“…paths towards self-realization and success in the world are often daunting and obscure: journeys only the privileged feel confident setting off along.” – Tom Chatfield
The discourse of white privilege, as a vehicle for social power, was deemed one of the most important issues of the twentieth century (Sapp, 2007; Leonardo, 2002, p. 29). It can be traced back in history – anglosaxon scholars were responsible for influencing western societies to “understand nonwhites as inferior Others.” (Yang & Ryser, 2008, p. 732). This othering has created a stark divide between individuals deserving of fairness and equality. After all, we all are humans. Indeed, we have come a long way; people from minority groups have more and more become visible in mainstream media and the state. However, it would be wrong to deny that this divide no longer exists. We still see it in consumer media everyday.
In the advertisement of Protégé Luminate Premium Skin Lightening Cream, a coloured woman donned with a bright shine on her face is seen with her hands gesturing application of the product. In big fuschia letters, the words “LIGHT UP EVERY ROOM” is read. Albeit subtle, this advertisement is problematic in two ways, in particular. First, the idiomatic expression to “light up every room” depicts grabbing attention. It also suggests doing so while exuding utmost confidence. To put such tagline in a skin-whitening ad seems to imply that having lighter skin will enable one to do so. It implies that being nonwhite is synonymous with a lack of confidence or pride. In other words, this is what you need to do to matter.
“BLOCKS PRODUCTION OF MELANIN” — Do we cease nature from taking its course to achieve this? “Whiteness is the ideal; it will reap you rewards” is the message. We see her face is already lighter than the rest of her body. Her facial expression is a both confident and uncertain. Why? She isn’t fully light-skinned yet.
The other thing that might be worth noting is the gender of the model portrayed. Does this ideal only apply to women? Does she have to be skinny? Is it more acceptable for a man to be of colour because he is simply a “man”? Is there a double standard?
In this culture jammed version of Protégé Luminate, I left the problematic tagline as is. I did, however, change the accompanying captions to drive the emphasis away on changing one’s skin tone by defying nature. Instead, I wanted to empower all individuals, particularly women, and let them know that they are beautiful in their own way. We need not change a thing. Also, despite what the media might tell us about the “benefits” of having lighter skin, we can be confident in our own. To exude confidence by embracing every crevice of our bodies, we can light up any room brighter than anything else.
Some might say this is cliché. Some might say this oversimplifies the situation. I agree. I do not wish to suggest that empowering messages will ease the pain of injustices from decades past. Through this, I simply wish to point out that if simple taglines such as those in the original advertisement can have a drastic impact on one’s preference and self-esteem, simple messages of pride and confidence can, too. The media is a very powerful tool in influencing minds, especially shaping the young ones’. Thus, I deem it highly important that we avoid misinformation that may pollute the way one sees the world, and one’s self.
I also altered the description on the product itself. A little humour can go a long way. If only skin products to protect us from ignorance were a thing.. “Why stop nature when you can stop them instead!”
If I had the resources, I would also alter this advertisement by incorporating models of different genders, body type, and social backgrounds. For diversity. For inclusiveness.
White privilege exists, and its eradication will be a slow and painful process. However, the tiniest of acts like not tolerating media with subliminal messages of racism or sexism can span miles. Look past the words, think deep about its message.Change will always have to start on an individual level. In the words of Joseph Campbell, “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
- Joseph Campbell. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved June 24, 2016, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/josephcamp378372.html
- Leonardo, Z. (2002). The souls of white folk: Critical pedagogy, whiteness studies, and globalization discourse. Race Ethnicity and Education, 5(1), 29-50. doi:10.1080/13613320120117180
- Sapp, J. (2007). White privilege. In G. L. Anderson & K. G. Herr (Eds.), Encyclopedia of activism and social justice (Vol. 3, pp. 1466-1467). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412956215.n923
- Tom Chatfield. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved June 24, 2016, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/t/tomchatfie670727.html
- Yang, G., & Ryser, T. A. (2008). Whiting up and blacking out: White privilege, race, and white chicks. African American Review, 42(3/4), 731-746.