In his 1977 TV special, featuring a variety of comedy sketches and social commentary, Richard Pryor produced a segment dedicated to celebrating the beauty of black women. One by one different models were introduced as an announcer described each of them with rich, vivid language. There was one woman touted as “walnut tinted” and “honey gold” and yet another “caramel brown sugar” Molasses, peach, licorice, blackberry, and other foods were used to reflect the vast and varied tints that encompass blackness and were intended to let black women of all hues know they were beautiful.
So why is Naomi Campbell mad that she has been compared to chocolate?
The world renowned supermodel is “considering every option available” including a lawsuit after a Cadbury advertisement for a new chocolate candy bar invoked her name, sporting the tag “Move over Naomi, there’s a new diva in town.”
Cadbury says the ad was intended to be “a light-hearted take on the social pretensions of Cadbury Dairy Milk Bliss,” drawing off the “diva” persona Campbell has cultivated throughout her career. She has become as well known for multiple assault charges, including once throwing her Blackberry at her housekeeper, as she is for her magazine covers and turns on the catwalk. Campbell feels the Cadbury ad is racist and found it “upsetting to be described as chocolate, not just for me, but for all black women and black people,” adding, “I do not find any humour in this. It is insulting and hurtful.”
Some think Campbell is overreacting. To be honest, my first thought was that she was making a big deal where there was none. I’ve personally compared black women’s skin to chocolate, caramel, and other sweet confections (very similar to what Wu-Tang Clan did in the song “Ice Cream”) and have heard women describe themselves in those very same terms. It’s so commonplace I never thought it to be anything less than flattering. But it’s about context.
The advertising industry has never been kind to people of color. That was made ever more clear with the recent Dove soap ad that failed miserably in its attempt to embrace multiculturalism. Intended to show the before and after effects of using their brand of soap, with two different skin samples plastered in the background, with a black woman standing underneath the “before” picture and a white woman beneath the “after” it seems to suggest the soap can turn black women into white women, and it’s no secret which they consider more desirable. Dove says all three of the women in the ad were meant to represent the “after” usage, but the awkward placement in this single still image belies that intention and reads as racist. Everywhere you turn, black women’s beauty and worth is being assaulted. Consider the major uproar caused a few weeks ago by a Psychology Today blog written by Satoshi Kanazawa that claimed to prove that black women were objectively less attractive than women of other races.
The “science” behind this study was sketchy, to say the least, and its insistence on its supposed objectivity attempted to mask what was really just a retread of old racist dogma meant to dehumanize people of color. Psychology Today has since apologized and a campaign to fire Kanazawa from his post at the London School of Economics has gained immense support.
WATCH THE TRAILER FOR ‘DARK GIRLS’ HERE:
This is the world in which we live. This is the world Campbell is confronting in her reaction to the Cadbury ad. It’s the same world that has prompted filmmakers Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry to produce the documentary Dark Girls, a film exploring color biases and and attitudes held toward black women of darker hues. The trailer alone reveals some heartbreaking tales of young girls attempting to wash the “dirtiness” off their bodies or being asked to be the secret sexual liaison of men to whom they were romantically attached, all because their dark skin had been deemed undesirable.
Campbell, not unlike many darker skinned black women, has likely faced harsh teasing at the hands of her peers and fierce discrimination in her chosen (white dominated) industry. Her sensitivity to this Cadbury ad comparing her to a piece of chocolate is likely rooted to that past hurt. So while it seems like “not a big deal” from the outside looking in, but for anyone experiencing this on a more personal level, it’s a very different story.
Cadbury may not have seen the problem immediately, but perhaps now they, and every other company, will choose to err on the side of caution and avoid needlessly racialized advertising in the future.