Images of black people can be found all over the world. Unfortunately, many of these images are rooted in America’s own demeaning popular culture of the late 1800s and early 1900s. They mirror the social inequities that relegated African-American women to domestic labor and “other-mothering” children that were not their own, and that steered African-American men to agricultural or other service-oriented occupations.
In reflecting these inequities, popular images were little more than exaggerated caricatures of “blackness,” reinforcing notions of black inferiority. While civil rights and faith-leaders have managed to force corporations to retire some of these images, their legacy — as “http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&q=Aunt+Jemima&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&biw=1272&bih=866”>“Aunt” Jemima and “Uncle” Ben demonstrate—remains.
In fact, derogatory images continue to color the world’s perception of African-Americans and other people of African descent. A recent Intel advertisement showed 16 African-American figures bowing down before a white man. Stereotypical depictions of Africans and lingering discrimination against darker people can be found in ads and commercials throughout India. An Australian commercial made headlines earlier this year for its blatant derogatory content, which joked about a white man being able to calm down people of African descent with fried chicken.
WATCH AN AD FOR ‘DARLIE’:
Some of the more egregious examples of overt bigotry include the notorious attempts of some European soccer fans to dehumanize soccer players of African descent by throwing banana peels onto the field or taunting them with racial slurs and monkey noises.
In the context of this worldwide racial bigotry is our latest example of racial insensitivity. It is a smiling minstrel that brands a popular Asian toothpaste. The image has had a slight “makeover” from its insulting origins in 1933, prompted by previous protests in the mid 1980s, but the image is nonetheless a remnant of a demeaning period of American popular culture.
The toothpaste, called “Darlie” — a minor deviation from its original name, “Darkie” — is commonly referred to as the “black people toothpaste” in Chinese and it is a product of the Hong-Kong-based company, Hawley & Hazel, which has been owned in part by the U.S.-based Colgate-Palmolive Company for the past two decades.
A few years ago, a friend and former executive of a leading Asian-American advocacy group mentioned to me that racism against African-Americans was America’s biggest export to Asia. Her statement was not necessarily an indictment of Asian nations’ willingness to accept images that are linked in our consciousness with inferiority. It was more a statement about the unfortunate example that has been set by Western society’s history of non-inclusive world leadership and legacy of racism.
However, while cultural and language barriers could prevent a uniform understanding of why racially insensitive images are so problematic, it is up to us to make sure these concepts translate.
As African-Americans mobilize around the $1.2 trillion in spending power that they will possesses by 2013, protecting their world image is key, as it may affect their marketability and employability over time. Lest we forget, all of us have a responsibility to remind emerging nations that becoming a world power does not authorize a degradation of African-Americans. In our global economic culture, all corporations should be held accountable for all decisions, in marketing and in other areas, which reek of racism.