Saturday, August 20, 2011

Nivea: Of Course this is Racism

This unfortunate advertisement is making its way around the internet, so I thought I would give my own commentary. In my opinion, more interesting than the ad itself, is the way so many blog commentors want to defend the image and text as not racist.

Here are some of the frequent comments I have read elsewhere, and here is why they are wrong:


1. ... NIVEA DIDN`T MEAN FOR IT TO BE RACIST. Intention does not matter. It is too easy to dismiss racist people and their actions as merely ignorant. The truth is, Nivea probably had no intention of offending anyone, especially not the target of the ad: Black Men. The fact that they failed so completely to achieve their goal of making their product appealing to this demographic shows that they lack diversity in their marketing department. Having Rihanna as the face of Nivea does not make up for not having black people involved in marketing campaigns that target black people. The fact that Nivea didn´t know the ad would be interpreted as racist does not erase the fact that the ad has already been published and the hurt already felt.


Sin City is not an excuse to look like Hell.

There are several reasons why this argument doesn´t work in proving the ad isn´t racist. Exchanging black men with white men is a not a valid racism test. Racism must be considered in its historical context, not in a color-blind vacuum. Historically, black people in America have dealt with racial discrimination based on their appearance and, especially, their hair. Telling a black man that his afro is uncivilized is not the same as telling a white man with long hair and a straggly beard that he looks like hell. White men in America have never had to prove they were men, in spite of their whiteness.

But also, look at the above ad with the white model. There is no talk of the civilizing quality of Nivea for Men. Intention or not, Nivea can´t hide behind the white ads as proof that they didn´t mean to be racist; the black model gets civilized while the white model gets to go to Las Vegas. An afro is uncivilized while the long hair and beard just look like Hell.

3. ...SHORTER HAIR IS MORE CIVILIZED. Who gets to decide what is a civilized hair style? Nivea? And why would they decide that the afro is not civilized? I knew this ad was racist when I first saw it because I am aware that black professionals are often told their appearance and hair styles are not professional enough. To some, the afro or natural hair styles are considered a political decision to not conform to white standards of beauty. It actually makes a lot of sense for an international corporation to attack the afro - it is a symbol of resistance to standardized beauty.

Just try telling QuestLove that he doesn´t look civilized, professional, proud and fine wearing his hair natural.

4. ...IT`S A POOR CHOICE OF WORDS, BUT IT ISN`T RACISM. What is the line between merely offensive and offensive in a racist manner? In using the word re-civilized next to a black model and attacking a hair style specific to black people, Nivea made it racial. Again, historical context is really important to understanding why this is racist. In a country where black people have had to fight to be seen as equal in the eyes of the law and society, suggesting in anyway that they are uncivilized or need re-civilizing can make one feel like we´ve stepped backwards about 40 years.

5. ...WE SHOULD ALL BE OFFENDED EQUALLY. Some are saying that the entire campaign is offensive as it implies men must conform to a beauty standard set by Nivea, As white men should be offended because their choices in hair style are also limited by the campaign, it cannot be racist. It is offensive to everyone. But while the white ad may be offensive to white men with beards and long hair, white men still have racial privilege. So, sorry if I don´t shed a tear. Just because white people were offended too, doesn´t mean it isn´t racist towards black people.

6. ...I´M NOT OFFENDED, AND I`M BLACK! It´s great if some black men don´t feel hurt on a personal level about the ad. But they should be able to recognize racism when they see it, and recognize that it does hurt other black people. To move beyond racism, we need to know what it looks like. It doesn´t always look like a member of the KKK. The outcry the ad has caused will teach Nivea a lot about marketing to black consumers. Like, maybe they need to hire some black people on their marketing team to make sure this never happens again.

Here is Nivea´s official apology:

“We are deeply sorry for a recent ‘Re-civilized’ Nivea For Men ad. This ad was inappropriate and offensive. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values at Beiersdorf and we do not tolerate insensitivity. It was never our intention to offend anyone and for this we are deeply sorry. This ad will never be used again. Beiersdorf, as a company, represents diversity, tolerance and equal opportunity. Direct and indirect discrimination must be ruled out in all decisions and in all areas of the company.”

Here is the clip from Living Single that I immediately thought of when I saw the ad. It is from the episode in 1994 when Kyle has to consider cutting his hair in order to take a promotion at work. If only someone at Nivea had watched Living Single when they were a teenager.

Related Posts:

The System Will Be Racist on My Behalf

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