Culture Jam Assignment: Nivea

In April 2017, German skin-care brand Nivea released a campaign ad in Middle East to promote their company’s “Invisible for Black and White” deodorant line, one of which depicted a dark-haired woman clad in white with the words “White is Purity”. Before condemning Nivea for ethnic discrimination right away, we should first remind ourselves that ‘nivea’ is Latin for ‘snow-white’. It came to no surprise then that a large company like Nivea, with their expansive reach in plethora of international markets, will have niche markets all over the world. Skin-care brands in South Asia and other parts of the world have been selling both skin brightening and whitening cosmetics for the past two decades—one product in particular was even named “White Power Essence,” before they had to change its name. So why are North Americans outraged at “White is Purity”?  Americans who elected their President in 2016 certainly do not mind. It leads us to think exactly how invisible hegemonic white power is and how deeply ethnic, racial and sexual misconceptions run in our society. White privilege is Nivea apologizing to anyone “who may take offense” to their advertisement post on social media, and failing to recognize the dire need for fundamental changes in how we perceive and negotiate differences. A brand which proclaims to represent “diversity, tolerance, and equal opportunity,” like many others, must take responsibility for their inaction in addressing crucial changes that postmodern society needs.


America, a veritable sandbox for capitalists and opportunities, is still replete with social inequality and embedded institutional discrimination that continues to cripple  its African American communities. My jamming philosophy for Nivea’s ad is to bring us back in history to remember some of the roots of American racism.  The woman clad in “snow-white” is juxtaposed with the un-pure workers in the plantation. The “invisible for black and white” deodorant is being raised to the mother by the son, in efforts of being more desirable and pure and to escape to freedom. Racism continues to perpetuate and is unwavering in its capacity to deny the ability of people to change, to mobilize their socioeconomic statuses and hinders any chance of them re-negotiating their identities.   The residue of past injustices has created barriers that demand for greater tolerance and understanding for differences to help break down and to stop the perpetuation of oppression and marginalization of individuals.