A Seat at the Table: Black and Brown Faces in Wellness, Beauty, and Cannabusiness

Written by BlackbirdGo October 2, 2018
The People

Disclaimer: Keep out of reach of children. For use only by adults 21 years of age and older.

It goes without saying that cannabusiness has been enjoying an exciting day in the sun since at least 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first two states in the United States to legalize recreational cannabis.

But even as cannabusiness diversifies its portfolio of goods and services—with new cannabis-focused retail stores, therapeutics, and “lifestyle prescriptions” (like the various “ganja yoga” retreats emerging around the country and the array of everyday-use products like sunscreens, body scrubs, and CBD tinctures touted as “life changing anxiety treatments”)—a question remains: where are the people of color in all of this?

It’s a question that Iyana Edouard, CEO and production manager of the skincare and lifestyle brand Kush & Cute, often found herself asking as she worked and shopped at cannabis retail operations throughout Orange County, CA.

In all the breathlessly positive advertising and media coverage of cannabusiness, Edouard noticed a lack of black and brown faces. She also felt that women, in particular, were portrayed without agency—as objects for consumption akin to the products they were being used to push—rather than as people like herself, who used cannabis products as a part of their industrious everyday lives.

This inspired Edouard to found her lifestyle brand, which she felt could bring something new to the table for women in cannabusiness and break up the social hegemony that has quickly dominated the industry as it has gone “mainstream”. More specifically, Edouard thought she could bring the notion of holistic healing into contact with the anxieties of race, womanhood, and class that people like herself face every day.

“I feel like I bring a fresh perspective to the cannabis experience. Smoking weed to me and to a lot of [people of color] isn't always about getting high out of your mind… [it’s] a form of self-care,” Edouard explains. This perception of cannabis informs the guiding principles of the Kush & Cute brand. “I don't have the same experience walking around every day as a white male, so sometimes smoking a little in the morning or at night after a long day helps me navigate through the world without anxiety or fear... [Women of color] have so many reasons to not want to go outside... Cannabis really can be used as tool for our self-care, whether it be THC or CBD, and my brand is all about bringing people back to the idea of using nature to heal ourselves inside and out.”

Of course, one business cannot singlehandedly upend hundreds of years of precedent where the treatment of black people is concerned, nor can it erase the more recent impacts of the so-called “War on Drugs”, which for decades has disproportionately impacted black and brown bodies and may have made those same demographic groups gun-shy about participating in the “legitimized” version of an industry that has long led to severe punishments and broken families in their communities. Edouard believes that the recipe for bringing a more diverse roster of people to cannabis is multifactorial; there is a need for positive representation, outreach, and direct intervention on manifestations of long-standing social injustice.

“People have seen their cousins or brothers or uncles slammed to the ground [for] tiny amounts of weed. We are moving targets and constantly targeted for minor amount of cannabis,” Edouard says. “Seattle just erased all minor cannabis-related charges on people’s records because they knew that people of color were directly targeted. We need more cities and states to do that, to take accountability for their actions in the war on drugs, and be honest about their intentions in their arrests.”[1]

Beyond reform, Edouard believes that more mindful decision making about portrayals of cannabis use and enterprise among people of color could inspire members of those communities to more readily participate in the business and combat negative stereotypes by showing that cannabis, as part of a wellness-focused lifestyle, isn’t something exclusive to socially comfortable white people.

But imagery and the reversal of singular policies aren’t the only factors in course-correcting the relationship that mainstream cannabusiness has with communities of color. Beyond the dearth of black and brown faces in wellness and cannabis-related media, it’s worth mentioning that, for many members of marginalized communities, words like “beauty” and “wellness” connote a sense of absence, exclusion, and inaccessibility—especially when paired with images of conventionally beautiful, slender white women who populate much of the media connecting at the intersection of cannabis and wellness.

Accessibility and allyship are other critical parts of the equation for mindfully reconciling the relationship that communities of color have with cannabusiness.

Minelli Eustacio-Costa, founder of Mid-City, Calif.’s Yoga with Minelli, is a yoga practitioner and instructor who has been teaching “cannabis-infused” yoga for over half a decade. In managing her practice, Eustacio-Costa keeps accessibility and allyship at the forefront, building the ideas into the pricing schedule of her yoga classes and teaching out of her home in a neighborhood where people of color are the majority and where most people wouldn’t expect to find a yoga studio. She also makes a point to follow and signal boost the work of other women of color in cannabusiness.

“For black people in the U.S., wellness takes on a whole different meaning. Wellness becomes something that is almost unattainable, because you have to do so much more and make so much more time to take care of yourself,” Eustacio-Costa explains. She feels that the onus falls on the cannabusiness community to be more mindful about how they are engaging demographics beyond the white middle and upper classes—and work to deconstruct common, often culturally unconscious assumptions. That takes more than a lip-service commitment.

“This industry needs to hire more people of color. Try to be more inclusive in your hiring practices,” Eustacio-Costa says. “If you’re media, make sure that black people and brown people are there—not just in your pictures, but also on your teams. Are you hiring those people? Do they have a voice in your company? Is your company actually growing toward diversity, rather than just saying it?”

[1]Seattle expunges records of previous cannabis crimes