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The Lady
Ms London


The Hutton Inquiry is not, perhaps, the most unusual game in town. That title could be claimed by a current tribunal hearing in which Mrs Mary Winston, a woman of Jamaican descent, is claiming racial discrimination against the huge pharmaceutical firm, Blitzo, and one of their products, a roll of sticky plaster. Baffled? You may not be when you have read this extract from yesterday's proceedings.

Counsel: You are Mrs Mary Winston?
Winston: Who says I am not?
Counsel: Nobody.
Winston: Well, then.
Counsel: Now, can you tell us what happened on the day in June 2002 when you entered a chemist's shop in Shepherds Bush, West London, and asked for a roll of sticking plaster?
Winston: Certainly. She offered me a choice of waterproof plaster, ordinary fabric plaster or flesh-coloured plaster.
Counsel: And what did you say?
Winston: I said: That's not flesh-coloured plaster! That is a kind of pinky-brown colour ! My flesh is black!
Counsel: And what did the lady say?
Winston: She said she had never thought of that. So I said, Had she got any black sticky plaster? She said she didn't think there was such a thing, but she would ask the pharmacist. She got the pharmacist out from behind his little window, where he sits all day making medicines too expensive for people like me to buy, and he asked me why I want black plaster. I said, to match my skin. He said, there was no point in getting plaster to match my skin. After all, he said, bandages didn't match people's skin. Nor did watch straps. Nor did arm slings.
Counsel: He had a point, wouldn't you say?
Winston: My point is that the company was offering flesh-coloured plaster to white people, but not to black. That is discrimination!
Counsel: Mmmm . . . . What colour sticky plaster do they sell in chemists' shops in Nigeria?
Winston: I have never been to Nigeria.
Counsel: Would you be surprised to hear that they sell ordinary pink sticky plaster in Nigeria?
Winston: No. But I would be very surprised if they sold it as "flesh-coloured" plaster.
Counsel: Mmmmm . . . . Now, what colour would you say white people are?
Winston: Not really white. I only ever saw one really white person and he was albino. White people are generally more pinky grey rusty.
Counsel: And when they have been in the sun, they go brown.
Winston: Yes, poor white people. They spend all that money on getting brown like us, and then it all fades away again, and then they get skin cancer.
Counsel: Quite so. Now, have you ever seen sticky plaster being marketed as "suntanned flesh-colour plaster"?
Winston: No.
Counsel: So, so-called flesh-coloured plaster would not suit all white people?
Winston: Not all the time.
Counsel: Can I put another thought to you? Many men, and a few women, have very hairy legs and arms. When they put a flesh-coloured plaster on a hairy area, it stands out, because the hair is covered up. But has anyone ever tried to market a flesh-coloured, hairy plaster? A plaster with hair sticking out of it for hairy people?
Winston: I do not think so.
Counsel: Nor do I. So you would agree that even for white people, flesh-coloured plaster does not work all the time.
Winston: I am not arguing about that. I am just saying, if a big company describes its plaster as "flesh-coloured", it should offer a black alternative for people with black skin.
Counsel: And brown plaster for Middle Easterners? And yellow plaster for Chinese people? And pictorial plasters for tattooed people?
Winston: Chinese people are not yellow. I have a neighbour, Mrs Lee, and she has the same sort of skin as European people. This thing about Chinese being yellow is another story of the white people. The white people call the Chinese yellow, which they are not, and they call themselves white but they are not, so it is a miracle that some of the people they call black are actually black!
Counsel: Well . . .
Winston: You talk about tattooes. That is another rip-off for black people. I have known black people get tattooes and you couldn't even see them!
Counsel: Well . . . .
Winston: And don't get me started on flesh-coloured tights!
The case continues

Independent Sept 17 2003