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The Most Beautiful Women in the World: Vintage Portraits of Circassian Beauties With Their Big Curly Hair

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Circassian beauties, or “Moss-haired girls” as they were sometimes known, reflect a curious legacy of racial stereotyping and sexual titillation. Racial theories of the mid 19th century held that the people living in the Circassian mountains near the Black Sea were examples of the “purest stock” of the Caucasian race. Legend had it that the Circassians produced the world’s most beautiful white women, who were consequently in great demand for the harems of Turkish sultans.

The long shadow of slavery can also be discerned in this hybrid depiction. American audiences were both intrigued and horrified, given their false association of slavery with Africans, by the fact that Circassian women were among the most sought-after concubines in the Sultan’s harem - hence the need to make them appear somewhat African. “Both African slaves and Circassian slaves were subject to sexual exploitation … and this is the point of contact that played so powerfully on white Americans’ imagination,” wrote philosophy professor Gregory Fried.

Acting on this myth in 1864, P.T. Barnum sent one of his agents to Constantinople to purchase one of these beautiful ladies in the slave market. Though Barnum claimed his agent, dressed in full Turkish costume, had there seen a large number of beautiful Circassian girls and women, for one reason or another he failed to return with one. Not to be denied his harem slave, Barnum hired a frizzy-haired local woman, put her in a Turkish costume and dubbed her Zalumma Agra, Star of the East. Zalumma’s story was a mixture of pseudo-science, folklore, and erotic suggestion about harem life.

The Circassian beauty was an instant success, soon to be followed by a succession of ‘imported’ beauties with an enigmatic letter Z figuring prominently in all their names. All of these women were local girls, most of whom were encouraged to wash their hair in beer and then tease it out for that exotic Circassian ‘do.

When the public began to lose interest in this tale, Circassian beauties were frequently cast in the role of snake charmers in order to try and milk a bit more erotic appeal out of the act.

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51 days ago
They must have had that good good sulfate-free shampoo
Oakland, CA
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On Finding Out Your Heroes are Monsters (Or: Detoxifying A Culture)

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Warren Ellis is someone who could be credibly referred to as a genius. Transmetropolitan — a futuristic riff on Hunter S. Thompson — has never felt more relevant than in the Trump era and the nationwide Black Lives Matters protests. The Marvel cinematic universe exists in no small part because of his Iron Man comic Extremis. His books have accurately predicted the rise and adoption of smartphones, micro-drones, facial recognition software and how the police would turn consumer security cameras into a de-facto surveillance network.

He also created the Warren Ellis Forum  — an online community that would become a haven for creators, intellectuals and artists. From 1998 to 2002, The Warren Ellis Forum was, in its way, the CBGBs of comics; established comic book professionals, up-and-coming amateurs, and fans who simply wanted to be in the room where it happened all mixed and mingled freely. The WEF became a talent incubator, churning out creators who would go on to transform not just comics but television, film and more. Some of the creators that had been part of the WEF included G. Willow Wilson, Ed Brubaker, Brian Wood, Matt Fraction, Kelly-Sue DeConnick, Kieron Gillen, Chip Zdarsky, Sam Humphries, Andy Khouri, Justin Jordan, Alex de Campi, Jeremy Love, Carla Speed McNeil, Colleen Doran, Lea Hernandez, Gail Simone, Antony Johnston and…er… me.

DeConnick and Jamie McKelvie transformed Captain Marvel into the version we see in movies. Atomic Blonde was adapted from Johnston’s book The Coldest City. WEF alumni went on to become editors at Oni, Image, Dark Horse, Marvel and DC, show-runners at the CW network, famous podcasters and more.

As it says on the WEF’s epitaph: “Couples met and even got married here, people found homes and aid here, companies were started and saved here. It was good.”  

It is no exaggeration to say that Warren Ellis single-handedly changed the face of pop culture.

Warren Ellis is also accused of manipulating and sexually coercing many young women.

Writer and editor Katie West opened the dam with a thread on Twitter (since deleted) talking about her relationship with Ellis. Musician Yayanos, photographer Jayne Holmes and Denver Primrose also came forward with their own stories about Ellis, including screenshots of Twitter DMs from him. As of this writing, over 35 people have come forward to talk about their experiences with Ellis.

I believe them. I know that Ellis was capable of this because I was there. I saw it happen. And I did nothing about it.

Wrestling With Stalin

The Warren Ellis Forum was a magical place, for those who took part in it. It was a rollicking, chaotic scene; at its height, there were over 2500 members, writing thousands of posts daily. The atmosphere of the forum was an absurd mix of intellectual salon, underground punk club and frat house. At any one time, you could have a high-minded discussion about philosophy in one thread, how to read and negotiate a publishing contract in another, wonder at cutting edge physics in a third, and argue about cult movies in yet another thread. Artists and writers would find each other and collaborate on projects, zines were proposed, published and died, conventions were organized, drink-ups were coordinated. Relationships started and ended there; so did bitter rivalries, both personal and professional.

And at the center of it all was Warren Ellis — alternately “Uncle Warren” or “Stalin”, a moniker he adopted in tribute to his iron-handed moderation philosophy.

Ellis deliberately cultivated a larger-than-life persona, a mix of intellectualism and punk “IDGAF” ethos. He was famous for his wit and his wordplay as well as his varied interests. He was as much an explorer of art — his book Available Light featured avant garde photography — and science as pop culture. He was a libertine and futurist, a book in one hand and a scotch in another, who could be cutting or supportive — often within the same thread — and he deliberate crafted a space where much of the usual Internet fuckery was not allowed. Trolls weren’t given oxygen; anyone who caused trouble was kicked out, without ceremony or second chances. His moderation team — his Filthy Assistants, a reference to Spider Jerusalem’s aides-de-camp in Transmetropolitan — were all women, and helped enforce a rule of “no dickheads in the clubhouse” that made the WEF a welcome refuge from the greater Internet.

And indeed, he made a point of making sure that women were welcome. At the time, the WEF was a place where women could participate freely and openly, without dealing with the usual abuse that came from being a woman with opinions on the Internet. Men who were too overtly thirsty over a female poster would get shut down in short order, often with a side of stinging barbed words.

But this didn’t mean that the WEF was a paradise. The frat house atmosphere was dominant; we were all would-be rock stars, with all that entailed. Rock out with your cock out, drink like a fish, smoke like a chimney and fail to give a fuck because regrets were for other people. The culture trended towards the ironic and iconoclastic. Sacred cows made the best hamburger after all, and the darker the humor, the better. People were expected to be in on the joke or at least not object. One common response to people being stupid or killjoys was to post a picture of Steve McQueen slapping Ali McGraw in The Getaway. 

