“Did Dove Just Call Me Dirty?”

That’s the title of Danielle Brooks’ piece for Lenny Letter, posted yesterday, about a Dove ad that went viral this weekend. By now, you’ve probably seen the ad. In the images circulating online, a black woman wearing a t-shirt the same colour as her skin takes off the shirt to reveal a smiling, pale white woman wearing an off-white t-shirt. Dove has pulled the ad from its Facebook page and tweeted that it “missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color.” You can watch the full ad here:

The screengrabs are in the post below.


I went through a lot of emotions looking at these images: irate, emotional, frustrated, defeated, and then irate again. I went through a similar thought process to what Danielle details in her essay.

I pause. Scratch my head. Think for a minute. Wait. Dove, you want me to believe that using your soap will turn my skin into that of a white woman? No — that can't be it. You want me to believe being black isn't clean? You want me to believe that black = dirt and white = purity and using your soap will make me clean? Got it. You're telling me my skin, the deep, rich melanin that I was born with and cannot change, is filthy. Got it.
That's painful.
That stings.

Danielle references a “sneaky, vicious monster” that creeps into the psyche of every black and brown child born into a world that reveres whiteness over everything else – that constantly reminds us that whiteness is not just the standard but the goal and that our skin valued as lesser than our white peers. I’ve written before about a few of the moments of racism I experienced throughout my childhood that I will never forget. One of those moments was in grade school when my teacher confronted me and my classmates about a mess in the bathroom. She wanted to know who had sh-t all over the toilet seat and the floor in the same space the whole school had to use. She took us into the scene of the crime and demanded an answer. The floor was covered in feces. The smell was unbearable. I’m sorry if I’m being graphic here but I want to paint you a picture of the most disgusting, dirtiest scene you can imagine. Then, my classmate Ashley raised her hand and said, “It looks like Kathleen did it” and someone else piped in with, “Yeah, it looks like her face!” Then, everyone laughed – including my teacher. I just stood there, fighting back tears because my dad always told me not to show weakness in front of bullies and managed to shake my head in denial. From then on, my classmates would make subtle jabs about me needing a bath or that it was my job to clean up the communal washroom. Tell me how this imagery doesn’t embolden future little Ashleys to make the same assumption. Tell me how it’s any different than the blatantly racist soap ads from the past that are now being shared to give context of the historical precedent of this kind of white supremacist marketing.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Sure, Dove apologized but as Danielle writes so eloquently, do they even know what they are apologizing for? 

Do you regret that you put this racist piece of nonsense out into the world? That, apparently, not one person in your organization even questioned its insidious message before approving it for release? That you put it onto Facebook with its platform of two billion users? That you fed that monster of my childhood and gave it the strength to whisper into the ears of another generation of children born a rainbow of shades? Do you own it?

Do you regret that you've labeled one of your products a "nourishing lotion for normal to dark skin"? Do you even have black people on your marketing and advertising team?

Usually “HOW?” is the first question that comes to mind when these marketing blunders happening. It was the first question I asked after Kendall Jenner’s dumbass Pepsi ad. HOW do irresponsible, damaging ads like this still get made? Danielle answered that with another question: “Do you even have black people on your marketing and advertising team?” I don’t believe that a truly diverse team made up of more than one black woman would have approved this imagery. In the full ad, the white woman takes off her shirt to reveal an Asian woman. This does not make the ad any less tone deaf. The message is still one that the more you use this product, the lighter your skin will be and should be. The British Nigerian woman who stars in the Dove ad wrote an op ed for The Guardian about how she refuses to be a victim even though her face has become the “poster child for racist advertising.” She says she had a good experience with Dove and was proud of the final, 30-second full version of the ad. I think it’s important to note that this model should not take any responsibility for Dove’s mistake. This is the mind-boggling, senseless mess-up of a bunch of Dove executives. Let’s make that very clear. This model says the ad was “misinterpreted” but it is literally the job of an entire marketing team to analyze and predict how their images will be understood by the public. They do not get my sympathy.

Just because Dove has done good work in the past does not mean that they shouldn’t be called out to do better. They just enlisted Shonda Rhimes to work with an all-female crew on a new campaign. That’s great. But they are also the same company who had to apologize in 2011 for another ad with a similar meaning.


To really drive it home, Dove is owned by Unilever, which also owns a skin lightening brand. “Real beauty” has become Dove’s brand. Can you be preaching diversity and body positivity out of one side of your mouth and spewing racist imagery out of the other? How does that work?

In her essay, Danielle Brooks mentions that she has been in a Dove campaign. She is one of the stars of Orange is the New Black, a successful series, but she’s not at the point in her career where she can just throw away endorsements. She wrote this piece calling Dove out on their sh-t knowing she could lose any future deals with the company and she doesn’t care. That’s badass. It’s also badass to end your piece like this:

Thank you for reminding me that it's not only about seeing more representation. The way in which we see representation is what truly matters. And thank you for reminding me that the whispering monster still lives, that it has not been vanquished. Thank you for reminding me that the "Black Girl Magic" and "My Melanin Is Poppin" T-shirts and jewelry I rock aren't just statements of pride. They are armor, armor against the sneak attacks like the one I experienced over my breakfast yesterday.

You can read Danielle’s full essay for Lenny Letter here.