We recently published Melissa Llanes Brownlee’s stunning “Avon Calling You an Autumn When You Know You Are Summer.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) The scene here is so nostalgic — I remember, as a child, Avon and Mary Kay consultants coming to see my mother, and how curious I was about the products. The colors! The sparkle! The glow! But there was always something a bit oppressive in their visits too. Do you think the narrator here feels that same way?
Yes! There is so much to unpack in the Avon/Mary Kay visit. First, there is the idea of having to fit a certain standard of beauty. I can remember how my own mother fought against having brown skin with sunscreen, hats, shade, especially when we went to the beach. She also used bleaching products for sunspots. It’s this that inspired my story. How this woman would enter our home and tell my mother the things she needed to be beautiful. Second, there is that underlying monetary obligation. Maybe the main character doesn’t quite understand the financial oppression of obligation when you invite the Avon lady to your house but I would think that she senses her mother’s stress and anxiety.
2) And then there is that ending! The dismissal of the child (a dark-skinned child) by a white woman — it’s such a painful moment. Does the Avon rep have any sense of her cruelty here, do you think? Or is she completely, willfully oblivious?
As a person of color (even growing up in Hawaii), I had encountered so many well meaning racist comments by people who thought they were being kind or behaving normally. Of course at that time I didn’t recognize it for what it was, but it’s pervasive institutional racism that’s still prevalent, even today. I learned early the privilege of white people, especially women. The ending of this story encapsulates this idea of willful ignorance by a person who chooses not to be aware of racial or socioeconomic disparities between herself and her customers.