When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong









The marketing execs at Nivea recently caught all kinds of flack for an ad they ran for their new campaign, “Look Like You Give a Damn.” The ad features a clean-shaven black man throwing a head of a black man with a fro, a beard, and a furrowed brow. The ad drives home the point with the slogan: “Re-Civilize Yourself.”

Although it’s no surprise to me that this ad has stirred up charges of “racism” from the Black community, I’m still disappointed that it has. The Urban Daily is one of many sites that have chosen sides on the controversy:

“Nivea wants black men to ‘re-civilize’ themselves by adhering to Nivea guidelines and style experts who think this is how a Black man should look.”

“The imagery coupled with the words offends me on several levels. For one, the implication that wearing an afro or beard is uncivilized is terribly ignorant. Dr. Cornel West, who sports a very prominent Afro and beard, is one of America’s foremost thinkers … you can hardly call him uncivilized.”

One writer even goes as far as to question whether Rihanna should drop her $5 million contract with Nivea due to its “racist” ad.

To even consider telling a successful black woman to ditch a multi-million dollar contract over your personal beef with Nivea is absurd. That’s hardly a decision you could make for someone else, let alone the highly unlikely chance that you would say no thank you to millions yourself.

So why do we feel the need to respond to every suspected incidence of racial offense, no matter how minor or inconsequential? And why didn’t any one of these writers acknowledge that Nivea also published an ad featuring a white man tossing the head of an untamed white face? Sometimes I feel like we, as Black people, act like an insecure teenage girl who at any given moment will be up in arms because some other girl looked at her “the wrong way” or is acting like she’s “all that.” Curtly put, this is petty people! Let’s act like grown folks and agree on a few facts:

1. If you go into a job interview with an untamed beard and long untamed hair, you will most likely not get the job, no matter how coarse or straight your hair is.

2. Dr. Cornel West, a prominent professor at Princeton University, philosopher, and activist, is unarguably a genius. He could show up in pajamas and we would still listen to what he had to say. This does not mean that if his IQ were lower, or equal to yours, he would get the job either!

3. Entrepreneurs, celebrities, and successful eccentrics are just that: exceptional! If you want to earn a living and be an individual, then you better be darn good at what you do, because, more often than not, the American workplace is a factory and we are all drones. If you want to beat the machine, you’re going to need some tools.

Once we’ve agreed on those three points we can move on to the more sensitive issues at play here. We — and I say we because I am including myself in this too — are sick of dominant culture pulling our strings and making us dance to their tune. I mean, who made them the deciders of everything anyway? Why can’t I wear my natural unkempt hair, name my child whatever ethnic name I choose, and keep it real without being considered ghetto, dangerous, or unsophisticated? This is very frustrating, and it’s a long and complex battle that most likely will only result in short victories in an already lost battle.

There are some Black people who seem to think they can actually solve this problem. To them I say, “Good luck.” But to think that this war can be won one Nivea ad or public racist misstatement at a time is a gross underestimation of the bigger issues at play.

Not every battle is worth fighting, and in this case I’m not sure there’s even a fight to be picked. Sometimes the victim becomes a bully due to the repressed anger they hold. I think Nivea was simply trying to attract a younger audience with a clever campaign. Their word choice for the black ad, “re-civilize,” is unfortunate and maybe careless, but racist is a stretch. They basically were saying young men are a bit slack when it comes to their grooming. Most young men, regardless of race, don’t like to shave or wear a tie. So it’s like a father saying, “Son, get it together! It’s time to grow up. Look like you give a damn.” It’s that simple.