The Student
illustration of a black woman with an afro and makeup on, surrounded by flowers.
Lifestyle
Racial bias in retail
by Keisha Frimpong, 1/04/21

There has long been a racial bias in retail, from racially profiling customers in corner shops, to a lack of diversity amongst make up products. The majority of people do not understand what a privilege it is to enter a shop and not have to worry about how you will be perceived by either the person working behind the counter, or by other consumers.

As a Black woman I have been racially profiled countless times in shops around the country. I like to think of it as sixth sense, the ability to pick up when the store manager is looking at you because they assume that you are suspicious just based on the fact that you’re Black. But there is a tale as old as time that most people of colour can relate to. It often starts with a normal journey to the shops, sometimes with friends, that is quickly interrupted by a tap on the shoulder as someone assumes you are an employee, despite the fact you are not wearing a uniform.

As this was such a regular occurrence for me and family members who are also Black, I assumed it was a universal occurrence. It was not until I explained this situation in class one day and my friend at the time was puzzled and asked me why I was so annoyed. She tried to reassure me that this could happen to anyone, although it had never happened to her or any of the other white girls sitting around the table. That moment left me with a feeling of embarrassment that the only reason people had assumed I was an employee was due to the colour of my skin. This moment signified the difference in race between me and my peers, and made me realise it is a privilege to shop in silence.

Unfortunately, it is not only other consumers who tend to discriminate against people of colour; many makeup brands are not diverse. I enjoy getting ready for a night out, the special playlist that is curated and the company of my friends. However, growing up as a dark-skinned Black woman, shopping for make-up has always felt like a chore. When looking for foundations I’m lucky if I can compare two dark shades amongst a sea of various lighter tones. Not having to constantly search for a shade that matches your skin tone is a privilege and one that is not often recognised.

Honestly, I can only rely on L’Oréal Paris or Maybelline to feature at least one shade that is similar to my own complexion. I envy those who go into a drugstore and instantly find that the foundation shade that is being worn by a white model on all the posters around the makeup section fits them. This is why brands such as Rihanna’s Fenty are praised and valued so highly by so many dark-skinned people; we are not used to having representation in the make-up world. Luckily, since early 2020, Sephora, the French multinational retailer of cosmetics, has been trying to tackle racial bias within their own stores by going out of their way to employ individuals of different minority groups who have lived experience of racial bias in retail.

I am tired of walking into a store and not being able to find my shade, or going online to a well-known cosmetics site and having little choice. It should not be normal to have your status and intentions assumed based on your race. I am happy to see change and accountability from companies like Sephora, but there is still room to grow.

image: Luciana Silva via Pixabay