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Procter & Gamble’s ad stirs race debate
Published Tuesday, August 22, 2017
by Stacy M. Brown, NNPA

Procter & Gamble kicked off the 10th anniversary celebration of the “My Black is Beautiful” campaign by releasing a commercial titled “The Talk,” featuring African-American women discussing the realities of being black in America and warning their children about the perils of racism.

“The Talk” sparked fierce reaction across the nation; ironically, conservative media outlets attacked the campaign, calling it divisive and racist.

Kristine Decker, P&G North American media and brand operations director, said the company wasn’t trying to alienate anyone.

“We felt like it was an opportunity to start a dialogue about bias,” Decker said. “We’ve been on a mission to talk about bias in many forms, and we decided, as part of our ‘My Black is Beautiful’ campaign, to take on the topic of bias from a racial bias perspective.”

The online campaign celebrates the diverse collective beauty of black women, and encourages them to define and promote their own beauty standard — one that’s an authentic reflection of the indomitable spirit of African-Americans, Decker said.

In the short video, a young, black girl tells her mother someone said that she’s “pretty for a black girl.”

Another scene, set in the present, shows a mother sitting in the passenger seat of a car, preparing to give her daughter a driving lesson. The mother begins to tell her daughter what she should do when she’s pulled over by the police. “This is not about you getting a ticket,” the mother says. “This is about you not coming home.”

At the end of the video, viewers are urged to “talk about ‘the talk,’ so we can end the need to have it.”

Decker said that many parents have the ‘birds and the bees’ talk, but black parents have a very different conversation they need to have with their children. “It’s about race and what it’s like growing up black,” Decker said.

While some condemned the ad, others expressed support. “I think it is horrible that we live in this reality where this ad is even needed,” said Rafael Navar, an advisory board member for the Dream Defenders, a civil rights group that launched in Florida in the wake of the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. “The realities depicted in the ad are all too real for too many young people living in the United States, and it’s a travesty that this is the case.”

Even though Navar recognized that the conversations depicted in the video are all too real for many people, he was concerned with P&G using a highly sensitive, real and hurtful subject to promote their brand.

Black Lives Matter officials called the ad encouraging and an example of how other multibillion-dollar companies can begin supporting conversations around race and police violence.

“The conversations featured in the ad illustrate some of the ways black parents have attempted to protect black children for generations in a country that does not value our lives or the lives of our children,” said Miski Noor, the communications strategist for Black Lives Matter. “However, it cannot stop with one ad. The work of undoing racism in this country must go beyond words and result in action that changes the material conditions of black people.”

Carol H. Williams, who runs one of the largest African-American advertising and marketing agencies in the country, was skeptical about the ad – at first.

“Then I recalled when we developed the ‘My Black is Beautiful’ brand and the challenges faced at the time by P&G,” Williams said. “The research revealed insights of how women of color had suffered for decades for society’s failure to recognize the unique beauty of women of color.

“So the very platform of ‘My Black is Beautiful’ was founded to eradicate a racist narrative meant to destroy the self-esteem and the confidence of women of color.”

While some debate Proctor & Gamble’s intentions, Williams said that argument is irrelevant.

“P&G has started this narrative and now that it has opened the door, now what? P&G cannot throw this explosive topic onto their platform and think that they are done,” Williams said.

Meanwhile, the NNPA has always been conscious and observant of how corporate America responds to the persistent and perplexing challenges of race and inequality in the United States with respect to the quality of life of black America, NNPA President Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. said.

“The fact that Procter & Gamble, as an American corporate leader that spends over $4 billion annually on advertising, had the courage and fortitude to develop and release this timely, yet accurate, video about contemporary racial prejudice in America is noteworthy and very important,” Chavis said.


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