'I can buy racism for $2.50:' Saskatoon woman says skin-lightening product shows racism exists in Canada
SASKATOON -- This story is part of a CTV News Saskatoon series called ‘The Dialogue,’ where people of colour share their real, raw experiences with racism in Saskatchewan.
In a Superstore beauty aisle, Shenuka Wickramasinghe stood in disbelief, staring at a skin-lightening product.
The cream, Vatika Naturals Fairness Face Pack, retails for $2.48 at the Superstores on Eigth Street and Confederation Drive in Saskatoon.
The product wasn’t on store shelves when CTV News attended the stores, but the price tag was present and Superstore’s website says the cream is available in-store and online.
The Fairness Face Pack is advertised as having “natural ingredients that go deep into the skin making it fairer.”
“I can buy racism for $2.50 in Saskatoon,” Wickramasinghe says.
“So for people that think that racism isn’t in Canada, or overtly in our society, I can literally walk down a beauty aisle and buy chemicals that will bleach my skin so I can fit into society better. That’s not OK.”
In a statement to CTV News, Loblaws said it’s “committed to listening to the feedback being shared” and is “always evolving the product selection,” but did not say whether the cream would be taken off store shelves.
Skin-lightening products containing ingredients such as mercury and hydroquinone can’t be sold in the country, according to Health Canada.
Wickramasinghe says her first experience with racism happened when she was five-years-old.
She overheard a dark-skinned family friend tell her mother to “keep Shenuka out of the sun because she’s going to get too dark and she won’t fit in.”
“She was trying to protect me from that same racial discrimination she had experienced,” Wickramasinghe says.
Throughout elementary and high school, Wickramasinghe says she lived two different lives.
“I had my life with my white friends, and it was really fun and my hair was blonde. But then I also had this brown life — which was my actual life,” Wickramasinghe says.
Now, as an adult, Wickramasinghe lives one life — a life where she stands against racism.
“Every morning I say, ‘Ok, Shenuka, you’re brown and if you come across someone being racist towards you, you just gotta love them, be strong and fight it,’” she says, laughing.
Wickramasinghe hopes the next generation of people of colour can truly be comfortable with themselves — and not feel compelled to bleach their skin or dye their hair to fit in.
“They’re not dying their hair blonde to fit in. They’re dying their hair blonde because they like blonde hair.”