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November 11, 2020

Racist Soap Adverts Have Been Around for Hundreds of Years, Here Are Some Vintage Ads Depict African Americans as Dirty

Thomas J. Barratt is often referred to as ‘the father of modern advertising’ for his revolutionary advertising campaigns for Pears’ soap. But unfortunately his ads included horrendous racist stereotypes that were existed throughout the British Empire for hundreds of years to sustain discrimination against black people. For example, a Pears’ soap ad that appeared in McClure’s Magazine in 1899 stated:

“The first step towards lightening THE WHITE MAN’S BURDEN is through teaching the virtues of cleanliness. PEARS’ SOAP is a potent factor in brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilization advances, while amongst the cultured of all nations it holds the highest place – it is the ideal toilet soap.”

It’s pretty clear what the terms ‘…THE WHITE MAN’S BURDEN…’ and ‘…the dark corners of the earth…’ represent: black and ethnic minorities and their cultures across the world.

Adverts like this for Pear’s soap, exploiting the differences between Black and White, are seen as explicitly racist today. They reinforce the stereotype of Black skin as dark and undesirable, while White is superior and pure. These ads date from the 19th century to early 20th century.


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