People who pointed out that this photo was, oh, a little fucked up would be shouted down. It was all in good fun. It was all ironic, laddish games; it didn’t mean anything and nobody was really bothered by it. That same sense of irony, that “hey, it’s all fun and games here, nobody’s really bothered” applied to equally ironic sexism, homophobic jokes and more. Everything and everyone was fair game, fuck your idols, destroy your heroes.

And this same attitude applied as much to Ellis as it did to everyone else. Part of Ellis’ persona was Uncle Warren, the dirty old man; “Hello sinners, sit in my lap and tell Daddy you’re sorry.” It was notable how often Ellis would start a thread for people to post photos; as others noted, he would ignore most of the men, make a comment or two on the photos of some of the more prominent male posters, and then have long discussions with women who posted theirs. At the time, we — the men at least — thought of it as all rakish humor, part of the big-swinging dick energy of the culture. Women in particular were encouraged to play along; the pressure to be One of the Cool Ones was incredibly high.

Which, in turn, made it so damn easy to ignore or dismiss what we saw.

It was an open secret just how little of “Uncle Warren’s” lecherous act was actually an act. The running gag at the time was that Ellis had two obsessions: futurephones and alt-model cam-girls… and many of the women in the WEF fit the bill. Warren was also known for not being terribly concerned with whether or not some of the women he was flirting with — or in some cases, hooking up with or having affairs with — had partners. In one instance, a jilted boyfriend found and posted a transcript of a cybersex session between his girlfriend and Ellis. While the discussion was shut down, many had read it already, and mentions of its contents became a source of jokes; who would’ve thought Stalin’s sex chats were so banal?

But that same sense of irony and iconoclasm, the same willingness to roll our eyes at Ellis’ horndog behavior made it so easy to overlook just how fucked up some of this was. The weird flirting-yet-not with young women, the inappropriate behavior with so many, the culture of pushing back against the “funwreckers” (mostly, but not exclusively, women) who said “hey, this shit isn’t cool”… we took that in stride as being part of the Cool Club.

We were too busy being rock stars and the future kings and queens of comics. And besides… look at how many women Warren was introducing to the industry. That had to mean everything was on the up and up, right?

It wasn’t. And most of us, frankly, weren’t willing to listen to the people trying to tell us otherwise.

And to make things more confusing, it’s unquestionable that Ellis made profound positive changes, both to pop culture and to people. The fact that he also has left a trail of so many people who feel used or coerced and manipulated by him makes it all the more confusing and more difficult to know how to feel.

But, to quote Katie West:

Ellis is a symptom, not the disease. We need to talk about the culture that leads up to this and makes it possible.

Culture Wars (Or: All Those Blurred Lines)

One of the reasons why it was so easy to go with the flow and overlook the warning signs or pass off glaringly bad behavior was — and is — the culture of networking in the entertainment industry in general and the comics industry in particular. The Warren Ellis Forum was, in many ways, a microcosm of the comic industry as a whole. Success here meant success in the comic industry… provided that you were a fit for the culture. It was understood that membership in the WEF was always under consideration; if you weren’t funny enough, smart enough, creative enough for Uncle Warren, you were out. And for a forum that prided itself on its Yappy Bastards… if you weren’t willing to shut up about some things, you would be shown the door.

As I said: Ellis took pride in the “Stalin” nickname and made it clear that the rules were what he decided they were. If he or the mods decided that you were out, you were out. Pushing back got you kicked out of the forum. And while this can seem like such a small thing — a forum run by a comic writer in the 90s and early 00’s — being part of the WEF had real-world benefits.

Comics, after all, was a notoriously difficult industry to get into. The running joke was that every time someone broke into the industry, everyone would immediately rush to plug the hole you used to get in. And — like many of the jokes and nods that permeated the WEF — there was an element of “joking but not really” to it. As author G. Willow Wilson said:

It could be hard to look at some of the people who had Ellis’ favor and not be envious. While there is absolutely no question that they were incredibly talented and deserve every ounce of success that they’ve received, there’s also no question at just how much having a heavyweight like Ellis on your side would give you a leg up. Comics has always been about who you know as much as what you can do; this made networking a vitally important skill. Knowing the right people could open doors for you… if they liked you. And part of being liked meant fitting into the culture. And the culture of the comic industry can be difficult under the best of circumstances and completely toxic at worst.

And there is no place where the culture was more distilled into its purest form than at conventions.

Conventions in general are odd beasts, liminal spaces where the traditional rules seem to go out the window. They are at the same time professional development and parties; a place where deals are negotiated, networks are developed… and mistakes are made. They are the time when you are surrounded by your industry peers… many of whom are ready to cut loose at the first available opportunity. This is true of conventions and conferences for any industry you can think of. Academic conferences, for example, seem as though they should be the most staid, buttoned up events in history. But once cocktail hour roles around, they can transform into Hedonism II.

The same holds true for various geek conventions. Comic, anime, gaming and sci-fi cons exist as both professional events and vacations, where the line between professional networking and personal relationships blur to the point of being almost non-existent. And at every con is — inevitably — Bar Con. It’s at Bar Con — held at the hotel bar — that much of the business of the geek industry goes down. But Bar Con is, in many ways, part and parcel of the same “live fast, party hard” culture of the WEF and elsewhere; the drinking culture of conventions can’t be overstated. In fact, it’s one that people often feel compelled to be a part of; that need to fit into the culture in order to be accepted. As such, there’s an almost performative aspect to it, the urge to prove that you can party like the rock star you feel like being or to get completely goddamn hammered because fuck it, why not? Small wonder that so many of the worst stories in comics start at the con bar…

But in that same crowd, you have people who are looking for their way into the industry. Talented amateurs, up-and-comers, even people who never though they might be good enough to go pro who are getting a chance to meet their heroes. In some cases they’re star struck. In others, they may have a crush — intellectual, creative or otherwise — on their favorite creators. And for many… that’s an incredibly heady, even intoxicating feeling. For many folks in the industry, cons are a time when they feel like rock stars… and meet their fans who treat them the same way.

And what’s a rockstar without his groupies?

