On 25th May 2020, a man named George Floyd was assaulted by police officers in Minneapolis, United States. As the man cried for his life, the police ignored him and continued to restrain him. Eventually, within minutes, Floyd became motionless and died. His fault? His colour!
As the video made by witnesses surfaced on social media, people became furious. They demanded justice for Floyd and strict action against the police officers. Soon people forgot the norms of social distancing and took to streets to protest against police brutality and racism being practiced in the country. They chanted “Justice for Floyd” and “Black Lives Matter” as they marched towards the White House. Finally, the protest got designated as anti-race protests and people from all over the world started demonstrating their support. We even saw the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, becoming a part of the movement in his own country.
This movement aimed towards awakening the people and authorities about the prevalence of racism and colour discrimination in the whole world. This eventually had an impact on businesses which began to think and look into their strategies to see if they consisted of any hints related to racism or colour discrimination. As a result, many beauty brands started coming up with changes.
The first one to have initiated was Johnson and Johnson. The company decided that it will stop the sale of Neutrogena Fine Fairness cream and the Clean and Clear product line, stating that the names of these products promoted “white” as better. This was followed by India’s largest firm Hindustan Unilever Ltd. It decided to come forward and show its support for the anti-racism movement by dropping the word “Fair” from its famous product “Fair and Lovely”.
This whole decision appears to be huge for the conglomerate as the product has been there for almost 5 decades and is quite popular in various Asian countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Thailand. It is a skin cream which aimed towards ‘lightening’ the skin tone of the face. But now due to the worldwide protests, the company has finally decided to drop words like ‘fair’, ‘lightning’ and ‘white’ from its products and campaigns. Sunny Jain, the President of Beauty and Personal Care, Unilever, stated that the brand is willing to remove these words as they suggest a “singular notion of beauty”. According to the sources, the product might be named “Glow and Lovely”.
Following the suite, we now have L’Oréal which has decided to make similar changes to its products. The French Beauty company in its statement said that they have decided to remove words like ‘fair’ and ‘white’ from its products. The company thus aims towards brand positioning.
All these brands own a huge line of products and thus, decisions like changing the name and dropping words seem quite a path-breaking. Where on the one hand many people have supported the idea, on the other hand, some believe that this is not going to be effective. Not only this, but many celebrities associated with beauty brands in the past have also been called out to endorse products that promote racism. The list includes Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif, Yami Gautam, and many more.
In India, the notion around white being beautiful has been prevalent in society since a very long time. Newspapers carrying matrimony ads asking for ‘fair/white’ brides have long been criticised. With the anti-race protests reaching their heights, people have also called out many matrimonial sites in India which promoted the use of such adjectives. And as a result, popular matrimonial site Shaadi.com decided to remove the filter showing matches according to skin-tone.
Overall, there are many such products worldwide that promote white skin tone as beautiful and superior. Kavitha Emmanuel, the woman who started “Dark is Beautiful” advocacy campaign in India, believes that “brands changing names will be like a milestone in ending colour based discrimination in India”. Therefore, it is expected that big brands taking initiative in this whole process will be a huge turning point for the Indian diaspora as well.