How Far Have We Really Come?

Advertisements that were focused on African Americans used offensive, cliche language and fed on the insecurities of a group struggling to find it's place and voice in America.

When advertisers first started using black people in their advertisements, they were poorly speaking stereotypes, like well known icon Aunt Jemima. Aunt Jemima was a typical "mammy", focused on domestic tasks - well, only one, really -making pancakes. It was common for African American likenesses to be used for food items, particularly "comfort foods".

(Energizing pancakes? Indeed - sugar was long advertised as a health food, providing needed energy to your family and children!)

Aunt Jemima has changed over the years, going from "mammy" to more of a housewife, and you'll find no apologies from the company that created her - they are proud of their heritage and claim "The Aunt Jemima products continue to stand for warmth, nourishment and trust – qualities you’ll find in loving moms from diverse backgrounds who care for and want the very best for their families." Lawsee we sho' do!

"Happy Husband! Thrives on home cookin' ... knows he's saving money." In this Aladdin ad we again see the use of shortened, slang type language used to advertise to African Americans, a trend which unfortunately has not died out in our society. The wife knows her role- to make her husband happy (with food!) and not waste any of that money he's bringing home. Aladdin thermos ads were occasonally questionable, like this one eluding to domestic abuse.

Skin lightening creams and treatments are marketed to all women for things like sunspots and blemishes; after all, who doesn't want the milky white skin that poets write about? For ethnic women, the issue is not just skin deep. As African Americans struggled to find equality in America, advertisements from as early as the 1920's encouraged black women to have lighter skin. "Pride in our race demands that we look Light, Bright and Attractive." This issue remains controversial today; skin lightening is a multibillion dollar industry who's beauty standards have affected cultures around the world.

"Bleaching" is a huge industry in developing countries. This legacy of slavery or colonization, where lighter-skinned or white people were given visible privileges over hundreds of years has resulted in societies where the lighter you are, the higher your status socially and economically. In India, women strive to achieve the "wheat" colour much-requested on Asian dating websites. In the Caribbean, light skin is also highly desired while in African countries even seemingly minor variations in skin tone can contribute to ethnic conflict." -Vanessa Walters

As is the unfortunate case with most beauty products for women, skin whitener can contain a range of dangerous chemicals that give "Beauty is Pain" a whole new meaning. Hydroquinone inhibits melanin production and has been associated with possible cancer risks causing many countries to ban it (but not America!) Of course, you could always turn to the alternative and get a lovely acid peel. The practice of skin lightening combines the audacity of an impossible beauty standard with the danger of industrialized, media driven racism.

But remember ladies, it's not just your skin that's the problem, it's your hair too.

"Historically, long, straight tresses -- along with pale, white skin -- defined beauty in the United States. Black women, our complexions the hues of a cocoa rainbow and our hair often kinky and short, didn't fit the Eurocentric ideal, and we were made to feel less soft, less lovely, less womanly.

Hair became a thing that we obsessed over, searing it into contrition with hot combs and lye, and assigning it the attributes of good (straight/wavy) and evil (naturally nappy.) Indeed, Madam C.J. Walker, a black woman widely regarded as America's first black female millionaire, earned her fortune devising products and techniques that made our hair "behave."
' -Charisse Jones

When we look at these advertisements, we shake our heads at history and tend to indulge in "how far we've come" ... Are African Americans still stereotyped by uneducated language and soul food? Are women still expected to fit a standard for beauty and homemaking? Does lighter skin still equal greater success? Do people still use everything from oils to weaves to wigs to attain hair different from their own? Does the media still drive the machine, the greedy industry that preys on women's self doubt with chemicals and pretty colors? How far have we really come?

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