Ballet Shoes and Band-Aids

Did you know that ballet shoes – those delicate pointe slippers that allow dancers to stand and twirl on the tips of their toes – have always been produced in “flesh color” to blend with the dancers’ skin?

I never thought about the fact that there was only one color.  But a dancer friend alerted me to a petition to have ballet shoes made to match darker flesh tones.  The shoes are intended to blend, not stand out.

A dark-skinned dancer has to put dark makeup on her shoes to match her skin tone.

Not anymore. The petition got the attention of the largest manufacturer of pointe shoes, and they have decided to begin making shoes in darker shades.

Did you know that band-aids have long been made in “flesh color” to match the wearers’ skin?  I never thought anything about it because they matched my skin.

Now Band-aid has announced a new line of bandages that reflect all skin tones.

This is embarrassing.  I never thought of the fact that “flesh-colored” meant white skin.   Now that I realize it, I’m embarrassed that I never gave it a thought.

How many things have we taken for granted that make people of color feel excluded?

The issue of white privilege is subtle and therefore, and it’s easy to look the other way particularly if products and services look familiar and useful to a white person.  We are comfortable with what we know because it works for us.

It’s too bad that it has taken such a long time and such a cost to get that slap across the face and realize that we are totally naïve.  I see things changing and am hopeful that we can do a better job first, of just listening and talking.

Then we need to take action because it’s the right thing to do.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. Carol, I agree the things you’ve shared about ballet shoes and Band-Aids are eye-opening. And I’m quite comfortable attributing such oversights (if they have to be racially grounded at all) to things like white naiveté, white presumptuousness, white blindness, perhaps even white stupidity (as opposed to white ignorance). But not white privilege.

    A note about ignorance: I may be alone in this, but in my interpretation, ignorance connotes or implies innocence. If you don’t know any better — if you don’t know what you don’t know — how can you DO better? Stupidity, on the other hand (at least to me) connotes you do know — or you could be aware if you chose to be — but you decide not to heed it.

    When it comes to white privilege, I tend to side with the gentleman in this video (fast forward to 4:35):

    The way I interpret his comments is that, by “confessing” white privilege, by virtue signaling, by pandering in that way, we’re implying we’re superior (we’re not), we’re implying we feel responsible for the accident of our skin color (we’re not), and we’re suggesting we’re guilty of something as a result of that accident (we’re not).

    Can we do better? Yes. Should be do better? Yes. Will any of us, skin color notwithstanding, accomplish anything worthwhile by looking back, blaming, and assigning or taking responsibility for accidents of birth and the sins of history? Not as far as I can see.

    Thank you for prompting this conversation.

    • Wow – I get the anger in the video and feel even more foolish that it took me so long. But….my aunt Helen was the dearest, sweetist, most loving bigot in the world. I loved her dearly, but her upbringing in Michigan in the WWII era taught her bigotry. When she visited us in Richmond VA, she would comment on “so many of those people,” and, embarrassed, I’d redirect the conversation. Her brother, my dad, shared her sentiments but was too smart to ever allude to that. Thankfully my mom was a sign-toting ERA supporter who read James Baldwin so that she could better understand all that was happening in the world. My dad traveled for work, so my mom’s predispositions rubbed off on me instead. Could just as easily have gone the other way.

      I’m saying that because I’ve been thinking a lot about this “awakening” that seems to be happening. I have followed my mother’s ideology by reading everything I could about black history and have had a very slow evolution over the past several years. But I still couldn’t say it publicly. I worried that I would alienate people who had not yet been awakened, so I stayed silent.

      So I guess I take issue with the implication in the video that I’m “being the bigger person” (aka superior) by finally talking about it. I’m talking about it because I hope that others may begin their awakening and have a faster process toward talking than I did.

      So ignorance and reluctance, I think, are separate in this conversation. I was ignorant – but even after I educated myself, I was reluctant. I hope and pray that this awakening can create awareness and mitigate reluctance.

      Love the conversation, Mark – thanks for commenting.

  2. Carol — There are probably a number of other products / example we could mention, but your point is well taken as is. My wife recently received a black thumbs-up emoji from her boss who is black. They’ve worked together for 15 months and only now did her supervisor feel comfortable using that emoji. Change….