interview with Yua is the beauty Inside out campaign that weact is working on. The Beauty Inside out campaign focuses on addressing the toxicity of beauty products that are marketed to people of color and that perpetuate a racially biased standard of beauty. There's a working group associated with that campaign that uses the input of our members to develop our campaign strategy and is a forum for community members to learn about making better choices about their beauty products. So I encourage you to go to our website. We'll also post a link in our show notes to check out the beauty inside out campaign there. And I encourage you to become a part of that working group to get engaged with this work. Lonnie, how can the folks find us? [01:00:42] Speaker A: You can check out weact on Facebook at weactfordJ. That's weactforej. And also on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube at weactfordj. That's W-E-A-C-T number four, EJ. And check out our [email protected], for more information about environmental justice. [01:01:02] Speaker B: All right, thanks for listening, everyone. And remember, don't be toxic. Be beautiful. Bye.

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