Meanwhile, for the up-and-comer, there’s that same pressure of “you need to fit in”. You want to be smart enough, creative enough, talented enough or funny enough to hang. You want to be accepted by people you hope to be your peers. But as Willow observed: it’s easy for a man to make the right connections through basic networking practices. For a woman, the options can often be far more limited… and that makes them uniquely vulnerable to someone leverage their position in the industry. Adding to the effect is the transition from online to in-person. The Internet has given us greater access to our heroes and to the pillars of fame; it’s easier than ever to connect with the people whose work you admire. Starting a conversation online and then having the possibility of meeting in person can add to that excitement and lead to people letting their guard down. And when your hero and (hopefully) future peer shows interest in you and your work… that mix of validation, meeting your idol and possibly even a little bit of infatuation makes it very easy to feel like a dream come true. And at a con, where the line between professional event and party blur, then professional ethics can also blur and many people will start to blur boundaries as well.

Part of what is so fucked about all of this is the general attitude of “well, this is just how it is”. The mix of the personal and professional becomes just part of the business.

And that attitude persists, even the face of habitual offenders.

Why It’s So Hard To Change The Culture

One of the common reactions to the accusations against Ellis is often “…so?” After all, the majority of the people who he interacted with were of legal age. As of this writing, nobody has accused Ellis of sexual assault and frankly, I haven’t heard or seen anything to make me believe he has. What he did do was take starry-eyed young women under his wing, push the boundaries of a mentor/mentee relationship to the breaking point and — in many cases — drop people once someone new came along or his current target gave hints that she was forming connections with someone else.

By even the least charitable interpretation, no laws were broken. Legally speaking, he seems to be in the clear. Even West has said: this wasn’t them being abusive, it was a man abusing his power. But the fact that it was legal doesn’t mean that harm wasn’t done. It doesn’t mean that people weren’t taken advantage of, had their trust abused by someone they respected or — in many cases — idolized and who leveraged their trust against them.  The fact that no laws were broken doesn’t remove the abuse of trust, nor does it mitigate the consequences of those action.

While people can — and do — have relationships with people where there is a power difference, whether in age, status, wealth, or position, there is a wide difference between a relationship between two individuals developing despite the difference in power and someone leveraging their power in order to charm someone into a relationship.

And yes, we can argue that these women had agency. They could have rejected Ellis (or Cameron Stewart or other predators within the industry)… and many have. But that doesn’t make those actions OK, ethically or morally, nor does it mean that they aren’t harmful. Their victims may have had agency, but they were also fans who were excited to meet someone famous, be mentored by them and made to feel special.

It’s understandable that they were willing to believe the best in someone that, up until now, they had a reason to believe was sincere. Motivated reasoning is a thing. And that same motivated reasoning is part of why it can be so hard for many of us — myself most certainly included — too miss what, in retrospect should have been glaring warning signs. With regard to the WEF in particular, it was a space that felt unique in the Internet at the time. We were the hot young things, we were sex-positive, pro-indie, pro-women and encouraging our friends to push the boundaries of what they thought were allowed. If it were occasionally (or frequently) sexist or dodgy… well, we were all friends who were in on the joke, yes? It’s hard to look at the man who made it all happen and see him as someone leveraging his presence and position on people who might otherwise not be up for a relationship with him. It’s all too easy to assume that everything is fine and if we had evidence that Ellis was a little too interested in some of the women in the group… well, it was a little pathetic but otherwise harmless. Rakish behavior at worst, innit?

And that same reasoning can be part of why it’s so easy for people to dismiss what he did — or Stewart, or others — as harmful. Nobody likes to think of their heroes as being villains. Nobody likes to think that the industry they love — one that they often hope to be part of — is so imbalanced that bad actors can prey on the young and hopeful. Easier to think that it’s a meritocracy that anyone can thrive in as long as they have the talent. Easier to dismiss the harm as being minor, the victims as being all too-willing and the consequences as negligible. Easier to see your friend biting and licking random people as clownish antics than the acts of someone who shouldn’t be allowed in a professional setting. Or, for that matter, better to just try to isolate a known predator by not allowing women to talk to him than to upset the order at the company… even if that effectively cuts women out of the running to work on the books under his purview.

It’s also worth noting just how hard it is to face up to past mistakes. When you discover things that, in retrospect, you should have known or realize that you dismissed someone’s warnings as “being a funwrecker” or not being that bad, you’re going to feel guilt. You’re going to feel shame. You’re going to ask why you didn’t step in and say something… even when speaking up may have gotten you kicked from the community you loved. It’s hard to face that shame. It’s painful to confront that guilt. Easier, then, to continue to dismiss things or to diminish them than to do the work of processing your part in it.

And frankly, it’s hard to talk about processing those feelings because… well, it can also feel performative. If I can be real for a moment: I hesitated to write this column in no small part because part of me feels like it is taking the attention away from the victims, performing regret with breast-beating and public proclamations of sorrow.

But if we want to shift the culture, we need to do more than out the predators and listen to the victims. We need to examine why it’s possible for the malefactors to operate so openly and why so many of us were blind and willing to be blind. And we need to do so in a way that we can understand why we did so in the past so that we can be sure not to make the same mistake in the future.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Normally when I write these columns, I like to have some sort of call to action. An exhortation to be better, something that can be done to start the process of making things better. But unfortunately, there aren’t any clear cut, simple answers here.

Is the answer to “cancel” Warren Ellis? Maybe; it’s an understandable impulse. But at the same time, it’s difficult to also throw out the good he’s done; the WEF was not just a force that advanced comics and pop culture to where we are today but a place that many of us loved and still love. It was a place were we made friendships that have lasted to this day, where careers were launched — including mine. It’s painful to look back and have the shadow of his behavior taint everything. Was THIS event or THAT behavior something innocent, or was it a clue that we should have seen? Was this person kicked from the group because they were a troublemaker and a creep, or were they calling attention to something that Ellis would’ve preferred remain unremarked on? Or, worse, were they a threat to Uncle Warren’s desire to bring some new young woman under his influence?

It’s also a question of whether we want to prioritize punishment or change, revenge or redemption. Making space for people to make amends, grow and change is important, and even some of those who’ve been the worst have shown growth and taken responsibility for their actions.

At the same time, we have to confront not just the culture that enables this behavior, but our complicity in it. Examining the drinking culture of Bar Con, the old-boys networking and how it excludes talents who aren’t comfortable (or welcome) in that atmosphere is equally vital. This isn’t to say that cons can’t be parties or that professionals can’t hang with their friends at the bar, but to take a long, hard look at not just the atmosphere that it creates but the behaviors that it condones and even encourages.

