Afro-Indigenous community says Sephora Canada ad campaign dropped the ball

Chenae Bullock

Sephora describes itself as “a French multinational retailer of personal care and beauty products…featuring nearly 3,000 brands, and offers beauty products including cosmetics, skincare, body, fragrance, nail color, beauty tools, body lotions and haircare.”

With a view to playing its part in exposing and fighting systemic racism, Sephora recently launched an advertising campaign featuring indigenous people.

The campaign received general approval from the indigenous community, but Afro-Indigenous and darker-skinned Indigenous people are disappointed that they do not feature anywhere in the ads.

Mahlikah Awe:ri, an Afro-indigenous educator. criticized Sephora

Canada saying that “there’s no Afro-Indigenous representation. There were no darker skin tones” in any of the ads. Awer:ri stated that in these times of rising social injustices that Sephora Canada has dropped the ball.

It kind of reminds us that Afro-Indigenous kin are still not seen as Indigenous. We are ‘other,’ and yet Indigenous kin who have European ancestry are more readily accepted as Indigenous…“This narrative tells us that proximity to whiteness is our standard of beauty.”

Mahlikah Aweri

Following the criticism, Constanza Eliana of the Sephora Canada campaign, organized an Istagram discussion which included Awe:ri, Chenae Bullock and others. Bullock, who is indigenous and African American said that “richly melanated” folk felt left out: “We come in all different shades and the ones that are darker are always left out of being at the front or being noticed or acknowledged, and sometimes that’s in households.”

While acknowledging that the inclusion of indigenous faces as beautiful and positive, Sephora “more homework to do on what diversity looks like in Indian country.”

In recognizing National Indigenous History Month, the company’s website states that “National Indigenous History Month is a time to learn about, appreciate and acknowledge the contributions Indigenous peoples have made in shaping the country we live in….there was knowledge and wisdom here before Canada existed and the world deserves to hear these diverse voices, strengths, and teachings.”

Bullock says she sees it as a missed opportunity: “There is a story that they had an opportunity to create awareness about, and that is anti-Blackness in Indigenous communities.”

Awe:ri says she is working to confirm a call with Sephora representatives about how to move forward. She says that the impacts of anti-Blackness, anti-Black racism and colourism are currently being shouldered by all Black-identified people, including Afro-Indigenous folks.

To cover the unpaid time it takes to educate people about the shortcomings of Sephora’s campaign, she’s created a PayPal account people can contribute to.

“We need accountability. We need an apology. We need folks to think about moving beyond solidarity statements and offering us tokenized opportunities.”

Awe:ri says she’s reached out using different means to try and engage directly with Sephora and the folks involved in this campaign to “come together in an Indigenous way.”

She also wants Sephora to commit to giving back to community.

“They benefit off of our identities and our culture, so if in fact our people are engaging with them in such campaigns, I want to know how they are giving back to the community.”

Bullock says Sephora needs to do some “deep dive work on their internal department.”