Content advisory: racism, anti-LGBTQIA+, anti-fat. Intended audience primarily white, cishet people.
UPDATE 06/28/17: It was rightly pointed out that this article is yet another white person’s take on an issue that involves PoC pain and oppression. I wrote this article quickly and without due diligence to seek out PoC voices to uplift with my writing and I apologize. More to come, but this article, “Confronting Racist Objects,” is a multimedia series of interviews with several PoC from different backgrounds about racist objects. It’s a good place to start with additional reading.
Let’s talk about problematic products.
Say you have a beloved long-term product (a baby carrier, handbag, car, shoes – something that requires saving up and isn’t consumed with use) and the company owner puts out a statement or is caught on secret recording saying something truly awful. Maybe it’s something racist – maybe it’s something homophobic, maybe it’s something cruel about how fat people should feel about themselves. Maybe it’s just generic assholery. You pledge not to give that company more business unless they reform their ways. You write to the business to make your concerns as a customer known. What do you do with the product that remains while you wait for a company response? What if you’re in charge of a large amount of that product used by a community group? Do you throw it in the garbage, or sell it?
Commonly I think the response is to trash or sell off these products. This can be a really important thing for the harmed parties to perform as part of healing and also protecting themselves or those around them.
What about those not directly harmed? Erase the product from history – erase the hurtful behavior! Right? Well, reflexive mass selling off or throwing away of a product that is useful may serve white people’s ability to pretend racism or some other oppression doesn’t exist in themselves or their communities.
A different response for those with a great amount of privilege – I’m talking to us, white, cishet people – might be to keep the product and continue to use it mindfully. Acknowledge and talk about the history of the product and the company. If people compliment you on a product’s use (like clothing or accessories), you can mention that it’s problematic. This can be as simple as, “Thanks, I really love this handbag/baby carrier/shirt/car. I bought it before I knew the company is [insert issue here]! I’d recommend them if they weren’t!”
This is an easy way to keep growing and raising awareness of issues in yourself and your community. It’s an easy way to practice being aware and get comfortable with uncomfortable topics.
This could also potentially aid owners of these products that may not be able to go without a problematic product that aids their life, or take the financial hit of selling, have the time for researching, and buying something else. Community groups may also deal with this issue, though careful consideration of who is most served by each option is important. If your community group is overwhelmingly white – selling off the product may serve preserving racism more than the single PoC member. Respectful and open communication with those harmed is key here.
In short, both trashing/selling problematic products or continuing mindful use can be helpful in responding to oppression from companies.