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Re-civilise who?!

Posted by: Khatija

Khatija

A black person can call another black person a n*gg**, a white person cant.  A black person can refer to another black person’s hair as nappy, a white person cant.  A black person can joke with another black person about being uncivilised, No, Nivea, you can’t!

I didn’t invent the rules; I’m just playing the game.

Skin-care specialists, Nivea’s, “Re-civilize yourself: look like you give a damn” campaign was recently banned after a controversial advert contrasting two African-American men was published. 

One clean-shaven, well dressed, supposedly, ‘civilised’ man holding the head (possibly his own) of a seemingly angry, nappy-headed, supposedly, ‘uncivilised’ man. 

There are two problems with this advert; firstly, it is the use of the black man in an already race-sensitive world.  I am arguing here that had it been a white man, carrying another white man’s head, the advert would have aroused a different reaction. 

Both African and American continents grapple with a history of segregation, the people of colour in those continents store memories of being called names such as baboons, barbarians and uncivilised.  I guess it can be described as a case of forgiven but not forgotten. 

Not only is it too soon to be making references such as these in an advert but it can also be interpreted as unnecessary, racist and unethical.

The second problem is the tag line: “Re-civilize yourself.”  This is what caused all the commotion.  Is Nivea saying that by using their product, male customers transform from uncivilised to civilised?  The use of another word, such as “Re-invent” instead of “Re-civilize” would have made all the difference.

The public condemned the ad campaign on facebook by posting pictures of themselves and celebrities with afros celebrating beautiful, talented, civilised African-American actors and highly-esteemed university graduates. 

Nivea then posted an apology on their facebook page which read:
Thank you for caring enough to give us your feedback about the recent "Re-civilized" NIVEA FOR MEN ad. This ad was inappropriate and offensive. It was never our intention to offend anyone, and for this we are deeply sorry. This ad will never be used again. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of our company.
I’m sure those responsible for the advert are an intelligent and creative bunch.  Did they sign off on the advert with the intention of purposefully rustling the feathers of readers?

The Constitution of South Africa states that “No person may publish, propagate, advocate or communicate words based on one or more of the prohibited grounds, against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to be hurtful, be harmful or incite harm, or to promote or propagate hatred.

It is the last part of the law that I want to focus on, the emphasis on “...something that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to be hurtful, harmful or incite harm.”
This leads to deeper questions in media law such as who decides whether or not it can reasonably be construed as hateful or harmful.  We will not delve into that.
The point is that the advert was released and published, it passed sub-editors and editors.  Whether it was done intentionally to cause a stir and get people talking or as a harmless satire we do not know.
Until next time
Khatija
Comments (1)Add Comment
Dissol
...
written by Dissol, August 27, 2011
I think it is a mark of how comfortable we are with each others' differences when we are able to joke about them. I played rugby with some Nigerian brothers in the UK - we knew each other well enough we could joke - they called me things like "chalkie", and suggested that my pale blue skin would take a week to go white in the sun. I referred to one of them as "Arthur", after Arthur Skargill, the NUM leader of the time. When I worked in England, I was often called the "jock" on the farm...and of having short arms & deep pockets like others from Scotland...I would fire back jokes such as "how do you get 4 Englishmen into a car? Put 1 in & promote him & the other 3 will crawl up his arse". A good pal calls me "Raspberry" now, and in "Raspberry Ripple = Cripple" in rhyming slang. No offence is meant or taken. We do need to celebrate and be comfortable with one another's differences...and joking about them is a sign that we are comfortable...

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