So I was showing pictures of the ol’ former life to a Chinese friend of mine the other night. The collection included a few shots of my friend Lashon, who is black. “She’s pretty,” my Chinese friend said. “Great smile. Such white teeth!”
She proceeded to tell me about the toothpaste she uses, the Chinese name of which literally translates as “Black Man’s Toothpaste.” Apparently it’s one of the best-selling brands in China. How did I not know about this?? To say I was dumbfounded would be an understatement. I was also [insert as many synonyms for “appalled” as you can here]. All I could do was smile in shock. (I don’t know how white my teeth looked.)
Just did some research. Here’s a picture:
Here’s the Wiki article. And here’s more from Newsweek, which wrote about the controversy surrounding the brand in 2010. Some highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be):
- Darlie used to be called Darkie. According to the book America Brushes Up: The Uses and Marketing of Toothpaste and Toothbrushes in the Twentieth Century, the CEO of Hawley & Hazel saw blackface performer Al Jolson in the U.S. and thought, “Jolson’s wide smile and bright teeth would make an excellent toothpaste logo.” He was right: the firm now claims to be one of the market leaders of toothpaste products in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia.
- China is not exactly a paradise of racial harmony. While the crucial dichotomy in China is between Chinese and non-Chinese, many blacks face discrimination in the country. A Ghanaian who lives in China and asked to remain anonymous told NEWSWEEK that a prospective employer told him, “We can’t hire you because you’re black.”
- The Chinese don’t view the toothpaste’s name as something reprehensible. “To most people in China it wouldn’t even occur to them that Black People Toothpaste is offensive,” says P. T. Black, who researches Chinese consumers. [Note the researcher’s last name. Talk about truth being stranger than fiction!…]
How do you say “so wrong” in Mandarin?