It’s also important to bring more women, people of color and LGBTQ people into positions that allow them to hire creators, greenlight projects and incubate talent, so that folks like Ellis, Stewart, et. al can’t use their power and position in the industry to coerce and mistreat the young and hopeful.

And we have to take a long and unflinching look at our own behaviors — the things that we’ve actively participated in and the things that we’ve looked away from. How often have we examined our own behavior and where we’ve gone wrong? How often have we prioritized in-group membership and comfort over confronting the behavior of others? How often we’ve dismissed other people’s complaints because they made us uncomfortable or were inconvenient to us? How often we’ve contributed to an atmosphere where people felt they couldn’t come to us with their concerns.

But we have to also acknowledge that none of this can happen quickly or cleanly. The Titanic can’t turn on a dime and reshaping an industry that is already beset change and chaos is a daunting task under even the best of circumstances. Changing the culture is hard, a process that takes time and sustained effort, and there’re reactionaries who prefer the men’s locker room atmosphere. They prefer an industry that caters exclusively to them, their fantasies and their frequently shitty behavior.

However, the fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it anyway. The fact that it takes time doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t start now. And the fact that changing an industry — and other industries that face the same problems and bad actors — is an almost Sisyphean task doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t grit our teeth and start rolling the rock up that hill.

If we’re going to start, we should start with ourselves. Look around. Examine the people in your life, in your communities. Are there warning signs that you’ve missed? Is there a “missing stair” in your community that has thus far been allowed to remain? The sooner we do the work within ourselves and our own communities, the sooner we change geek culture… and make it the place we’ve always pretended it was.

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53 days ago
Oakland, CA
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Justifiably angry man hacks evil GE refrigerator


An anonymous hero created a website called GE Filtergate. The website describes how his GE refrigerator issued an ominous warning that he had seven days to install a new GE water filter before the refrigerator "disabled its own ice and water system.

He examined the refrigerator and learned that the filter had an RFID chip:

What gives? Well some asshole at GE thought it would be a good idea to include a fucking RFID DRM module in select refrigerators.

From the patents [US10040009B1, US9366388B2 ]it looks like I can thank inventors Mr. Krause and Mr. Chernov for their freedom sucking, major appliance disabling, communist, 1984-esque idea. From what I am reading -- with every press of the dispense switch the control board asks the DRM board, "Please sir, may I dispense some water for my loving owners."

Now the hero part comes in. He removed the RFID module from a filter bypass unit and taped it to the RFID reader. This prevents the refrigerator from shutting down its own water and ice system. Read the rest

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60 days ago
Oakland, CA
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Quite a day.

The New York Times on Sunday announced the resignation of its editorial page editor James Bennet, who had held the position since May 2016, and the reassignment of deputy editorial page editor James Dao to the newsroom.

The announcement comes three days after Bennet acknowledged that he had not read, prior to publication, a controversial op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton (R.-Ark.) titled “Send in the Troops,” which called for military intervention in U.S. cities where protests over police brutality have ignited violence.

Dozens of Times staffers spoke out on Twitter Wednesday evening to denounce their newspaper’s decision to run the essay shortly after it appeared online, calling it inflammatory and saying it contained assertions debunked as misinformation by the Times’s own reporting; several hundred later signed a letter objecting to it.

You know the Post must have loved writing this piece. And I guess it turns out that soliciting a piece supporting fascism and then not even bothering to read it before publishing it can cost you a job, even at the New York Times.

Kathleen Kingsbury is taking over until at least after the election. A lot of people seem to respect her. She could hardly be worse than Bennet. Maybe Bedbug Stephens will resign in protest. Baquet needs to go too. But this is a significant development.

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63 days ago
HE DIDN'T READ IT? i don't know what sounds dumber: a lie to excuse publishing crap propaganda, or the idea that the editorial page editor doesn't read submissions
Oakland, CA
62 days ago
"You had one job!"
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My White Friend Asked Me on Facebook to Explain White Privilege. I Decided to Be Honest

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Yesterday I was tagged in a post by an old high school friend asking me and a few others a very public, direct question about white privilege and racism. I feel compelled not only to publish his query, but also my response to it, as it may be a helpful discourse for more than just a few folks on Facebook.

Here’s his post:

To all of my Black or mixed race FB friends, I must profess a blissful ignorance of this “White Privilege” of which I’m apparently guilty of possessing. By not being able to fully put myself in the shoes of someone from a background/race/religion/gender/nationality/body type that differs from my own makes me part of the problem, according to what I’m now hearing. Despite my treating everyone with respect and humor my entire life (as far as I know), I’m somehow complicit in the misfortune of others. I’m not saying I’m colorblind, but whatever racism/sexism/other -ism my life experience has instilled in me stays within me, and is not manifested in the way I treat others (which is not the case with far too many, I know).

So that I may be enlightened, can you please share with me some examples of institutional racism that have made an indelible mark upon you? If I am to understand this, I need people I know personally to show me how I’m missing what’s going on. Personal examples only. I’m not trying to be insensitive, I only want to understand (but not from the media). I apologize if this comes off as crass or offends anyone.

Here’s my response:

Hi, Jason. First off, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve quoted your post and made it part of mine. I think the heart of what you’ve asked of your friends of color is extremely important and I think my response needs much more space than as a reply on your feed. I truly thank you for wanting to understand what you are having a hard time understanding. Coincidentally, over the last few days I have been thinking about sharing some of the incidents of prejudice/racism I’ve experienced in my lifetime—in fact I just spoke with my sister Lesa about how to best do this yesterday—because I realized many of my friends—especially the white ones—have no idea what I’ve experienced/dealt with unless they were present (and aware) when it happened. There are two reasons for this: 1) because not only as a human being do I suppress the painful and uncomfortable in an effort to make it go away, I was also taught within my community (I was raised in the ’70s and ’80s—it’s shifted somewhat now) and by society at large NOT to make a fuss, speak out, or rock the boat. To just “deal with it,” lest more trouble follow (which, sadly, it often does); 2) fear of being questioned or dismissed with “Are you sure that’s what you heard?” or “Are you sure that’s what they meant?” and being angered and upset all over again by well-meaning-but-hurtful and essentially unsupportive responses.

White privilege in this situation is being able to move into a “nice” neighborhood and be accepted not harassed.

