Look like you give a damn

By 09:12


I get it. Nivea’s trying to promote products that encourage male personal hygiene: clean shaven, neat haircut and a well groomed face. An effective ad to say that men no longer have that caveman look of wild hair or long unsightly beards; they look like they give a damn now.
Nivea released two “look like you give a damn” ads – one featuring a white man and another featuring a black man. Nivea intended on using these ads to target certain individuals to use their products. They want men to buy into their products and using models of different races allows guys of those racial groups to relate to the advert and thus be more willing to purchase their products.
Upon the release of this ad there was an uproar on Twitter and other social network platforms about the apparent racism in the ad targeted at the black man. The ad pictures a clean cut well dressed black male holding a mask of a black head with an afro and a beard - caveman style, standing in a position to throw away the mask. The tag line? Re-civilise yourself. When juxtaposed against the ad targeted at white people, there seems to be racist slant to the black ad, and this is purely based on the wording chosen for each. The Caucasian ad’s tag line, “Sin City isn’t an excuse to look like hell,” doesn’t quite have the racially slurred impact that “re-civilise yourself” has.
The definition of civilise is to rise from a barbaric to a civilised state. There are deeply rooted connotations with this word which stems from the view that black people are from the jungle and inherently uncivilised in comparison to their European counterparts.
I suppose Nivea could have gone further to include people of various ethnicities in the “re-civilise yourself” campaign. How about the mask of an Arab man with a beard, a woman in a burqa or an Indian man wearing a turban? Would we say then say that the majority of the Indian and Middle Eastern world is uncivilised? If you’re schooled in the Western ideals of the perception of civilisation, you’d probably view them as untidy and definitely not the kind of people you’d think the best revenue generating strategy would come from in a boardroom.
Civilisation isn’t necessarily the individuals that advanced first in the world but rather those who were able to conquer the world and impose their beliefs on the inhabitants. Historically, it was white colonialists calling the shots. With the end of slavery and apartheid, the black people that were favoured for jobs were the ones who looked more white. Straighter hair and lighter skin worked to their advantage and hence black people embraced this artificial look over the years. Skin bleaching and hair relaxing was popular even during the era of African slavery. In the pursuit of trying to fit in, black people inadvertently instilled a self-hate for their own appearance. So it’s out with the afro in the Nivea ad and out with the beard because that is not the civilised look of the 21st century.
The meaning, to rise from a barbaric to a civilised state, would have one believe that anyone able to fit into civil society is deemed civilised. So criminals would examples of individuals considered barbaric – uncivilised – as they don’t fit into today’s civil society.
The make-up of today’s civil society is largely of Western influence and as a result, if you don’t fit in, you aren’t civilised. It’s no wonder that black people themselves want the white look. In fact, the ad was a brainchild of a black male. He created an image of a black man that would appeal to the target audience. The media constantly portrays black people in a way that makes it seem that they need to be more “white” to fit in.
What started out with black people disowning their natural physical features to be at an advantage to play in the Western world has now turned into people wanting the Western look for no reason other than they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that it looks good. With role models like Beyonce, women of colour chose to wear weaves instead of embracing their natural hair. People donning afros, braids, dreadlocks are portrayed in the media as unprofessional and unclean – not as successful people. The more Western (read white) you look, the more “civilised” you are.
Skin lightening is a dangerous craze all because lighter skin is seen as more beautiful. Sorisha Naidoo is a successful business woman, seemingly at the top of her game with everything she could ever want. She publicly lightens her skin and promotes that others do the same. Yes, black people do it to themselves. They want to look more white.
Take out the word “re-civilise” and products promoting a more Western look for black people will be scooped up off the shelves. The sub-conscious hatred of one’s natural looks and origins need to stop. And the only way it can is for the media to relook at their black target marketing.
Give us a dark skinned woman to play leading black roles in movies. Give us a high powered public figure in dreadlocks. Give us a magazine who won’t photoshop lighter complexions on our black models.
In Capitalist America, the country that dictates the behaviour of civil society, money talks. Realistically, James Cameron is not going to cast a dark skinned woman to be the female lead in his next movie. Box office ratings will struggle because black people themselves don’t want to see that. They are conditioned to believing light skin is beautiful.
Black CEO’s and members of parliament won’t grow an afro because they won’t be taken seriously in global markets.
Until money stops becoming the driving force in the world and governments care about their people more, the little black kids of tomorrow will grow up with an inferiority complex on the appearance they were born with. They will continue the trend of looking like they give a damn...trying so hard to fit into the Western mould.
Is Nivea racist? I don’t believe so. Surely though, Nivea needs to know that we are not happy with the literal message they send out, but more importantly we need them to understand that it’s deeper than just the ad. Should we boycott their products? Should we also boycott every other unequal type of image we see in the media today?

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  1. Yo Sandy, let me throw this in there. I don't think this is necessarily a racial issue. This is more like a societal issue. As a white male with long hair and a beard, I wouldn't be respected in business circles. We live in a westernized world - and trust me when i say SA is more Americanized than Northern Europe - and what is looked up to in the boardroom is the westernized view of well dressed and cleanly cut, irrespective of race. Only the really rich like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Mukesh Ambani can look how they want in the boardroom, but even they fit that image.