It’s hard to believe that given today’s racial climate, companies are still “missing the mark” when it comes to product campaigns that deal with diversity; or rather, product campaigns that deal with their idea of diversity. Pepsi felt the heat earlier this year when it pegged Kendall Jenner, a woman whose family is considered the biggest perpetrators of culturally appropriating all things black, as the saving grace to end the racial divide.

To say that the commercial didn’t go over well is an understatement. Now, another company who supposedly prides itself on being diverse is under fire for a Facebook ad that definitely sends a conflicting, questionable message. Dove has pissed off a lot of people of color (POC) because they insinuated that black is dirty and white, well, that’s pure and holy.

Whenever these things happen, I try to be objective. Do I immediately jump on the defense and call these situations out as racist attacks on black people? Not necessarily. Truthfully, for the most part, I don’t see every instance like this one as blatant displays of purposeful racism. I do, however, believe that these situations are the result of a system of racism that so heavily influences our society that its mechanisms are interwoven into the fabric of America. That fact can make it very easy for white people’s attempt at diversity to fall flat. Indeed, some white people are so tone deaf to the effects of institutionalized racism that they don’t even realize they are performing actions that can be interpreted as racist. Now, this is not an excuse for their ill attempts, but

That fact can make it very easy for white people’s attempt at diversity to fall flat. Indeed, some white people are so tone deaf to the effects of institutionalized racism that they don’t even realize they are performing actions that can be interpreted as racist. Now, this is not an excuse for their ill attempts, but the commentary on the work that still needs to be done in that community when it comes to real diversity. Which brings me to a couple of key reasons these situations happen in the first place.

Content like the one Dove had to apologize for is created because of a lack of representation. Willful ignorance is also at play. It is very hard for me to believe that had people of color been a part of the initial conversation, this ad would have seen the light of day. That fact mixed with the reality that far too many white folks don’t take racism seriously is a losing combination on the diversity front. The more truly diverse a company is, with POC in places of creative input, the more an understanding can take place. Understanding is the start of real change, and clearly, too many companies lack the proper thoughtfulness to know that content like that which Dove created is always a no go.

When it comes down to it, if a brand genuinely wants to integrate a diverse approach to what they do, then they would do their research to know the history of this kind of advertisement and what it means. While there are some things in society whose meaning has changed, the word bitch is a good example of that; racist propaganda is not one of them. And if you look back at the way print ads made fun of and degraded black people, you would get why it’s such a big deal. Products like Cook’s Lightening Soap were geared toward black people, encouraging them to do all that they could to have lighter skin.

Lighter has always been considered better so white advertisers took their disgust for the black man, wrapped it in self-hate fueled promises and packaged it all as the way to gain acceptance. With the colorism that still goes on in the black community, the need to have more socially acceptable skin is a burning issue. So when you add in the fact that Dove lacked the knowledge to foresee how their “innocent” blunder would affect POC, it’s easier to grasp why there is a segment of black folks who are not having it.

Products like Cook’s Lightening Soap were geared toward black people, encouraging them to do all that they could to have lighter skin. Lighter has always been considered better so white advertisers took their disgust for the black man, wrapped it in self-hate fueled promises and packaged it all as the way to gain acceptance. With the colorism that still goes on in the black community, the need to have more socially acceptable skin is a burning issue. So when you add in the fact that Dove lacked the knowledge to foresee how their “innocent” blunder would affect POC, it’s easier to grasp why there is a segment of black folks who are not having it.

It’s such a fine line we all walk today. POC are touchy right now. Given the current atmosphere created by both suspecting and unsuspecting members of the dominant society (white people), it’s not hard to comprehend our angst. Thus, those who make the mistakes have to do more than just say, “I’m sorry.” They must show a good faith effort that they are willing to address the root of the problem and start from there.

dove apologizes for latest ad

The misstep that is the controversial Facebook ad is not the only sign that the people at Dove have a questionable paradigm about color as it pertains to “good” and “bad.” On the label of their Summer Glow lotion, they explicitly say, “For normal to dark skin,” communicating that dark skin is not normal skin.

It’s the perfect example that diversity doesn’t start on paper or on the screen. To have real characters, authentic representation, and cross-cultural content, diversity starts in the creative room. Without it, companies and brands will continue to find themselves in these kinds of messy situations.

My suggestion to Dove is to go all the way back to the drawing board and gain some perspective because at this point, meaning to and not meaning to is irrelevant in the grand scheme of what actually happened. There is a great need for non-people of color to be more cognizant of how they move in a world so caught up on race. Period.

The actress in the ad stated this:

While I agree with Dove’s response to unequivocally apologize for any offense caused, they could have also defended their creative vision, and their choice to include me, an unequivocally dark-skinned black woman, as a face of their campaign. I am not just some silent victim of a mistaken beauty campaign. I am strong, I am beautiful, and I will not be erased.

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