Nivea: Racist Advertizement or Racist Civilization?

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 After realizing that this ad is misleading, it was immediately withdrawn.”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“.

11 Comments to ‘Nivea: Racist Advertizement or Racist Civilization?’:

  1. Maya Freelon Asante on 19 Aug 2011 at 11:32 am: 1

    That head being chucked looks like a combo of both my brothers! Side note- they are both professors at the collegiate level. Shame makes you hate who you are. I had a recent convo with two 7 year old boys (one coco brown and one butter pecan, both Black) Butter asked Coco to put out his hand, then asked me who’s hand I thought looked dirtier. Butter said Coco’s hand surely looked dirtier than his, even though they were both clean. Later I overheard Coco say to butter “I wish I had hair like yours”. Butter responded “I think blond hair would look really strange on Black skin”. We need more pride in our multi-hues and styles. Children pickup self-hate early. And we often think about Black girls, beauty and identity, but it’s just as important to instill pride for young boys. And on another sad but true natural note…TSA is physically and publicly patting down sistas with natural puffs!

  2. Pierce on 19 Aug 2011 at 1:18 pm: 2

    Crazy. Lol, I just noticed.. Barkley says in the commercial:

    “in a civilized society a personal grooming lapse can result in a mortifying loss of station”

    like, a loss of one’s head from their neck. Civilization sure is barbaric!

  3. Jay on 22 Aug 2011 at 6:47 am: 3

    I think this article does a good job of expounding on why this is racist, linking it to a recent article in the times about “black dandies.” This ad is a problem not only because it suggests afros and beards are uncivilized; rather, its a problem additionally because other black people are endorsing the same mentality!

  4. Lee Cantweil on 22 Aug 2011 at 1:10 pm: 4

    The ad is blatantly racist, as are most advertising agencies. There are few minorities among the ranks of agency creatives and/or account executives, and there is little or no sensitivity to racial issues. There is also a tinge – just a tinge – of anti-Semitism at work in most agencies. The only minority that escapes are LGBT since many in the industry are gay.

    Disgusting ad. Disgusting agency. Disgusting product – don’t buy it.

  5. Asafo Asante Diop on 24 Aug 2011 at 3:47 pm: 5

    This is nothing new or surprising. the Germans have been exdploiting and murdering and displacing African people since World War 1. The Herero and Namaqua Genocide is considered to have been the first genocide of the 20th century. It took place between 1904 and 1907 in German South-West Africa (modern day Namibia), during the scramble for Africa.

    On January 12, 1904, the Herero people, led by Samuel Maharero, rebelled against German colonial rule. In August, German general Lothar von Trotha defeated the Herero in the Battle of Waterberg and drove them into the desert of Omaheke, where most of them died of thirst. In October, the Nama people also rebelled against the Germans only to suffer a similar fate.

    In total, from 24,000 up to 100,000 Herero perished along with 10,000 Nama. The genocide was characterized by widespread death by starvation and thirst because the Herero who fled the violence were prevented from returning from the Namib Desert. Some sources also claim that the German colonial army systematically poisoned desert wells.

    In 1985, the United Nations’ Whitaker Report classified the aftermath as an attempt to exterminate the Herero and Nama peoples of South-West Africa, and therefore one of the earliest attempts of genocide in the 20th century. The German government recognized and apologized for the events in 2004, but has ruled out a financial compensation for the victims’ descendants.

  6. Erin on 24 Oct 2011 at 1:17 pm: 6

    I agree that this ad is racist and disgusting, and I will not buy Nivea products in the future because of it. I want to respectfully take issue with Lee Cantweil’s comment about LGBT people in the media. Like most other minorities, LGBT folks are consistently stereotyped and under-represented in the media. The comment also makes it sound like the LGBT community is racist and responsible for this ad, and I don’t think there is any proof of this. I think that if minority groups are going to get anywhere in fighting systems of oppression, such as the advertising industry, we have to unite and not place blame on one another.

  7. T Silver on 26 Nov 2011 at 11:27 am: 7

    Wondering how many people had to sign off on this before the ad made it into production and eventually into the marketplace. Speaks to the necessity of diversity/inclusion programs in schools and places of business.

  8. Crish Bronze on 28 Nov 2011 at 4:41 am: 8

    Its depends on you, weather you want to go with this ad and buy Nivea products or you against such promotions.

  9. nulove on 28 Jan 2012 at 4:18 am: 9

    I’m not touching their products! if that’s what they represent, there is not telling what chemical harm they may be causing to our community through they’re products…… I know my sister used to break out everytime she used it.
    I too thank you for sharing the supporting details in this article, its important for us to refer to history so that it does not repeat itself.

  10. Tia on 27 Feb 2012 at 8:43 pm: 10

    I’m never buying Nivea again.

  11. venezuela on 13 Oct 2012 at 10:50 pm: 11

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Published on August 19, 2011 at 10:14 am. 11 Comments.
Filed under mainstream culture,racism,ridiculousness.