Among many other national and international observances, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast Cancer Awareness seems to be everywhere, from the recognition of survivors in my communities to friends who have pledged to walk to fundraise in support. I’ve even noticed, well actually, I’ve a little more than noticed, that businesses are really “excited” about Breast Cancer Awareness month as well.
During my break at work, I went to my local drugstore to buy travel size deodorant and natural-looking nail polish. At the register, I eyed an assortment of pink nail polish. There were a variety of shades of Breast Cancer Awareness pink to choose from. For a moment, I contemplated whether or not I should feel guilty for not buying from that brand and deciding on the one that I thought would best protect my nails.
On a different day in October, I was walking down a busy street in my neighborhood. As I walked past a tattoo shop, I overheard a solicitor offering special Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon tattoos. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
Most recently, I watched a TV commercial for a pink lemonade flavored energy drink. The announcer boasted that at least $75,000 of the proceeds from the sale of that drink would go to a breast cancer research foundation. This really brought it home for me.
The literal buying and selling of this issue to the general public became so problematic for me it seemed a joke. What next? I haven’t seen direct marketing to small children. So are Susan G. Komen, Crayola crayons and Sesame Street going to team up to launch Tickle Me Pink Elmo to bring breast cancer awareness to toddlers? I brought this idea up to my co-workers, and one of them mentioned Audre Lorde and the term “pinkwashing”.
Throughout the month of October, beyond being big business bombardment of breast cancer awareness, I’d also had the pleasure of receiving invites to special events and discussions in honor of Audre Lorde. This phenomenal woman was a fierce poet and activist for women, queers, people of color and other oppressed identities. She was also diagnosed with breast and liver cancer, and she was generous enough to share her journey with the rest of the world, impressing upon us a legacy of socially conscious commentary for many other lifetimes to come.
As my brain still reels from October’s pinkwashing frenzy, I remember that a cause like breast cancer awareness and research should be and is in need of funding year round. Though white women are most often diagnosed with breast cancer, women of color amount for most of the lives claimed by breast cancer, and early detection and access to healthcare is so important.
On a separate note, our social and moral responsibility to fund solutions to widespread health problems should not be sold to us in pink bottles or pink ink. The fight to end breast cancer should not rest solely on the spending habits of women; anyBODY with breast tissue can get breast cancer. We should always be in celebration of our breasts and mindful of our health, so I ask you to think twice before you think pink!