In light of the media frenzy surrounding Nivea’s ad from Esquire magazine’s September 2011 issue which featured an African-American man holding a mask of what was the former him, donning a beard and an afro. The insensitive ad was urging Black men to “look like they give a damn” and even more brazenly stated: “Re-civilize Yourself.” Subsequent to the media backlash from those who were obviously hot and bothered by the ad, Nivea to issued the following apology [or pseudo-apology] via Facebook:
“Thank you for caring enough to give us your feedback about the recent ‘Re-civilized’ NIVEA FOR MEN ad. This ad was inappropriate and offensive. “It was never our intention to offend anyone, and for this we are deeply sorry. This ad will never be used again. Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of our company.”
In a similar series of events and within such a short time frame of the Nivea ad, word got out that Italian Vogue magazine had featured earrings that were to be referred to as “slave earrings.” The caption underneath the ad alluded to the idea that the earrings were supposed to be a celebratory expression of the decorative traditions of women of African descent who had been shipped to the Southern United States during the late 18th century. Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani also provided an apology:
“We apologise for the inconvenience. It is a matter of really bad translation from Italian into English. The Italian word, which defines those kind [sic] of earrings, should instead be translated into ‘ethnical style earrings.’ Again, we are sorry about this mistake which we have just amended in the website.”
That the ads incited the type of dialogue they did in the world of social media reinforces the usefulness of blogging, Twitter, Facebook and the like as tools for promoting social change. Though, it simultaneously proves that racism is not a thing of the past, as some would have us believe. It also proves that cultural insensitivity stills looms, even in companies whose mission statements may state the opposite. The quick apologies that were handed out by Nivea and Vogue representatives is indicative of the idea that apologies can sometimes be weightless and used for the purpose of “saving face,” if they are not supported by something more than an insignificant “we apologize for the inconvenience.” For those on the receiving end of these seemingly harmless ads, it is more than just a mere inconvenience. It is emblematic of all that we wish to overcome – coming back to haunt us…over and over again. For many of us they question remains, when will they get it? When will the pain and humiliation begin to resonate with others? The apologies simply do not suffice. And, to think these types of ads were found in some of the most popular of print magazines. Correct me if I’m wrong but, aren’t there editing and approval processes that need to be adhered to as part of either of their companies’ protocols. If that is the case, you mean to tell me that no one saw something wrong with either of the ads? These indeed are some interesting times.