So first I want to clear up, I'm a white girl. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable when they approach race discussions, asking "Why does it matter if you're white or not?" and I think it always matters. Acknowledging I'm white in this discussion is a way of admitting that there are things I don't know, everyday experiences I am ignorant of, a point where my own knowledge will come up seriously lacking.
I've been involved in other online communities that have been critiqued for unexamined white privilege issues. Last year (or the year before) the scifi community offered a wealth of thoughts and discourse on cultural appropriation and the unfortunate ways white authors co-opt and/or stereotype minority experience, etc. It was a mind-opening, incredibly educative moment in the community.
Since then, I've moved into the perfume community, mostly as a silent reader (though I've just started this blog for my own thoughts). I want to say that, by pointing out problematic quotes here, I'm not trying to offend anyone or pass judgment on anyone's moral character. I quote only to say, look. These are problematic. And there are a few of these problems. Making the community accessible to anyone should be everyone's concern and goal. By quoting, I'm trying to open a discourse on the ways we might be failing to do that. Unexamined white privilege is insidious. Talking about it could never be more offensive than ignoring it.
Recently, while reading through a blogger's perfume reviews, I came across this passage comparing two scents: they both possess that most coveted of feminine real estate: acres of creamy white flesh that they use to their advantage in manipulating men. This is not the first time in the community that I've seen 'white skin' being admired as the most coveted real estate. Who can forget the release of Banana Republic's Alabaster, the ad campaign of the pale-white model that left no wiggle room for what 'alabaster' was meant to evoke and the subsequent outpouring of criticism? Well, a lot of people probably don't remember that, because it was isolated to a few journals and articles, and most of the criticism I found was angry criticism against the critics for 'being too sensitive' or for 'looking for offense where there was none' or, more offensively, for having 'white-fright'.
In his ad-copy for Serge Noire, Serge Luten's wrote "Pour vous belles éthérées! Peaux blanches et serge noire...", which Perfumeshrine pointed out was a visual contrast between white skin and black cloth, evoking 'ethereal beauty'. Pink Manhattan was one of the only bloggers to criticize the inherent white privilege of this ad-copy. Her comments in other blogs about it were erased, though they were not offensive, and she was ridiculed for being too 'PC'.
And then there's always Elizabeth Arden's White Shoulders, with every pale-pink bottle decorated with a woman's back and shoulders.
So the problem here is that when white shoulders are coveted or desirable or beautiful, then by implication, non-white shoulders are lacking, unwanted, not beautiful. This isn't a problem without historical precedent or context, but by admitting so should not lessen our community responsibility to talk about these prejudices when they come up and are before us.
Another example of white privilege I've noticed is the continual legitimacy afforded to the theory that scent smells different on different people sometimes because of their skin color. I've seen this discussed more than a handful of times in threads, and have each time been surprised by the honest belief people have in this theory. Here is one example I saved, from a Victoria's Secret perfume review: I first smelled this on a black woman who shared my dormitory. It smelled marvelous on her, and I bought some for myself. Somehow on my Asian skin, it changed to a quite different smell -- sour and totally annoying. I never wore it again! I've notice some white women wearing it, and it doesn't smell the same either. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with body chemistry.
I'm not arguing that individual skin chemistry doesn't play a role in our perfume aesthetics and experiences, but by making that phenomenon about skin color is another way of exoticizing 'the other'. There is nothing mysterious or different or weird about other people who have different skin color than you. They have no magical way of changing their perfume based on their skin color. The ongoing rehash of this theory only promotes ignorance. It's white privilege that allows us to bandy these thoughts about with no real concern or awareness of how they affect people or isolate them from engaging with the community, that lets us do these things with no real consequences.
Another thing I've found was the use of problematic, privileged language, like when in a perfume review for a Le Labo scent, a perfume blogger compared the charry smoke of Patchouli 24 to the heart of a tar-baby. I call this 'privileged language' because it is utilizing a term that carries a lot of weight and historical meaning for a group of people, but isn't acknowledging that or contextualizing it. You can't use the word 'tar-baby' without evoking a certain response. It is then irresponsible of the reviewer to use it in this fashion, without acknowledgment of the ways tar-baby is problematic and hurtful.
So what can the average blogger/person in the community do about white privilege? We can't make Serge Lutens change his ad-copy. That's probably not going to happen easily. I think what we can do is talk about these issues when they come up, make it a subject that we all realize is necessary and ok to discuss. I think people are afraid to approach race subjects because they don't want to 'get it wrong' or be 'ignorant'. But to not discuss them is much more hurtful. One of my favorite critical reviews was Legendez's review of Idole de Lubin. Not only does she critique the scent on its own merit, she also examines race issues with Lubin's marketing campaign and the way it exoticized African culture and experience to give the perfume a 'story' for predominately anglo-western consumers. It was not only a great perfume review, it was an interesting and informative read.
So white privilege is a universal problem that needs to be approached where ever it's found, even in our online perfumes blogs and communities. There is no example of white privilege that is too small or seemingly petty, even if it's 'just about' perfume ad-copy. By dismissing these criticisms or discussions as being 'too fussily PC,' we're reprimanding others for their desire to be heard or for their frustrations to be recognized. These are legitimate problems. If we want a community that is open to all people, we need to be ok with addressing white privilege and how it affects our perception and the people around us. We need to be ok about being called out sometimes or being the ones responsible for calling out. We need to be honest and air out our dirty laundry for anyone to see.