Look Like You Give a Damn
Look at the above picture. It’s an actual ad from Nivea which purports to get men to “re-civilize” themselves and look like “they give a damn.” There seems to be a man taking off a mask which is his “uncivilized” face and now sporting a clean-shaven look. But more viscerally, it’s a Black man becoming “civilized” by cutting his Afro and beard and getting a nice taper or whatever. Intentional or not, it doesn’t really send a very “sensitive” message with respect to Black self-images and beauty aesthetics. Twitter and the blogosphere are afire about it, and we we wrote a piece on a similar mistake by another cosmetics company a while back. This type of thing isn’t new, as we detailed in that article, and the “innocent” mistake excuse sort of falls on deaf ears, especially when Nivea watched Dove have to cover its ass over a similar mistake just three months ago.
Are the people in advertising stupid? Don’t they have test markets for these type of things? In 2011, given all of the things that have been called out publicly, you would think some executive would at least, you know, shoot it over to his one black friend before clearing it to go in a magazine. It seems that Nivea is either being willfully ignorant or actively pursuing some sort of agenda to prove that its product actually makes you somehow less black and “savage.” The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
I don’t think the people making these decisions are really blatantly racist or trying to make a political statement on Black hair or whatever. Most people aren’t even clever or informed enough about race issues to make such a call. The fear of the “black savage” strikes me as more of a visceral and subconscious thing more than anything else, and I think this is more a portrayal of this rather than a conscious choice to make a pretty racist or at least insensitive statement. Nobody wants to be like the Black Savage, and the clean-shaven guy is much less intimidating than the other guy. He is probably more likely to get a job. This is what’s been drilled in our heads since birth. And it’s clearly an expression of a culture that likes to minimize Black aesthetic expression and exploit it whenever possible. We get that. Nothing new.
I just really want people to be smart. Do some damn research before you make any advertisement that portrays or depicts Black people. Yeah I know we can be a bit oversensitive, but when you have been legitimately (and still are) portrayed as apes and lower beings in the media for as long as media existed, I think you have a bit of a right to be oversensitive. There are successful members of our society who don’t look “civilized” as you call it, and people like Frederick Douglass and ?uestlove do things better than ANYONE else in their respective fields. Cosmetic companies, make some products for dreadheads and natural women and go out of your way to become culturally sensitive and I guarantee you’ll find yourself a healthy market just waiting to pay. Because we care a lot about our hair.