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Monday, August 22, 2011

Talented Generation Asks, Was Nivea's "Re-Civilize Yourself" Ad Racist?

In case you have been living under a rock I'm pretty sure some of you have heard about Nivea's "re-civilize yourself" ad. I understand I'm a little late on this one but it was hyped up over the weekend and judging by the 40 page views I got on Saturday and Sunday the majority of you don't check TG on the weekends. At the risk of beating a dead horse I have to give into the urge to share my 2 cents. 

Caveat: Generally, I'm  happy person. I get along well with others and I love spending time around other happy people. I am easily excited and I consider myself a pretty simple woman. There isn't much that a red velvet cupcake and butter pecan ice cream can't solve. I said that to make sure you all understand I am not typically an Angry Black Woman (ABW) but it is within me. I consider my ABW to be a tiny facet of my personality that takes over me in Bruce Banner to Incredible Hulk fashion when I get angry. The Nivea ad made me see red. I have to admit, I was oblivious to the ad but when I saw it I was immediately angered. I missed the premiere of the ad because I was trying to enjoy the last few days of summer. Sue me.  Do you see what happens when I take a day or 2 off from keeping abreast of current events? Now do you see why its hard for me to take a break? I always miss the good stuff. That was one long arse caveat wasn't it? 

Moving on. 

Everything was copastethic until I was prompted by a friend to like Nivea USA's page on Facebook. I took time to read the responses to the ad just to make sure I wasn't tripping. Sometimes women can be irrational and I try not to become that way. The floodgates opened and everyone took advantage of the platform to voice their opinions. I know some of you are saying the reactions are a bit extreme. Indeed, some of them are. I read posts from people who claimed Nivea was implying black people had no brain and should be sent back to Africa. Now thats just ridiculous. I also read posts from people who claimed African Americans had become too sensitive and expected too much from companies. Those people also claimed Afro Americans, referred to as "you people," should be happy white America has accepted us as much as it has and to stop complaining. YIKES! White America claimed the ad wasn't racist and attempted to compare the ad using the Afro American model with the ad using the white model saying white people weren't upset by their ad. I was astounded to say the least. Below is the ad featuring the white model. 

I find it interesting that it is always the 2520s proclaiming we live in a post racial society. According to them, America no longer treats people differently based on the color of their skin. Their arguments would be valid except for the fact that Americans still treat people differently based upon the color of their skin. I would like to believe that racist people are the exception and not the rule. I would also like to believe that I can go to the Cracker Barrel and not be seated near the kitchen but I like to live in truth. Racism has taken on a new face and become an institution. Racists may not call you a n*gger to your face but they will hire a less qualified white person over a black person. I am not saying everyone does this. Remember we are talking about racist Americans, not ALL Americans. Let's be clear here: I want us to stop pretending like racism and racist people don't exist. They do exist. Do I think we should go around screaming racism every time something bad happens to an African American? Hell no. I want us to stop doing that because I believe it dilutes the power behind the term. It used to be that being labelled a racist was a genuine fear for racist people. They feared being "outed" as racist and did not want to be associated with other racist people. Now once people are called racist they issue an apology and continue on in their racist ways. They don't even go to rehab and blame their behaviors on alcohol. They don't always resign their position and they don't always face public scrutiny. 

Back to Nivea's ad. I think the ad has racist undertones. At first I thought, "they must be doing an entire campaign about re-civilizing yourself" and then I realized I was wrong. Someone at Nivea thought they should create this image and circulate it as an ad. I have trouble believing NO ONE at Nivea stepped up and warned the company about this kind of backlash. I guess they missed the entire memo about the astounding number of African American men and women who are choosing to go "natural." They picked the wrong memo to miss. I immediately thought 2 things: (1) Either Nivea does not have a diverse staff or (2) if their staff is diverse, they don't employ enough diverse people with the power to make sure ads like this never see the light of day. 

I won't go so far as to say Nivea would be bold enough to use a black man in an ad obviously aimed at black men and be racist. Given the billions African Americans spend on cosmetics this just wouldn't be a smart business move. I think the ad is in bad taste. I am concerned because I know there are still people who see African Americans as savages and it sends the message that the only way to be civilized is to look like the "civilized" guy in the ad. Nivea implies that afros are a bad thing. That is wrong. The ad implies people who wear afros are uncivilized. I don't even wear an afro and that  bothers me. I don't want children who have afros or anyone else to be made to feel ashamed or like they cannot be accepted because of the way they choose to wear their hair. 

One of my colleagues said the problem is not so much the ad but it is also the dude who posed. I agree with that to a certain extent. Given the state of our economy, I'll give dude an "I need a pay my bills and sh*t" pass. Does this mean you should sell your soul to make a buck? Heck no but I understand you gotta do what you gotta do. I also understand you should have some knowledge of how your image and your likeness will be used. He might have just posed and cashed his check without knowing exactly how his image would be used. I can't fault him for that. 

Amid the upheaval the ad caused, Nivea decided to wise up and pull the ad. In true corporate PR fashion they issued a 1/2 assed apology saying,

“We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offense to this specific local advertisement. After realizing that this ad is misleading, it was immediately withdrawn.”
Although they agreed to pull the ad, the damage is already done. Pulling the ad is akin to printing a retraction in a newspaper: no one cares about a retraction. 

NEWSFLASH: If companies and other entities are still making these kinds of missteps, WE DO NOT LIVE IN A POST RACIAL SOCIETY! Maybe they thought since America is post racial it is ok to create ads like this. I don't give a d@mn why they thought it was ok. What matters is it serves as another example that African American consumers are STILL misunderstood and companies are still dumbfounded as to how to appeal to us. 

Ads like this are the reason we need to make sure our kids learn about their history. We may forgive but we should never forget. Don't ever allow a company you support to disrespect who you are and what you stand for. 

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