This ad campaign by the skincare company Nivea to promote their products aimed towards men featured a clean cut African-American man holding a disembodied head (or perhaps a mask) of a black man with a beard and Afro with the caption: “Look like you give a damn. Re-civilize yourself”. This has inherently racist undertones for a multitude of reasons. First, it implies that Afros, a hairstyle commonly associated with black people, are uncivilized and that they must present more “white” to be considered civilized. This has been a recurring issue and doesn’t just apply to Afros, as other hairstyles associated with African-Americans also have this negative connotation and image, specifically when worn by black people. For example, cornrows were also seen as unclean or unkempt and did not become popular and trendy until Kim Kardashian, a non African-American, popularized them and renamed them “boxer braids”. On her, they were deemed chic and fashionable but African-American men and women had worn them for years and were deemed “ghetto” or unclean.
Also, Nivea’s choice of words, especially “civilized”, is very problematic as again, this reinforces stereotypes of black people and black communities being “ghetto” or not as professional as other races. These stereotypes and biases are still present today and can be witnessed in many situations such as applicants with “black sounding” names being less likely to be hired for a job, or black men getting longer prison sentences and being treated unfairly, even to the point of being harmed, by law enforcement. These issues, at least in part, stem from the false belief that black people are less “civilized” and thus are more dangerous and less qualified for professional roles, especially if they look a certain way (ie. too “black”).
In my jammed version of the original Nivea ad, I removed the problematic elements and replaced it with messages that were unrelated to race and instead provided a positive message. I removed the head the man was holding as it implied that a black man with an Afro is somehow inferior to a more clean-cut, “richer” looking black man and thus needed to be disposed of. He is instead now holding nothing as I don’t think any objects or props adds to the message of the ad, nor to the actual products themselves and the man posing confidently is enough on his own.
I also removed the word “re-civilize” from “re-civilize yourself” as I explained earlier, the wording has extremely negative connotations which play into many harmful stereotypes surrounding African-Americans. I replaced it with the simple phrase “Be Yourself” as this encompasses all races, genders, and identities and encourages minorities like African-Americans to not feel as if they have to change themselves to be considered civilized or professional.
Lastly, I removed the words “Look like you give a damn” since this implies that there is a certain “look” needed to look hireable, dateable, and so on. It is important for black people to be able to be who they are and not have to worry about looking “too black” or having to “look more white” in order to be a worthwhile member of society. And it is perhaps even more important for those with more privilege to recognize that white is not the standard for civilized and to acknowledge their biases related to traditionally African-American things like names and hairstyles.