Have you seen this advertisement from the skin care company Nivea?
The ad depicts a young clean cut brother chucking his curly counterpart – a beheaded doppelganger with full-blown afro and beard – into the distance. The caption reads, “LOOK like you GIVE a damn: RE-CIVILIZE YOURSELF.” Nivea is a German global skin and body care brand, whose name is derived from the Latin word niveus/nivea/niveum, meaning “snow-white”. Perfect.
Amid tremendous criticism and backlash about the ad, Nivea quickly issued a reconciliatory statement:
“We are deeply sorry to anyone who may take offense to this specific local advertisement. After realizing that this ad is misleading, it was immediately withdrawn.”
But is the advertisement misleading?
Efforts to “civilize” Africans through enslavement and colonization were justified by the likes of Englishman Rudyard Kipling (in his poem White Man’s Burden) as a necessary obligation. Several European nations, Germany included, embarked on campaigns to forcefully assimilate African people into what they professed to be advanced stages of social, cultural and moral development. This included coercing people into adopting and worshiping European religious beliefs, governmental structures and aspirations, while attempting to obliterate indigenous social, cultural and political mores. “Civilizing” missions also involved launching the decapitated heads of those who did not wish to assimilate into oblivion, as is depicted in this ad.
Beyond this historical correlation, the advertisement depicts a modern example of how an African man can go about civilizing himself. Nivea takes Kipling’s role by providing specific guidelines ushering black folk towards assimilation and modernization. Looking “like you give a damn,” presumably about your image, career or life is actually great advice, which is reinforced and institutionalized in schools, offices and police stations across America.
After all, 11-year-olds still get kicked out of school for wearing their hair in cornrows. Having a black-sounding name (or, indeed, being black) makes it harder to get a job and easier to get arrested. This is not Nivea’s doing. Their advertisement, simply provides a reality check – that looking, sounding, acting, or being black is a liability in the civilized world.
Nivea legitimately asserts that if you want to graduate, get a job, stay out of prison and be a productive member of this civilization – you should start by trimming your afro/braids/curls/locs into a clean-cut caesar (ladies get a perm), indicating to other civilized members of society that you give a damn about yourself. Furthermore, you should discard your former self by throwing his/her decapitated head into the snow-white abyss. To quote Charles Barkley, and to place this ridiculous ad in its proper historical context, “anything less would be uncivilized“.