For this assignment, I chose to highlight a 2017 ad by German skincare brand Nivea. In the ad you see a woman’s back and her straight-flowing hair while the title “White is Purity” appears at the bottom of the picture. The caption that followed the ad stated “keep it clean, keep it bright, don’t let anything ruin it. #Invisible.” The ad, rightfully, drew criticism for its racist connotations and general tone-deafness (“Nivea removes” 2017). Whiteness being associated with goodness or purity is not a new phenomenon. It has been used to justify white supremacy and discriminatory practices against people of colour both in the past and present (Berthold 2010).
I chose to analyze this ad because despite it being a seemingly innocuous statement, the history of trauma and violence that people of colour have been subjected to in the name of whiteness makes this ad especially unacceptable as many countries try to grapple with the legacy of white supremacy, especially here in North America. Also, the association of cleanliness with whiteness further entrenches the idea that people of colour are “dirty” and that only with increasing ones proximity whiteness (i.e lightning their skin) can purity be achieved (Berthold 2010).
Furthermore, this ad can speak to how racialized women tend not to fit common standards of beauty due to their natural features. Though one is unable to see the woman’s face in the advert, her long-flowing straight hair speaks to an idealization of straight, wavy, and long hair. As Craig (2006) notes, “dominant beauty standards that idealized fair skin, small noses and lips, and long flowing hair defined black women’s dark skin colour, facial features, and tightly curled, short hair as ugly” (pg.163). The caption “White is Purity” only further states the obvious, that people of colour, especially women of colour, must aspire to whiteness in order to be seen as pure, clean, and competent.
My jammed version of this ad simply puts the infamous Ku Klux Klan hood on top of the woman’s head. The Ku Klux Klan is one of the most famous and violent white supremacist organizations and their coveted hood is known throughout the world as a symbol of hate that is distinctly associated with their organization. In doing this, I seek to show the sheer absurdity of the advert by displaying how its message aligns with that of a white supremacist organization, which believes in the superiority of white people and protecting of whiteness.
By using satire to emphasize the racist connotations the advert brings about, this version shows that through deconstruction, one is able to better understand why statements like “white is purity” should always be met with scorn and ridicule. Thankfully, most people are becoming more adept at recognizing the implicit messages in racist adverts like this one, however, I hope that through my jammed version those who may not understand why this advert is offensive are able to recognize the idea that whiteness being associated with purity is a remnant of a legacy of white supremacy.
Lastly, I hope my jammed version shows how white supremacy especially harms women of colour who must face the double task of trying to fit a certain beauty standard informed by exclusively white male perspectives. Craig (2006) points out that much of recent scholarship on beauty standards has stated that beauty standards seek to further entrench both gender and racial inequality. Only through inquisitive critical analysis of all the media we as consumers are being fed will we stop the perpetuation of ideas that ultimately harm people of colour. In doing so, it is the hope that future generations will consume content that is non-racist and self-affirming.
Berthold, D. (2010). Tidy Whiteness: A Genealogy of Race, Purity, and Hygiene. Ethics and the Environment,15(1), 1.
Craig, M. L. (2006). Race, beauty, and the tangled knot of a guilty pleasure. Feminist Theory,7(2), 159-177.
Nivea removes ‘white is purity’ deodorant advert branded ‘racist’. (2017, April 04). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39489967