Racism in Advertising in recent times.


The given pictures bring to light the caustic outpour of the colonial mindset in action- which displays blatant racism, in which racial identity is being ‘washed away’ by using a commodity (Pears soap), another, more recent (a product of globalisation) which caused great furore on social media, in which we see derogatory terms written on a hooded sweatshirt worn by a Black kid. We will examine the growing importance of the postcolonial approach in cultural studies through the above cases in this essay.

The politics of representation has always been at play whenever we come across the colonizer-colonized relationship. This urge to write or construct the colonized in a way that suits the coloniser has been their obsession. In image one, the white boy is presented as immaculately dressed, holding the tool for the ‘improvement’ of the black boy, which includes changing his complexion to white by washing the blackness away, inherently implying that white is better and desirable and black complexion is a flaw. However, as Homi Bhabha postulated, although the coloniser wants to ‘improve’ the colonised, he also fears the loss of uniqueness it will entail. Consequently, the black kid’s face is left black in the right side of the image, clearly demarcating the difference between the appearances of the two kids, so that colonizer’s’ identity remains unique.

The second image shows us a black boy standing casually, donning a sweatshirt that reads ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’. This illustrates the oft-emphasized point that globalization is the new colonialism. This stereotype of the African as ‘monkey’ or ‘ape’ implies the appropriation of an African boy’s identity. It is a racist slur and hypocritical coming from an MNC like H&M, which boasts that “We drive inclusion and diversity through our products and design, promoting it through our communications. Our inclusion and diversity initiatives reach communities around the world, leading to positive change globally”..However, the aforementioned respect for diversity is nowhere to be seen. It’s farcical. The qualifier ‘coolest’ relates to the concept of ‘cool’ which is essentially a western concept of being awesome; according to H&M, one automatically becomes ‘cool’ by wearing this hoodie. The colonizer thus wants to convey the message that to become awesome even among the ‘monkeys’ that they are, they need to wear the clothes deemed ‘cool’ by the colonizers, and only then will they be deemed to be awesome.

It has already been highlighted in many cultural studies discussions how MNCs cash in on the orient’s labour and in turn leave them further impoverished while minting money for themselves. The westerners’ audacity lies in selling us the same commodities with a racist message back to us. Racial exploitation and oppression still go unnoticed in many parts of the world. The recent murder of George Floyd in the U.S.A. is a pertinent example of how the state machinery has institutionalized racism so much so that it takes an entire nation to rise up in protest in order to bring the culprits to the book. As is evident, any culturally analysis of the world around us warrants a postcolonial approach.

Closer home, till very recent times, advertisements of fair and lovely face cream (now cleverly renamed glow and lovely after severe social media backlash) used to portray dusky skinned girls as ‘undesirable’ for jobs, and when the same girl gets fairer skin (which we know is practically impossible) by using their face cream, she bags the job in a jiffy. Meritocracy is cleverly downplayed. Advertisements for Emami fair and handsome cream create and perpetuate similar binaries of dark-skin and fair-skin for men. Matrimonial ads still demand ‘fair-skinned bride’. This is colonization of the mind, and it will need great efforts from the society as a whole to be aware enough to oppose any and every act of such racial prejudice- be it subtle or outright.