A number of years ago I went on holiday to a beautiful part of Portugal. We stayed in a converted farmhouse in the middle of a national park. The farmhouse was in a valley. We arrived in the evening when the birds were just starting to roost. It was still warm and the air smelled sweet with pollen. You could hear the hum of crickets. A small river flowed through that valley. We opened a rickety gate and crossed a small wooden bridge. As we walked along the narrow path that led to our house I had a clear vision of what my morning routine would be like for the next fourteen days. I had been working hard for the last few months and I felt tired. I wanted this holiday to be a mini retreat. I would wake up early each day when it was still quite cool and I would meditate for a while. I imagined myself sitting in a peaceful spot, my mind calm, my body relaxed… listening to the river flowing, hearing the birds and wildlife starting to stir, feeling the first rays of the early morning sun hit my face as it rose over the top of the hill. Present. Even as I write this now, it sounds like paradise to me.

I work up early the next morning and it was just as I imagined it would be. There is nothing like the stillness of the early morning. There was a gentle, peaceful feeling that enveloped me. It didn’t come from me but seemed to come from the earth and the river and the mountains. Everything was clearer than usual. The mind wasn’t racing here and there the way it normally does. I had never been to this place before but it felt welcoming and familiar. I found a spot to sit quietly. I could hear the faint hum of insects. The air was very still and there was only an occasional gentle breeze. A fly landed on my face. After a moment or two I carefully lifted my hand and gently ushered him away. Then another fly landed on my face. And another. And another. The feeling I had experienced a few moments ago was gone. I endured thirty minutes or so of mild torture that first morning before I admitted defeat and retreated to the farmhouse.

In the ensuing days I experimented with different approaches. I went to a different spot to try and escape the flies. I went at different times of the day. I had been practicing meditation for many years already and I had dealt with all kinds of distractions and obstacles in the past. I was sure that this would be no different. I had heard lots of stories and parables about similar experiences where the “lesson” is: “Your resistance to things not being the way you want them to be is the real source of your suffering. Drop your resistance. Drop your attachment to things being a certain way”. Words. I had repeated these same words to others many times. The words made sense to me and I believed them. I said these words to myself now. I tried to feel compassion for each fly that landed on me. I tried to change my perspective. I tried to simply experience the movements of each fly as pure sensation on my skin. I reminded myself that flies are an important part of the ecosystem and tried to appreciate each fly. I was lying to myself. Things weren’t going the way I wanted them to. I really hated those flies. I just felt irritated and tense. I was in a constant state of vigilance…waiting for the next fly to land on my skin, knowing that I would have to “mindfully” endure its presence for as long as possible until finally, when I could take no more, I would choose to “mindfully” flick it away… knowing also that in a few moments it would inevitably return. I thought about abandoning my plan to practice outside in nature and moving inside to the farmhouse. I’m stubborn though and I endured several more mornings of mental torture.

The fact that I couldn’t drop my resistance to things being a certain way was making things worse. I was also annoyed with myself now. The more I “tried” to be patient and accepting about the flies, the worse I felt. All this effort was adding unnecessary layers of suffering to my experience. More words. I already knew this. I had heard this advice many times in the past: “Stop making effort. When you practice just allow everything to be exactly as it is.”

On this morning, I was sitting in a sheltered spot near the river under an old Holm Oak. If you observed me from a distance you might think that I was in heaven. I didn’t feel like I was in heaven as a solitary fly methodically explored the back of my hand and several more buzzed dangerously close to my face. A question came to mind: in this moment what would actually happen if I did nothing and allowed EVERYTHING to be exactly as it is? I began conducting my experiment.

First things first – what was my actual experience in this moment?

As proof, here are eight examples of designs that are unwittingly racist.

1. Sunglasses

Some people of color complain that sunglasses are designed for Caucasian faces, with narrow and high nasal bridges, and aren’t a good fit for them. This makes them slide off easily, or sit too tightly on the nose. Afropolitan eyewear brand REFRAMD is trying to change this, and develop “a new generation of sunglasses that consider Afropolitans and other overlooked communities.” They have already made $45 000 on Kickstarter.

2. Band-Aids

Band-aids were designed to be “skin-coloured” to blend in and hide your injury. Except there is no such colour as “skin” or “flesh.” They are actually just the color of white skin. The eponym brand Band-Aid, part of Johnson and Johnson, announced last year on Instagram that they would be developing a range of different colored bandaids, from light to dark brown.

3. Heart rate monitors

The majority of consumer devices that track your heart rate do so thanks to optical sensors that measure the volume of your blood. In between beats, there is a lower concentration of blood in the veins of your wrist, so more light is reflected back to the sensor, which allows it to distinguish between beats. The problem is that skin with more melanin blocks green light, making it harder to get a correct reading. The darker your skin, the less accurate the device will be.

4. Makeup Shades

I repeat, there is no such thing as “skin-coloured.” But make-up rarely reflects that. They lack foundations for people of color. When they do exist, some cosmetic stores “forget” to stock them. Journalist Tansy Breshears wrote in a piece in Racked about her time working in a drugstore:

At least twice monthly for the near-two years I was employed there, I would ask higher-ups (who, before you ask, yes, were all white) why we didn’t carry makeup meant for women of color. I was given the same answer every time: “We dealt with too much shoplifting when we carried those shades.”

This concern is clearly founded in racist stereotypes.

5. Skin colored crayons

In 2013, an Indian law student filed a complaint against one of the country’s largest stationery manufacturers over a wax crayon labelled ‘skin’, which was clearly representing white skin with a peachy pinky hue. He argued that the crayon would reinforce white supremacy, teaching kids subtly that skin is meant to be white. “What impact will it have on these young minds when they realise that their skin colour is not recognised? Won’t it reinforce the notions of beauty that fairness products or films seek to impose?” he asked.

6 Automatic Faucets

Automatic faucets and soap dispensers use near-infrared technology, sending out an invisible light which gets reflected back to a sensor when there is a hand present. But when these products aren’t tested on people of different skin variants, they often end up unable to detect hands that aren’t white.


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