So, again, I’m glad you asked, because I really want to answer. But as I do, please know a few things first: 1) This is not even close to the whole list. I’m cherry-picking because none of us have all day; 2) I’ve been really lucky. Most of what I share below is mild compared to what others in my family and community have endured; 3) I’m going to go in chronological order so you might begin to glimpse the tonnage and why what many white folks might feel is a “where did all of this come from?” moment in society has been festering individually and collectively for the LIFETIME of pretty much every black or brown person living in America today, regardless of wealth or opportunity; 4) Some of what I share covers sexism, too—intersectionality is another term I’m sure you’ve heard and want to put quotes around, but it’s a real thing too, just like white privilege. But you’ve requested a focus on personal experiences with racism, so here it goes:

1. When I was 3, my family moved into an upper-middle-class, all-white neighborhood. We had a big backyard, so my parents built a pool. Not the only pool on the block, but the only one neighborhood boys started throwing rocks into. White boys. One day my mom ID’d one as the boy from across the street, went to his house, told his mother, and, fortunately, his mother believed mine. My mom not only got an apology, but also had that boy jump in our pool and retrieve every single rock. No more rocks after that. Then mom even invited him to come over to swim sometime if he asked permission. Everyone became friends. This one has a happy ending because my mom was and is badass about matters like these, but I hope you can see that the white privilege in this situation is being able to move into a “nice” neighborhood and be accepted not harassed, made to feel unwelcome, or prone to acts of vandalism and hostility.

2. When my older sister was 5, a white boy named Mark called her a “nigger” after she beat him in a race at school. She didn’t know what it meant, but in her gut she knew it was bad. This was the first time I’d seen my father the kind of angry that has nowhere to go. I somehow understood it was because not only had some boy verbally assaulted his daughter and had gotten away with it, it had way too early introduced her (and me) to that term and the reality of what it meant—that some white people would be cruel and careless with black people’s feelings just because of our skin color. Or our achievement. If it’s unclear in any way, the point here is if you’ve never had a defining moment in your childhood or your life where you realize your skin color alone makes other people hate you, you have white privilege.

I remember some white male classmates were pissed that a black classmate had gotten into UCLA while they didn’t.

3. Sophomore year of high school. I had Mr. Melrose for Algebra 2. Some time within the first few weeks of class, he points out that I’m “the only spook” in the class. This was meant to be funny. It wasn’t. So, I doubt it will surprise you I was relieved when he took medical leave after suffering a heart attack and was replaced by a sub for the rest of the semester. The point here is, if you’ve never been ‘the only one’ of your race in a class, at a party, on a job, etc. and/or it’s been pointed out in a “playful” fashion by the authority figure in said situation, you have white privilege.

4. When we started getting our college acceptances senior year, I remember some white male classmates were pissed that a black classmate had gotten into UCLA while they didn’t. They said that affirmative action had given him “their spot” and it wasn’t fair. An actual friend of theirs. Who’d worked his ass off. The point here is, if you’ve never been on the receiving end of the assumption that when you’ve achieved something it’s only because it was taken away from a white person who “deserved it,” you have white privilege.

5. When I got accepted to Harvard (as a fellow AP student, you were witness to what an academic beast I was in high school, yes?), three separate times I encountered white strangers as I prepped for my maiden trip to Cambridge that rankle to this day. The first was the white doctor giving me a physical at Kaiser:

Me: “I need to send an immunization report to my college so I can matriculate.”

Doctor: “Where are you going?”

Me: “Harvard.”

Doctor: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?”

The second was in a store, looking for supplies I needed from Harvard’s suggested “what to bring with you” list.

Store employee: “Where are you going?”

Me: “Harvard.”

Store employee: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?”

The third was at UPS, shipping off boxes of said “what to bring” to Harvard. I was in line behind a white boy mailing boxes to Princeton and in front of a white woman sending her child’s boxes to wherever.

Woman to the boy: “What college are you going to?” Boy: “Princeton.”

Woman: “Congratulations!”

Woman to me: “Where are you sending your boxes?” Me: “Harvard.”

Woman: “You mean the one in Massachusetts?”

I think: “No, bitch, the one downtown next to the liquor store.” But I say, gesturing to my LABELED boxes: “Yes, the one in Massachusetts.”

Then she says congratulations, but it’s too fucking late. The point here is, if no one has ever questioned your intellectual capabilities or attendance at an elite institution based solely on your skin color, you have white privilege.

6. In my freshman college tutorial, our small group of 4–5 was assigned to read Thoreau, Emerson, Malcolm X, Joseph Conrad, Dreiser, etc. When it was the week to discuss The Autobiography of Malcolm X, one white boy boldly claimed he couldn’t even get through it because he couldn’t relate and didn’t think he should be forced to read it. I don’t remember the words I said, but I still remember the feeling—I think it’s what doctors refer to as chandelier pain—as soon as a sensitive area on a patient is touched, they shoot through the roof—that’s what I felt. I know I said something like my whole life I’ve had to read “things that don’t have anything to do with me or that I relate to” but I find a way anyway because that’s what learning is about—trying to understand other people’s perspectives. The point here is—the canon of literature studied in the United States, as well as the majority of television and movies, have focused primarily on the works or achievements of white men. So, if you have never experienced or considered how damaging it is/was/could be to grow up without myriad role models and images in school that reflect you in your required reading material or in the mainstream media, you have white privilege.

7. All seniors at Harvard are invited to a fancy, seated group lunch with our respective dorm masters. (Yes, they were called “masters” up until this February, when they changed it to “faculty deans,” but that’s just a tasty little side dish to the main course of this remembrance). While we were being served by the Dunster House cafeteria staff—the black ladies from Haiti and Boston who ran the line daily (I still remember Jackie’s kindness and warmth to this day)—Master Sally mused out loud how proud they must be to be serving the nation’s best and brightest. I don’t know if they heard her, but I did, and it made me uncomfortable and sick. The point here is, if you’ve never been blindsided when you are just trying to enjoy a meal by a well-paid faculty member’s patronizing and racist assumptions about how grateful black people must feel to be in their presence, you have white privilege.

He was getting stopped by cops constantly because he was a black man in a luxury car.

8. While I was writing on a television show in my 30s, my new white male boss—who had only known me for a few days—had unbeknownst to me told another writer on staff he thought I was conceited, didn’t know as much I thought I did, and didn’t have the talent I thought I had. And what exactly had happened in those few days? I disagreed with a pitch where he suggested our lead female character carelessly leave a potholder on the stove, burning down her apartment. This character being a professional caterer. When what he said about me was revealed months later (by then he’d come to respect and rely on me), he apologized for prejudging me because I was a black woman. I told him he was ignorant and clearly had a lot to learn. It was a good talk because he was remorseful and open. But the point here is, if you’ve never been on the receiving end of a boss’s prejudiced, uninformed “how dare she question my ideas” badmouthing based on solely on his ego and your race, you have white privilege.

