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Nivea's 'White Is Purity' Campaign Hits A Nerve With Anyone Who's Faced Colour Discrimination In Their Own Communities

06/04/2017 11:31 | Updated 06 April 2017

My whole life, I've had to deal with various comments about my skin colour.

I've had to listen to other people's beauty being framed in terms of their shade - 'she's so fair, she's beautiful' or 'he's so dark, he's ugly.'

I haven't heard these comments on the streets of London, or in some Little Britain village - these comments have all come from fellow Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans. A hell of a lot come from family and their friends.

The first was when I was eight and got dark from playing tennis outdoors ('you look like a black twig') and the most recent came from my Middle Eastern Uber driver two days ago who called me 'chocolate girl'. My Asian friends have all faced similar delightful experiences especially when they go 'back to the motherland' or attend community events.

I don't know why my skin colour - or anyone else's for that matter - is up for debate since I had about as much say over it as my height, but I do know that in South East Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Africa, we have a serious, cultural problem in that the fairer your skin, the more beautiful you are considered to be.

We deify white skin which is pretty fucked up when you consider that colonialism wasn't that long ago, and that its negative economic and sociological impact still reverberates through former colonies.

So when I saw Nivea's 'White is Purity' deodorant ad campaign, it was hard to not loudly proclaim WTF GUYS. Anyone whose synapses are still firing in their brain should realise the terrible history and connotations of the 'white is right, and dark is bad' ideology. You don't need to have a history degree or a module in post-colonial literature to know this.

And I'm glad some people did make a fuss about it.

The brand has since apologised - intending it to refer to marks made on dark clothing rather than skin colour - but considering the campaign was aimed at the Middle Eastern market, where shadism and skin bleaching is alive and well - one might argue the damage has already been done.

But this is yet more evidence of why it is dangerously irresponsible to not have diverse teams in advertising and marketing. And for any forward-thinking brand, you simply cannot financially afford to have these huge campaigns that are so horribly out of touch with reality.

Just think about the amount of money Pepsi will lose from having to pull its controversial Kendall Jenner ad, and the damage control Nivea will have to do in earning trust back (not to mention also losing money from having to pull their ad).

Over the last couple of weeks, I've hosted two sessions at Ad Week and DIMA, which looked at why it's important to have representation from the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities) in marketing and advertising.

It's not just so that ads can be more inclusive, altrustic and reach wider audiences, for instance in the way Sport England's This Girl Can did.

It's so that you can draw from different points of view, and wider opinion in the meeting room.

So that you can head off ridiculous, batshit ideas before they go anywhere outside the room, that you can nervously laugh off in the pub, thankful it didn't go any further than that.

Because I can't believe that a person of colour was in the room when Nivea came up with the 'White is purity' idea and signed it off.

Because even if you are the most well-adjusted person and comfortable in your skin, there is not a single one among us that - upon encountering things like this - doesn't feel the long arm of history reaching out to us, a prickle on the back of our necks that by virtue of our dark skin, we are not good enough. Not enough time has passed yet for this to not be so.

There is a lot of education and attitude-adjustment that needs to be done within our own communities I'll grant you. But when I'm shouting at an aunt for saying I look 'burned' (it's a tan, FFS), that's one thing. She's my relative and stuck to me like a barnacle.

But when I have to decide what to spend my money on, and in 2017, that brand is demonstrating such a lack of awareness about my identity and who I am as a person?

They can quite frankly get in the bin.

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