Challenging Racial Stereotypes in Advertising

As we continue to organize the publications collected by the American Committee on Africa/The Africa Fund, a number of the titles reflect efforts to shed light on corporate involvement in support of apartheid. One such publication was The Corporate Examiner, published by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.  The magazine included articles on many questionable business practices by U.S. corporations around the world, but the lead article for the first issue of volume 18 in 1989 illustrated the continuation of racial stereotypes in the marketing of products worldwide and efforts to stop such practices.

Issue of The Corporate Examiner discussing the rebranding of Darkie Toothpaste.

Issue of The Corporate Examiner discussing the re-branding of Darkie Toothpaste.

The article discusses Colgate-Palmolive’s decision to rename one of its products marketed in Asia: Darkie Toothpaste. The toothpaste, with its minstrel in blackface logo, became a Colgate brand when the company acquired 50 percent interest in Hawley & Hazel Chemical Co. Ltd. in 1985. Darkie Toothpaste was originally introduced by Hawley and Hazel in the 1920s, and the article mentions the origin of the name:

“The package design as well as the product name, “Darkie Black and White Toothpaste,” was developed by the Hawley & Hazel Chinese founder himself from an idea conceived during a visit to the United States in Al Jolson’s heyday; marketing the product in this form, therefore, became his compliment to this famous American entertainer, since, according to Chinese custom, imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

The article goes on to quote Colgate Chairman Reuben Mark on the name change and rebranding: “It’s just offensive. The morally right thing dictated that we must change.” However, change did not come easily or quickly. The Corporate Examiner article cites three years of pressure by various organizations and individuals before Colgate changed the name to Darlie Toothpaste and transformed the logo into an image of a man of undefined race wearing a top hat. The toothpaste is still marketed in Asia today, primarily in Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan. A short description of the toothpaste’s history is found on the Colgate website.

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