9. On my very first date with my now husband, I climbed into his car and saw baby wipes on the passenger-side floor. He said he didn’t have kids, they were just there to clean up messes in the car. I twisted to secure my seatbelt and saw a stuffed animal in the rear window. I gave him a look. He said, “I promise, I don’t have kids. That’s only there so I don’t get stopped by the police.” He then told me that when he drove home from work late at night, he was getting stopped by cops constantly because he was a black man in a luxury car and they assumed that either it was stolen or he was a drug dealer. When he told a cop friend about this, Warren was told to put a stuffed animal in the rear window because it would change “his profile” to that of a family man and he was much less likely to be stopped. The point here is, if you’ve never had to mask the fruits of your success with a floppy-eared, stuffed bunny rabbit so you won’t get harassed by the cops on the way home from your gainful employment (or never had a first date start this way), you have white privilege.

10. Six years ago, I started a Facebook page that has grown into a website called Good Black News because I was shocked to find there were no sites dedicated solely to publishing the positive things black people do. (And let me explain here how biased the coverage of mainstream media is in case you don’t already have a clue—as I curate, I can’t tell you how often I have to swap out a story’s photo to make it as positive as the content. Photos published of black folks in mainstream media are very often sullen- or angry-looking. Even when it’s a positive story! I also have to alter headlines constantly to 1) include a person’s name and not have it just be “Black Man Wins Settlement” or “Carnegie Hall Gets 1st Black Board Member,” or 2) rephrase it from a subtle subjugator like “ABC taps Viola Davis as Series Lead” to “Viola Davis Lands Lead on ABC Show” as is done for, say, Jennifer Aniston or Steven Spielberg. I also receive a fair amount of highly offensive racist trolling. I don’t even respond. I block and delete ASAP. The point here is, if you’ve never had to rewrite stories and headlines or swap photos while being trolled by racists when all you’re trying to do on a daily basis is promote positivity and share stories of hope and achievement and justice, you have white privilege.

Trust me, nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody.

OK, Jason, there’s more, but I’m exhausted. And my kids need dinner. Remembering and reliving many of these moments has been a strain and a drain (and, again, this ain’t even the half or the worst of it). But I hope my experiences shed some light for you on how institutional and personal racism have affected the entire life of a friend of yours to whom you’ve only been respectful and kind. I hope what I’ve shared makes you realize it’s not just strangers, but people you know and care for who have suffered and are suffering because we are excluded from the privilege you have not to be judged, questioned, or assaulted in any way because of your race.

As to you “being part of the problem,” trust me, nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody. Just like nobody should be mad at me for being black. Or female. Or whatever. But what IS being asked of you is to acknowledge that white privilege DOES exist and not only to treat people of races that differ from yours “with respect and humor,” but also to stand up for fair treatment and justice, not to let “jokes” or “off-color” comments by friends, co-workers, or family slide by without challenge, and to continually make an effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so we may all cherish and respect our unique and special contributions to society as much as we do our common ground.

With much love and respect,


This article was originally published by Good Black News. It has been edited for YES! Magazine. 

Read more of on White privilege and racial justice:

10 Examples That Prove White Privilege Exists in Every Aspect Imaginable

The Language of Antiracism

Leveraging White Privilege for Racial Justice


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63 days ago
that we still have to do this emotional labor for well-meaning white people can be so exhausting. They are taking this so personally and then ask us to calm them down, expose our pain to them, and hope that we are the last person of color they will ask to perform for them so they can avoid using Google in this the year 2020. BUT THEY MEAN WELL I know, but the IMPACT still hurts. Intention does not alter the impact of emotional pain or labor.
Oakland, CA
63 days ago
61 days ago
I wonder if calling it white privilage frames the conversation in the wrong light. It should not be a privilage to not be harrassed. I'm not sure how to reframe this, but the term seems to imply guilt to the person not doing something wrong rather than assign blame to those doing racist things.
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The Amazon Lockdown: How an Unforgiving Algorithm Drives Suppliers to Favor the E-Commerce Giant Over Other Retailers


ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

During the second week of March, as the stock market and many U.S. businesses slumped, Peter Spenuzza’s company, Rise Bar, enjoyed an unexpected boost. Amazon, where the protein bars are sold, suggested Spenuzza keep 18,000 packages in its warehouses, up from the usual 4,000, based on soaring demand for almond honey and other flavors.

Demand on Amazon, which is still close to that peak, poses a dilemma for Spenuzza. Rise Bars are also sold in grocery chains nationally. Although his Irvine, California, plant has been running at full production capacity, he didn’t have enough bars to send both to Amazon and to all the brick-and-mortar retailers who also have increased their orders. One week in March, when he ran out of stock on Amazon, its algorithm demoted his product listings in Amazon’s search results and removed his sponsored ads. Rise Bar plummeted from 2,000 to 8,000 in Amazon’s “best seller” ranking in the grocery category, allowing competitors to leapfrog him.

The brand’s weekly Amazon sales dipped by 25%. Dismayed, Spenuzza decided to regularly send the e-commerce giant the “lion’s share” of his inventory and ship whatever is left to everyone else, he said.

“I’ve done as much as possible to filter all of our in-demand items to Amazon,” he said.

He’s not alone. At a time when much of the retail sector is collapsing, Amazon is strengthening its competitive position in ways that could outlast the pandemic — and that could raise antitrust concerns. Increasingly, manufacturers of in-demand products are catering to Amazon, while competing retailers take the leftovers, consultants and brand executives told ProPublica.

“Amazon has the power to bury sellers and suppliers if they don’t comply,” said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at Open Markets Institute, a think tank that has been critical of Amazon and other big tech companies. “It might be automated through an algorithm, but it’s still the wrath of the monopolist that they are afraid of. ... Amazon is able to cut off its competitors’ access to inventory by leveraging its monopoly power.”

As locked-down shoppers have flocked to buy food, medicine, cleaning supplies and personal care products on Amazon, the retailer has in turn upped its suggested inventory levels for many manufacturers that sell their products on its platform. It has also expanded purchases of certain essential products that it sells directly to shoppers, often buying two or three times as much as it did before the pandemic, executives said.

