Dove body wash ad racist? Only if you don't watch the whole three seconds

Tuesday , October 10, 2017 - 6:30 AM3 comments

MARK SAAL, Standard-Examiner Staff

During more than half a century of questionable personal grooming habits, I’ve established a few basic ground rules for myself:

1. I will never dye my hair. I earned every bit of this thinning, gray mop, thank you very much.

2. I will never wear socks with sandals. Except in extreme fashion emergencies, like escaping a burning building, or running from a television inadvertently tuned to one of those reality shows starring Kylie Jenner or the Kardashians.

3. I will never use something called “body wash.” If bar soap was good enough for my old man, it’s good enough for me.

But now, thanks to idiots in the media — both mainstream and social — I’m forced to violate Rule No. 3.

I’m doing it so I can at least offset one of the countless misguided crusaders who’ve announced they will no longer buy Dove body wash because it’s racist. And why is the soap racist? Because in an advertisement on social media, the company apparently implied that if you use their soap, you can wash the “dirty” black skin color off your body and become — in the local vernacular — white and delightsome.

Except that isn’t at all what the company was implying.

I’m not saying soap companies haven’t used racist ads in the past. I am saying that this particular ad doesn’t have a racist bone in its body wash. Except perhaps for those who read such conflict into virtually everything.

Oh, when I saw the initial news stories, I too was incensed. How stupid were these Dove folks? How could a huge multinational company like Unilever create such an obviously insensitive advertisement? Of course, I was basing my anger on the widely disseminated four-panel screen grab from the ad, depicting only the change from black woman to white woman.

When I finally tracked down the actual ad itself, my anger toward Dove quickly morphed into disgust for what can only be described as full-on race baiting.

The entire ad is only three seconds long, and it does indeed show a smiling black woman remove her shirt to reveal a smiling white woman. But that’s only half of the ad — and of the story. Because the other half is the white woman removing her shirt to reveal …

…an even whiter woman, right?

Wrong. Because I think we can all agree: Now THAT would be racist. Rather, the final reveal shows a smiling white woman peel off her shirt to become … a smiling brown woman.

I apologize if the term “brown” offends. But in keeping with the obvious color schemes everyone’s debating, the third model appears to be a woman of color — lighter of skin than the black woman, darker than the white woman — and if I had to guess I’d say she was Hispanic.

That’s right. Your “racist” Dove ad basically takes a black woman and turns her Hispanic — by way of Caucasiantown.

And that’s what’s got everybody’s panties in a twist?

The Dove ad calls to mind the Michael Jackson music video for the 1991 hit song “Black or White.” Toward the end of that video, we see the closeup of a black woman’s face, which soon morphs into a white woman’s.

Racist? Hardly, because the black woman morphed from what appeared to be an Asian man, and the white woman subsequently became a black man, who became an Indian woman, then another black man, an Asian woman, a white man, another Asian woman, a Hispanic man, another white guy, another white woman and — finally — another black woman.

So then, if we’re calling out the Dove ad for racial insensitivity, someone please explain to me which part of the Michael Jackson video crosses that line as well. The part where a black man becomes an Indian woman? An Asian woman becomes a Hispanic man? A white man becomes a white woman?

Or is it only when black women become white women?

Shame on you, people. Why must I always be the one to point out the obvious? There are plenty of very real examples of racism in this country. But this Dove ad? Even the Rev. Al Sharpton would pull a hammy trying to make that stretch.

And please, don’t bother using the fact Dove apologized as proof the company knew the ad was suspect. This is racism we’re talking about — the third rail of corporate America — where even an accusation can be deadly. Unilever’s CEO would have disavowed his own mother to avoid having his company saddled with that kind of baggage.

By the way? In Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” song, we’re offered a solution to the vexing this-or-that race question. After insisting it’s not about race, a brief rap interlude culminates with the defiant declaration: “I’m not gonna spend my life being a color.”

How much longer will the rest of us settle for those labels?

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at

Sign up for e-mail news updates.