— The Dove advert controversy: how to ignore reality and fake racism for your own benefit —
This week one of the world’s largest corporations, whose existence depends on pleasing millions of customers, brazenly released an advertisement showing it believes black people are inferior to white people. Despite their marketing team being the best in the business, aware of all the nuances and sensitivities that now make up the ever-expanding minefield that is modern-day identity politics, they rashly exposed their vile racism to the world, expressing a dislike of those with brown skin and showing a preference for those they consider to be lovely and white.
That this didn’t in fact happen hasn’t stopped hundreds of thousands of people believing it did. Cue outrage. Cue Twitter storm. Cue the corporation being bent firmly over a barrel and issuing a statement of contrition about something it did not do.
Unilever’s brief Facebook advert for its Dove body wash shows three women in quick succession, each taking off their t-shirt. As the first takes off hers, she transforms – through the marvels of computer editing – into the second woman, wearing a t-shirt. Similarly, the second into the third. The first has dark brown skin, the second pinky-white skin, the third, brown skin.
When I first heard about this controversy, the very first thing I wanted to do was to see the advert. I wanted to assess the evidence in order to make an informed decision. Isn’t that what anyone would want to do, before responding? Evidently not, as we’ll see. The full advert, which didn’t appear in either the main news reports or in the mass of irate tweets, wasn’t too hard to find. For example, here it is.
Up till then, I, and every other reader, was lead to believe that a single image from the advert, or a repeating GIF image showing only the transformation from the black woman into the white one, was all the information needed in deciding the advert is racist. The actual advert, and its clear message, is very different from how it was often reported or tweeted about. The truth about the advert is as I’ve described. Three women, of those colours, in that order. The still image and the GIF omit the context and in doing so wilfully mislead. They focus on the black woman’s transition into a white woman, in an attempt to show that Dove was suggesting that being black is inferior and – in some way related to using the lotion – it’s better to white. Yet the white woman then morphed into someone with darker skin than hers, thereby negating the idea that Dove had it in for anyone not white. You get the idea. Used to support a claim of racism – a very serious allegation – the GIF and the still image are undoubtedly outright lies, manipulations of the truth to serve an end.
Even the black woman in the advert, Lola Ogunyemi, later said that the advert wasn’t racist and its sole message was that whatever the colour of your skin, Dove is good for you. Yet even her opinion was twisted by some news outlets. See for example Yahoo! News which, again by misleading through omission, lied that Ogunyemi had said she wouldn’t have appeared in the advert if she’d known beforehand it was racist.
The whole thing started when a newly-signed up Twitter user @NayTheMUA posted the lie, perhaps an expert piece of trolling. Thereafter it was simply a case of those eager to do so lapping it up, behaving in a way not dissimilar to Pavlov’s dogs. It snowballed. Yet they could have made the effort to see the full advert. But why bother with that, when it’s far easier and more satisfying to believe a simple story about the world, that it’s full of bigoted people bent on oppressing the good. That story can give meaning to your life, without having to go to the trouble of understanding all the real subtleties, complexities and contradictions of existence.
Accusations of racism are immensely powerful today, despite too often coming from a relatively small but evidently much feared section of society. They readily swallow the narrative that racism must be lurking almost everywhere, even when many claims are supported by nothing but thin air. Subject to their whims, even the most powerful and influential companies and individuals are reduced to wretched, trembling idiots, cowering in a corner, scared of the gnashing teeth of the ferocious hounds they see closing in.
Dove cowered in a corner like an idiot. Without explicitly agreeing that the advert was racist, they posted two tweets. They got it wrong, they said. Sorry for any offence, they said. Yet there was no explanation from them of how or why they’d got it wrong. No good explanation exists. Yet they were eager to pander to those accusing them, without any evidence, of causing offence. That is worrying.
Or perhaps offence is now something that doesn’t need to be justified, even for a second. That increasingly appears to be the case. You can now report a hate incident to the UK police even if the person you believe to be the victim of hate never felt offence. And the police cannot doubt you, otherwise they themselves are deemed to be contributing to the hate. Some, when confronted with the full advert, merely claimed that those disagreeing with them would never understand their feeling of offence. That’s not the way a problem can be solved, never mind a way to ever live together harmoniously, each conscious of their responsibilities as well as their rights. It’s just stating one’s identity as a member of a group and setting that group forever against those outside it. It’s an approach based on preconceived ideas, opposed to real dialogue, and held with the inflexible belief of a fanatic, one who believes the truth has been revealed to them and that the world is largely benighted in ignorance. Armed with their revelations they attempt to force them on others, with a bucket-load of emotion, not the reason and objectivity that used to be the admirable guide of those on the left.
Those who called this advert racist were quite prepared to exploit a very serious issue – racism – in a situation which wasn’t racist. I doubt those who suffer from actual racism feel much confidence in many of those who purport to be anti-racists, whose integrity and competence can so easily be called into question in such incidents as this.
And, for the larger population, such absurd accusations trivialise the problem of racism in people’s minds. Most know this isn’t a racist advert and saying it is makes them sceptical and distrusting of genuine anti-racism campaigns and groups, thereby undermining their effectiveness. Those on the left with integrity and intelligence should not condone those who call this advert racist. They should vehemently oppose such a mindset as a symptom of indulgent self-regard.
Companies like Unilever, and there have been others in the past and there are more to come, are, through their weakness and sycophancy, giving succour to obsessives and in the process damaging the work of good people. Thankfully, increasing numbers of prominent liberal-minded individuals are starting to speak out about how deranged this is all becoming.
“Anti-racism is apparently no longer a fight to transcend racial divisions, to demand equal rights and equal treatment regardless of ethnicity or race. Instead, it is a fight to decide who is the most oppressed and thus most in need of help and resources.”
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