The heightened demand has forced both third-party sellers on Amazon’s platform and its direct suppliers into difficult decisions over where to send inventory, consultants said. Often, like Rise Bar, they’re favoring Amazon ahead of other retailers. Third-party sellers like Spenuzza don’t have to keep as much merchandise in stock as Amazon recommends. But if they run out on Amazon, where “best seller” status and a listing’s position in search results are linked to availability, the impact on sales could be devastating.

This pattern makes it harder for Amazon competitors, such as grocery and discount chains that have remained open during the pandemic, to keep coveted items in stock. “Everybody in retail realizes there’s limited access to certain stuff, so you better get there first,” said James Thomson, the former business head of an Amazon team that recruits third-party sellers and now a consultant to brands working with the company. “The difference is that Amazon can afford to pony up the cash all at once and say, ‘Back up the trucks, we’ll take it all.’” Thomson called going out of stock on Amazon a “cardinal sin.”

An Amazon spokesperson said that the company is a relatively small player in the retail market, competing with “all the other online and brick and mortar stores,” and that Amazon is not responsible for suppliers prioritizing it over other customers. The algorithm is designed “to feature items we believe customers will want to purchase, and that includes items that are in-stock,” the spokesperson said. “We are working to help our selling partners during this challenging time and evaluating several ideas to mitigate the impact of different demand patterns we are seeing in light of COVID-19.”

“Retail is a competitive industry with many choices for both customers and suppliers,” the spokesperson added. “Suppliers make their own business decisions, not Amazon.”

In an April 16 letter to shareholders, CEO Jeff Bezos said the “demand we are seeing for essential products has been and remains high” and acknowledged it has created “major challenges for our suppliers and delivery network.” The company has waived fees typically imposed on suppliers who can’t fulfill purchase orders.

Amazon is facing at least one European antitrust investigation and two in the U.S. The House Judiciary Committee last June announced an investigation into possible anti-competitive conduct by large tech companies including Amazon. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission has been looking into possible anti-competitive practices at Amazon for at least nine months, examining among other things the power the company exerts over its suppliers, according to media reports. The House investigation is ongoing, according to a spokesman for the chairman of the Judiciary committee’s antitrust subcommittee, while the FTC declined to comment.

The Amazon spokesperson declined to comment specifically on the investigations. “We face intense competition in every segment in which we operate, and we love that competition because it makes us serve customers better,” the spokesperson said.

To build an antitrust case against Amazon, the government would need to prove that the company has substantial market power that was gained or maintained through improper conduct, said William Kovacic, director of the Competition Law Center at George Washington University Law School and a former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Sellers favoring Amazon over other retailers could be a sign of market power, he said.

“That everybody does just what you want and puts you first out of fear that if they fall out of favor with you, they’re in real trouble — that could be taken as proof of your market power,” Kovacic said. “How people regard you, how they react to you, how they respond to your wishes is an indication of whether you have market power, and that is a key issue in these cases. If people say, ‘We don’t dare alienate them,’ that is a part of that proof. You have market power with respect to retailing and distribution because everyone knows if they disappoint you there will be a heavy price to pay. ... The crisis reinforces the position of significance that they had before.”

One advantage that Amazon has long enjoyed over some competitors is that it can afford to make little profit on retail in the short term to boost market share and traffic, Hubbard said. Unlike most traditional retailers, Amazon can rely on revenue from other parts of its business empire, such as cloud computing. It has a history of pricing below cost to exclude competitors, a practice known as predatory pricing, said Hubbard, a former New York state assistant attorney general for antitrust issues.

To be sure, even Amazon doesn’t always have enough toilet paper and disinfecting wipes. And traditional retailers also have ways of penalizing suppliers who don’t fulfill purchase orders. For example, they can reassign the shelf space reserved for one supplier’s merchandise to a competitor. Retailers including Walmart, Target and Costco also sell merchandise online, but those retailers’ e-commerce sites account for a small proportion of their overall sales, so suppliers may be less concerned about running out of stock on those sites.

Aside from the stick of the algorithm, Amazon offers several carrots to brands, including a massive customer audience and high levels of customer trust, said Steve Yates, chief executive of a firm that advises sellers on the platform. “There’s good reason to say, ‘If I have limited amount of inventory and where am I going to put it that is going to be most effective,’ that Amazon is that place,” Yates said.

Amazon represents less than 4% of the U.S. retail market, and the same percentage of the grocery segment, according to the company spokesperson. Its 2018 retail sales were less than one-third of Walmart’s, according to data published by the National Retail Federation. However, Amazon accounts for nearly 40% of U.S. online sales, as against less than 5% for Walmart, according to eMarketer. Both e-commerce’s proportion of overall retail sales, and Amazon’s slice of e-commerce, are expected to increase because of consumer shifts online during the pandemic, according to the market research firm.

While U.S. retail sales decreased by 8.7% in March, the worst monthly decline on record, sales at Amazon have been booming. In response to customer demand, the company has hired 100,000 workers, with plans to hire 75,000 more. For the week ending April 12, customer spending on Amazon grew about 44% compared to the same period last year, according to Facteus, a company that analyzes consumer transaction data. Spending at Walmart was flat over the same period, although it did experience a spike in mid-March, according to Facteus.

Fahim Naim, a former Amazon category manager who now runs a consulting firm advising consumer brands working with the company, said large requests for high-priority goods have pushed some of his clients to choose between Amazon and other retailers. One supplements brand deliberated last month about whether to send its in-demand inventory to Costco or to Amazon, both of which it considered important to its business. In the end, the brand drastically reduced supplies to Costco, Naim said. Naim declined to identify the company because it did not want to upset Costco.

Similarly, clients that sell deodorant, feminine care items and beauty and sexual wellness products have asked Naim whether they should sideline big-box retailers — even ones where sales have been strong — in order to maintain high levels of inventory at Amazon, he said. He typically advises to favor Amazon.

Going out of stock on Amazon harms a brand’s rankings, such as “best seller,” which directly correlate to sales and are “difficult to recover,” he said. Brands may give Amazon 80% of inventory “so they can at least have something left over” for big-box retailers such as Walmart, Target and Costco, he said. Spokesmen for Costco and Target declined to comment. Walmart did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s a tough decision,” Naim said. “But you’re almost pinned against the wall in that you have to allocate at least a sufficient amount to Amazon to avoid going out of stock because the consequences of going out of stock on Amazon are often greater than the consequences of going out of stock elsewhere. Amazon is so powerful right now, and there are so many customers on it. The impact of not being on Amazon is probably greater than not being in some of those stores.”

