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darkie toothpaste

A toothpaste known as “Darkie,” featuring a smiling blackface performer as its logo, was sold for years in various parts of Asia. After pressure from various groups protesting the racist images, though, the companies responsible for bringing the product to market vowed to change the name of the product on this day in 1989.

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The Darkie toothpaste was manufactured in Shanghai by the Hawley & Hazel Chemical Company, later moving to Hong Kong and Taiwan. The CEO of Hawley & Hazel designed the logo after seeing blackface performer Al Jolson, a White man, and thought it would be a great fit for marketing the idea of clean, shining teeth. The product was sold in relative obscurity until the mid-1980s when Colgate-Palmolive took over Hawley & Hazel.

Groups of African Americans, religious groups, and Colgate-Palmolive shareholders began to band together in banning the product. As reported by the New York Times, the chairman of Colgate-Palmolive at the time stated that the logo and name would be changed to reflect the company’s will to recognize the sensitive nature of the situation.

From the New York Times:

‘It’s just plain wrong,’ Reuben Mark, chairman and chief executive of Colgate-Palmolive, said about the toothpaste’s name and logotype. ‘It’s just offensive. The morally right thing dictated that we must change. What we have to do is find a way to change that is least damaging to the economic interests of our partners.’

Changing the name from Darkie to “Darlie” didn’t seem to be much of a drastic change; for, while the logo did change to a smiling man of ambiguous racial background in a top hat, in Chinese, the world “darlie” means “black person,” according to Wikipedia.

The product, despite its infamous history, is still sold widely across Asia today, expanding into Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia. For many residents of Asia who buy the product, the offensive nature of toothpaste has not been an issue for most, according to reports.

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