To attempt to gain perspective and perhaps begin to understand the long existence of racism, sexism, and inequality that has been such a profound part of the fabric of so many global societies, I decided to start by looking at some early advertisements in print media. The first advertisement we will take a look at is a print advertisement for Fairy Soap from the N.K. Fairbank Company. As you can see, the ad above portrays two children, one black, one white standing face-to-face with one another. The white child is holding a bar of Fairy soap in her left hand, while the black child stands holding only her dress in her hand. A question is posed by the not-so-innocent white child. Below the children in quotes reads, “why doesn’t your mamma wash you with Fairy soap?” The racist elements of the question are far from vague. The intent of the producer of the ad is understood. Somewhat subtler racist views also preside in the ad. The white child is wearing shoes and socks, while the black child is barefoot. One could easily interpret this as an acknowledgement that the white child comes from a family with at least some amount of money and wealth. The black child being barefoot is a clear indicator that she is in fact poor and comes from more than humble beginnings. Another element of racism is the positioning of the children’s legs. The white child is stout, her legs slightly bent at the knee, but for the most part straight and firmly planted on the ground. The black child appears to be bowlegged, her legs angling out from her hips to her knee and angling back in from the knee to the ankle. Furthermore, the suggestion that the African American’s skin is dirty because it is darker in color than the white child’s skin is a strong indictment that although the ad attempts to sell soap, there is a more powerful, socializing message omnipresent at the advertisement’s core. These stereotypes send a simple and compelling vision to those who wish to interpret them as truth.
Although I was not able to pinpoint the exact year that the advertisement surfaced my contention, based on the years of existence of Fairy Soap and the N.K. Fairbank Company, is that the ad is from somewhere between 1865 and 1916. With slavery being abolished in 1865, the creators of this ad were far from recognizing African Americans as “created equal”. The ad offers a rare look back (for those of us born in the mid to late 1970’s) at a time of blatant, no-holds-barred racism. Although racist acts are far from rare in the 21st Century, my background in history always seemingly leads me to conclude that there is tremendous accuracy in the old adage, in order to look forward, we must look back.