Another Naim client, Ramon van Meer, CEO of Las Vegas-based Alpha Paw, hasn’t been able to obtain new supply of his company’s popular dog training pads even as demand on Amazon for them has risen. China has diverted some of the raw material used to manufacture the pads to making protective face masks, van Meer said. Down to a 6- to 8-week supply of pads, van Meer has put on hold plans to expand to brick-and-mortar stores, and he will reassign inventory designated for sales on his own website to Amazon. He’s also suspended advertising on Facebook and Instagram to dampen demand until he can find a manufacturer in a different country.

“The worst thing that can happen for an Amazon seller is to go out of stock,” van Meer said. “I’m really holding as much inventory as possible for Amazon. I’d rather be out of stock on my own store than be out of stock on Amazon.”

Some suppliers have enough inventory to accommodate Amazon and their other customers. Beginning the first week of March, Amazon began sending purchase orders to Italy-based Corman of up to three times the normal amount for its Organyc brand feminine care products, said James Ebel, the company’s global vice president of marketing. In addition to Amazon, which sells Organyc’s products directly to customers, Corman also supplies pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens. Corman, which had already planned for U.S. growth, was able to increase production to keep up with demand from both Amazon and traditional retailers.

“On Amazon, there has been a remarkable change in terms of our volume,” Ebel said. “The migration of consumers to the platform is going to have a long-term impact.”

Amazon typically recommends that Fairy Tales Hair Care, based in New Jersey, keep a 30-day supply of its bestselling children’s shampoo. That recommendation is now up to 90 days, CEO Risa Barash said. Even so, the brand has enough inventory for Amazon and traditional retailers like the Wegmans, Meijer and H-E-B grocery chains, Barash said.

Eric Heller, a former Amazon senior manager, said some household-name brands he advises are shifting inventory from brick-and-mortar retailers to Amazon. Beyond a desire to prevent going out of stock, they view supplying Amazon as “altruistic” since consumers are wary of leaving their homes, Heller said.

Hubbard, of Open Markets Institute, acknowledged the value of online shopping during the pandemic. “It doesn’t have to be evil for it to be anti-competitive,” she said. “You can create something of value but still be engaging in conduct that is distorting the competitive marketplace.”

Even as Amazon has increased its stock of high-priority merchandise, it has reduced purchases of some items it deems nonessential. “Exploding Kittens,” a popular card game made by one of Naim’s clients, went out of stock when Amazon temporarily stopped ordering it, Naim said. Amazon also extended delivery times for some of his other clients’ products. Slower delivery correlates to lower sales because customers generally don’t want to wait weeks to receive an order.

Amazon has also differentiated delivery times for nonessential items in a way that some of its critics regard as potentially anti-competitive. It placed shipping delays of several weeks on nonessential items sold by some third-party merchants on its platform. But it promised delivery within days of nearly identical products that it sells under its AmazonBasics private label. While Amazon said its private label products are only about 1% of total sales, consultants said that AmazonBasics has taken market share from competitors in products such as batteries.

In late March, ProPublica found that products including an in-stock backpack, a wireless mouse, a digital alarm clock and a set of wine glasses offered by third-party sellers all showed a delayed delivery of three weeks. (Items may arrive faster than the stated delivery date.) Amazon’s own, similarly priced versions of those products were available in several days, though some AmazonBasics products, such as a coffee maker, were also delayed. A review this past week indicated that this gap had been eliminated and delivery times were similar.

“The changes to our logistics network to meet increased demand resulting from COVID-19 were not designed to advantage Amazon brands, retail vendors or sellers,” the Amazon spokesperson said. “They have been based on how to best serve customers during the outbreak while helping ensure the health and safety of our employees.”

Kovacic, the former FTC chairman, said if he were Amazon’s general counsel, “I’d be begging” for the company to avoid the appearance of self-preference — a key area of government inquiry, he said — even if unintentional. “They should not want to be doing anything at the moment that reinforces those concerns.”

Other Amazon decisions during the pandemic have highlighted the risk to sellers of relying on the company. Under its Fulfillment by Amazon program, the retail giant for a fee packs and ships third-party sellers’ goods from its warehouses to their customers, as well as providing customer service. But on March 17, it told these merchants that its warehouses would temporarily stop accepting shipments of products it deemed nonessential. Combined with Amazon’s nearly monthlong shipping delays on nonessential items already in warehouses, many sellers were left scrambling to fill customer orders themselves, said Tim Hughes, chief operating officer of a consulting firm that helps brands manage their Amazon accounts. In addition, sellers whose nonessential products were already stored in Amazon’s warehouses have been temporarily unable to retrieve their merchandise as the company has prioritized fulfilling customer orders.

“A lot of these people send all their inventory to Amazon, so there’s nothing they can do,” Hughes said. The merchandise is, in effect, “held hostage” until Amazon employees fetch it from the warehouse and return it to sellers, said Hughes, who worked in product management at Amazon.

To prioritize products such as household staples and medical supplies, Amazon has “temporarily paused removal operations” in some of its warehouses, the spokesperson acknowledged. “We know this is a change for our selling partners. ... We are working to increase capacity.”

Spenuzza, the Rise Bar CEO, has sold his product on Amazon for nine years. Last month, he and consultant Rachel Johnson Greer, who advises him on his Amazon business, discussed whether to fulfill a large order from Costco, she said. Greer, a former Amazon senior program manager, warned him that being out of stock on Amazon would cause the algorithm to send Rise Bar listings further down on the search results pages, resulting in fewer potential customers seeing — and buying — his products there.

“If you go out of stock on Amazon, you can have major problems,” Greer said. “If I fulfill this order for Costco, I might drop in my rank from Amazon and I might not be able to get it back. ... Amazon is a single point of failure for a lot of these folks.”

Spenuzza filled Costco’s order for one week, and also sent stock to Amazon, he said. But it took more than a week for Amazon to move the packages into its warehouse, and by the time the inventory was entered into the system, most of the Rise Bar flavors were out of stock. “Amazon was so overwhelmed that they needed to prioritize the highest selling essential items,” he said.

During a late-March trip to a grocery store in Long Beach, Spenuzza noticed that shelves usually stocked with dozens of types of bars now looked “half-empty,” he said. He knew that stores would be grateful for any bars he shipped to them, he said. But he couldn’t spare the product. That week, he sent about three-fourths of his protein bars to Amazon, up from 45% in January.

Ava Kofman contributed reporting.

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105 days ago
Oakland, CA
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