An open letter to Dove



Dear Dove People 

For a couple of days now we’ve watched mainstream media appallingly and carefully whitewash your recent racist commercial, dressing it with pretty words such as “tone deaf” and “racially sensitive” and our personal favourite, “missed the mark,” instead of calling it what it really is — a commercial that embeds the historically Eurocentric and racist standards of beauty.

Taken out of a page from the 1800s or shall we say a quick plunge into 2011, where you launched the Visible Care commercial which like, this new one, communicated a subliminal message that whiteness is “real beauty” and one to aspire to. Nostalgia became too attractive to ignore huh.

Also, did you think we wouldn’t notice that the t-shirts were reflective of skin tones? Again, emphasising the narrative that whiteness is better. And what does ‘Normal to Dark skin’ mean?

Did you think we have forgotten? How can we, when you so sincerely apologised?

“We believe that real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes, colours and ages and are committed to featuring realistic and attainable images of beauty in all our advertising. We are also dedicated to educating all women and girls to build a positive relationship with beauty, to help raise self-esteem and enable them to realise their full potential.”

This is what you said, remember? So, pray tell, how do you then “miss the mark” twice, TWICE this century alone? Also, this speaks volumes to the kind of panel that is responsible for your decision-making, perhaps it needs a revamp, yes?

This time around though we refuse your unapologetic apology, quite frankly, we do not need it. Our sorry acceptance vault is pretty full and exactly would you have us do with it?

For centuries, we have been subjected to ridicule over our skin, our hair and body shapes, hell, white supremacy has even succeeded in training us to hate ourselves for how we were created and aspire to European aesthetics.

Some of ours even died for merely having more melanin in their skins. This logic that whiteness is superior solely because of lack of melanin is hysterically baffling. Do you see the irony here.

Yes, you have the backing of many who believe you’ve done no wrong, but we all know that white supremacy takes pride in preserving its racist ideologies. And yes, Lola Ogunyemi has come forward to talk about the misinterpretation of the overall concept, which happened because we were initially presented with an incomplete picture but you know what, having an Asian or other “different races” in it does not erase the racist nuances attached to the ad in its entirety.

You even had a backing of our local celebrity, Khanyi Mbau who trolled us, saying we “need to chill”. Her stance is laughable but we can’t blame her though, she is deeply embroiled in the heart of the monster that your ancestors created. Skin lightening is the worst fatal form of oppression that feeds into the deep-rooted self-esteem issues dark-skinned people are forced to endure, this is a fact that those who fall trap of it choose to deny and run away from.

The greatest act of self-love is the one in which we allow ourselves to own our beauty for what it is naturally. But when centuries’ worth of teachings tell us we are erred in our creations, that in order to be beautiful, we have to be light skinned, tall and thin with straightened flowy hair, how do we possibly love ourselves?

If every day of your lives, you were told & shown that having more melanin was the quintessential standard of beauty, would you not doubt yourselves? Would you not hate your pale skins? Would you perhaps sit more on the tanning beds?

And while it is theoretically a very great thought to boycott you and your parent company, it is just not going to happen because reality is the system in which you benefit from ensures that African manufacturers can’t compete with established brands (such as yourselves) – most of which do not cater for any of our needs in any kind of way.

Through various local beauty exhibitions and conversations with African manufacturers, we’ve learnt that the reason behind the high prices of most organic African beauty products is the high costs of production, marketing and shipping.

Besides a challenge of accessibility, they have to grapple with White Monopoly Capital — which all of a sudden happen to realise the value of our existence as humans and consumers. Because you have just realised that we set the trends, dictate popular culture and demand what’s due to us.

Is the presence of more African manufacturers in the beauty space shaking you up? Is it why you often find yourselves “missing the mark”?

When you and your friends, the likes of Pepsi and others sit at the big guys table, do you joke with pride about how you disrespect us? About how the system that favours you and puts you first, always, constantly place barriers to ensure that Africans who run potentially competitive beauty businesses can’t cross over? About how they’re not taken seriously because, you know, they’re not at your level, they’re are not you and they are not empowered to be you? About how you take joy in pretending to value our kind of beauty while subtly teaching us to alter ourselves to meet your racist ideas of beauty? About how the media is always armed and ready to fight your battles and alienate anyone who tries to call you out on your bullshit? About how it works in your favour when we are automatically and aggressively reduced to ‘angry black women’ when we call out your bullshit? About how happy you are that you continuously fuel a divisive culture?

Everybody is talking about how you can “do better” but are you willing to do better? Will you do better?

While you mull over the next plan of action, remember:


This article was written in collaboration with Mamaili Mamaila of MamailiOnline.

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