This Dove Ad Isn't Racist -- but Unilever's Overseas Skin-Lightening Business Is

Last Updated May 24, 2011 2:31 PM EDT

A Dove ad that arguably implies the Unilever (UL) product can wash black skin white almost certainly isn't racist despite the criticism it's attracted. But it may draw attention to something else that is shamefully racist: Unilever's sale of skin-whitening creams in Asia.

Gawker called the ad "(unintentionally) racist"; a protest email making its way around the blogosphere says "While I suspect there was no ill-intent, the subtle message that perfect (white) skin is the ultimate goal of using Dove offends me."

This puts Unilever in the impossible situation of being accused of something that even its detractors admit it's not guilty of. The notion that Dove makes dark skin lighter, or black skin cleaner, is something that the viewer has brought to the ad, not the company. Dove is merely guilty of using a three models in the "wrong" order. (There's a stronger argument to be made that the "sassy" pose of the black model next to the more demure stances of the lighter-skinned models is a lot more racist than any skin-cleansing message.) It's a case of no good deed goes unpunished -- the campaign is based on Dove's commitment to using "real" women in its ads rather than professional models.

This is all trivia next to the overtly racist thing that Unilever does intentionally, sell skin-whitening products in Asia. You can check out the Vaseline Facebook app that whitens your profile photo here. Hindustan Unilever's skin-whitening products can be seen here.

Unilever isn't the only company selling skin-whiteners -- here's an appalling ad for SkinWhite by Splash Corp. of the Philippines (click to enlarge). "Everyone else is doing it" isn't an excuse, of course. But Unilever doesn't need an excuse as long as we're all focused on their perceived injustices and not its actual ones.

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