Posts Tagged 'racism'

Comment is free but outrage is easy

The problem with blogging – and it is a trap I fall into myself – is that it encourages extremes of opinion.

For all the blurb about social networks and the global community, posting in the blogosphere can sometimes feel like shouting into a void and listening for an echo, which in the end only makes you shout louder.

Even so-called professionals can be guilty of this sin. Yesterday, on the Guardian’s  Comment is Free section, I read a post by one of their NY-based freelancers, Shahnaz Habib, on the lack of ethics in multinationals.loreal2

Habib is outraged that L’Oreal, the world’s biggest manufacturer of beauty products, sells lightening cream in India. A company that devotes several pages in its corporate responsibility handbook to “skin and hair diversity” and which has run ad-campaigns around their ranges of makeup for people of different ethnicities, she argues, ought to know better.

She writes:

“When international cosmetics companies enter the fairness creams market, peddling in India products that they would not dare stock in the aisles of the politically correct west, there is a layer of hypocrisy that is dangerous to ignore”

Although she admits that “all beauty advertising caters to culturally relative neuroses of what is beautiful”, Habib still believes selling whitening cream is tantamount to promoting racism.

“Even the most naive marketing chiefs at L’Oreal must have had a glimmering of doubt – ‘Wait a minute, is it racist to promote whitening? Would we put these words in a billboard on Times Square?’”

This, she tells us, proves the moral corruption of multinationals that claim to “think globally and act locally” but in fact are merely exploiting the vulnerable people of a developing country for profits.

And so it might seem at first glance. When I first saw lightening creams lining the shelves of supermarkets in India last summer, my first reaction was exactly the same – outrage. But then I started to think about it.

If lightening cream caters exclusively to Asian markets and is deplored by the west, how can it be said that it is imposed upon them? Multinationals may have the GDP of small countries and wield more power than many of them, but they cannot change social and cultural norms.

You can argue that, in India specifically, they are perpetuating the legacy of racism left by the British. But the caste system, India’s very own home-grown brand of prejudice, existed long before the British East India Company had even set sail.

Surely trying to impose western standards of political correctness on the Indian market shows a far more colonial attitude than catering to their “culturally relative neuroses of what is beautiful”. Is selling fake tan or promoting sunbeds perceived as racist in the UK?

This, I believe, is the danger of blogging: it encourages posts that spring directly from gut reaction. Habib is clearly not stupid or arrogant or morally imperious. She was seduced by the medium into writing something that, though researched and articulated with care, ended up as a self-defeating tirade.

But at least it’s a consolation to know that when comment is free, comments there will be – 88 and counting underneath Habib’s article.


July 2019
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