How America bought and sold racism, and why it still matters


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I was shocked when my brother, who was working in Malaysia showed us a popular local toothpaste back in the 1980s… but then I remember the Black & White minstrels being on TV in the UK when I were a lad back in the late 1970s. The world can be so depressing.


Mammy, Uncle Tom, Sambo, pickaninny children, coon, Jezebel, Sapphire, and the black brute

That’s not just the spectrum of black stereotypes - it’s most of the spectrum of humanity. I’m sure a few archetypes are missing, but not many.


Yeah but acting like only black people have those traits, and all black people have them and can’t not be one of those stereotypes, is what makes them racist.


This kind of thing has an intimate reality in the USA, but elsewhere… countries have their own breeds of racism, and things like this are more abstract carractures. They don’t have an immediate bearing to what is going on in that country.


There’s a great exhibit of these racist materials at the Southeast Regional Black Archives at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Highly recommended if you’re interested in this subject and in the area.


Look through even a few of the more popular movies and novels that feature white people – let’s say Goldfinger, Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Catcher in the Rye, The Godfather, The Da Vinci Code, The Graduate, The Sound of Music, Titanic, Toy Story, Twilight. Do you really find that even the more stereotypical characters tend to be mainly presented in only those few ways?



Yep, you can still get “Darlie” toothpaste in China. The person on the box isn’t nearly as caricatured anymore, although, despite what wikipedia says, on first sight, I immediately took him for a black man.


Heiren (the Mandarin name) translates directly as black man. It also means a disgraced or unwanted person, much as the black in black sheep means disgraced. The picture seems irrelevant.


Yeah. My Chinese is far from great, but I did know all that. I showed (and mentioned) the picture simply because that’s what the product looks like now.

ETA: Actually, the bit about being a disgraced or unwanted person is probably fairly irrelevant as well, as far as the toothpaste goes. They’re not selling the toothpaste with the promise to give you the glamour of an unwanted person, but rather promising to make your teeth shine out like the darlies’ do.


Yeah. That puzzled me too. But the primary meaning of hei in conjunction with ren is disgraced or unwanted. Colours are always notoriously tricky to translate because of their cultural connotations.
However, I always thought that the attraction of racist stereotypes in marketing lay in the supposed (for some) humour of the stereotype itself and in their general reinforcement and not in any direct relation to the product being marketed.


Black people were once thought to have especially pearly white teeth. (At least this was the stereotype in the U.S., which has had it’s own very special relationship with those of African ancestry.) That’s the toothpaste connection. Admittedly, I’m not certain how this idea made it to China. American movies, perhaps?

ETA: Oh, just glanced at the Wikipedia page again, and noticed that Colgate announced that Darlie would not be sold outside of Asia. I’ve got an Australian friend who just found some available in Australia. It was admittedly in a Chinese store, but…


Back when I worked with antiques, we used to move a lot of the black caricature statues. We even shipped slave collars, shackles, and the like. The clients were on the whole very wealthy, old money types (average yearly income of $500k), which made the popularity of such items even more disturbing.


Oh, there’s meaning there.

I though it interesting that the company is still racist enough to keep advertising their brand version of blackface, but seemed to tone their mascot down from “monstrous foreign devil caricature” to a sort of “dapper fellow who may or may not be black”. Not sure what to make of it, but I wouldn’t call it irrelevant.


I simply meant that the picture does not help in the translation of the text.


Human visual systems being great at picking out contrasts, I’d imagine. White-ish teeth look brighter against a dark background than they do against a pale one.


What! Putting it down to simple human nature rather than a globe spanning conspiracy!


This belongs here.


I’m always a bit torn by the Austrian Hagenauer Native figures…
Some are caricatures, some are quite lovely.