Casual Racism in Advertising

January 13, 2010
Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta

While walking back from work, at my local chemist, I spotted this advertisement which I photographed for posterity.

This totally blew me away and I blogged it at face book saying this:

“This is WTF on so many levels. Not least because of massive confusion between dermatology, geography, language and racism. What the hell is Arabic or Asian skin?”

I got some really interesting comments and the heartfelt fulminations such as:

    • I think they mean if your skin is darker - I guess they could have said mediterranean or south american too :)
      are they trying to whiten it? What the fuck for?
    • this is presumably people with dark skin wanting to whiten or lighten their skins. MORONS!, I have a better idea, how about DULUX? they do a great line in white paint. in Matt, Satin or Smooth finish even.
    • I'm in india and cant find a facewash without a whitener in it...its all about being fair here...
    • I know that a TV commercial got banned in India for this product. In the commercial, a dark skinned lady went for a job interview and got rejected. She used the cream, got lighter, went back to the interview and got the job. Absolutely horrific that (a) companies make this product (b) people buy them! This whole inferiority about being dark skinned... See More has been externally imposed upon dark skinned people for centuries, now we seen to be sustaining the complex internally. It MUST be challenged, first and foremost by ourselves - people are beautiful no matter what color skin they have, have we not learned that yet?
    • Wow!! Some deep shit right here Bhaskar.
    • it's horrid!! In India this is rampant for fairness, yeah?
      In Cambodia, I found Paula's Pinky Nipple cream so dark skinned people could ... you know, be like white people ... even there! horrid.
    • WTF indeed. us dark skins aren't safe here too now eh? good grief!

My brother in law, Sameer Bhargava, sent me this link to a You Tube Video:



This is horrible, to see these morons all gallivanting around trying to get fair. I knew about this phenomena in India but Arabic? So it proves from this story about how Palestinian women are also busy slathering this gunk on their faces to become whiter. I quote:

“I admit it. I want to change my complexion,” Ms. Suleiman, a sociology student at Al-Quds Open University, explains with a sheepish smile. She and a classmate sport Islamic head scarves and a significant coat of makeup, also aimed at a lighter-skinned appearance. “Palestinian men like brunettes,” she says, “but they want light skin.”

The article also quotes another writer:

“Lebanese standards of beauty and complexion have taken the Arab world by storm since the resurgence of the Lebanese in media ... further limiting the accepted definition of beauty as light-skinned, catty-eyed and slim-nosed. Fair & Lovely, a popular whitening cream, advertises itself on Arabic TV when a model is rejected for being too dark, only to be ecstatically accepted after a few weeks of applying the magic cream.”

This seems to be a pretty normal problem with Arab teenagers. Here’s a very good article on how an Arab American Lebanese teenager felt while growing up and the impact on skin colour. Strongly suggest readers read these 4-5 pages. While I can understand the background to this, this wanting to fit in with the white Americans does not apply to people in say Palestine. For them, it must be because of attainment hero’s and heroines such as Ms. Wehebe which they see on TV and want to become like that. How about sending Ms. Naomi Cambell to the TV studios? 

And while researching this topic, found that Wikipedia had a full fledged entry on skin whitening.  Reading the variety of crud that goes into these cosmetics is simply horrifying. And to think that people slop mercury and acids on their skin, these film stars push these products and the stupid girls get taken in by this. Plus there are 1.6 million hits on “skin whitening” not counting the hits for other terms that Google helpfully suggests:

skin lightening pills
skin lightening tips
natural skin lightening
skin lightening cream

proactiv skin lightening lotion
skin bleaching

So nice. When women use this crud, this photograph shows what can happen as written in a Tanzanian site:

Talking about Africa, my friend, Vikram Doctor (who btw has a planet sized brain with the most amazing stories), told me about the Aparthied Museum in Jo’burg. This museum was made by this family who made millions by selling creams to South Africans who would want to pass as whites for obvious reasons. I have not seen this museum, but the next time I am out there, i will definitely go check it out.

This syndrome seems to be all over the damn world. Here’s an article on the skin lightening market in Japan, use in Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, China / Hong Kong, etc.. The same kind of feeling was in China as well, where women would prefer to be foot bounded and very pale skin to show that they are rich enough not to work in the fields and presumably get tanned.

But while there have been tons of medical articles, I was simply unable to find solid well researched academic articles from the sociology, anthropology, history, psychology or other areas which could shed more light on this issue. Why would this be the case? I immediately jumped to the conspiracy theory that its the cosmetic and pharmacy industry which stops this research from happening. But surely this isn't the case. While, for example, the NHS does state clearly that this kind of skin lightening stuff should not be used, why isn't there more research on this?

There are also tons of legal judgements. In other words, people are buying this stuff enough to make economic sense out of counterfeiting them. If there was not enough demand, then you counterfeit this stuff, would you? So this also goes to show that the creams and potions are sold at an absurdly high price.

And all this while, we have this crap showing on TV, in our films, in our songs and even casually walking up and down the high streets. Disgusting.

Dr. Bhaskar Dasgupta works in the city of London in various capacities in the financial sector. He has worked and travelled widely around the world. The articles in here relate to his current studies and are strictly his opinion and do not reflect the position of his past or current employer(s). If you do want to blame somebody, then blame my sister and editor, she is responsible for everything, the ideas, the writing, the quotes, the drive, the israeli-palestinian crisis, global warming, the ozone layer depletion and the argentinian debt crisis.
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