Is the Nivea “afro ad” racist?

Yesterday Twitter and Facebook were abuzz about a recent Nivea for Men advertisement that features a clean shaven African-American male throwing away a hairier, afro sporting version of himself. The ad tells men to “Re-Civilize Yourself” and to “Look Like You Give A Damn.” Take a look for yourself:

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People are calling the ad racist and, in my opinion, with good reason. As a proud naturalista I’m offended. I don’t rock an afro, but my big curly coif does turn heads and will certainly help you find me in a crowded room. Am I somehow not civilized because my hair isn’t sleek and straight? 

I know, I know. You’re thinking, this ad is just suggesting that the guy shave and get a hair cut not an S Curl. But when I look at that ad I can’t help but wonder why it’s not civilized for this black man to let his hair grow out, but white celebrities with long locks are considered sexy.  

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OK, so no one reading this blog probably thinks Fabio is hot, but you get my point. I look at this ad and it’s as if it’s saying “Boy, you better not let that nappy, African hair grow out.” 

But before we black folks start complaining about “the white man” let’s be real. In my years of being natural I have NEVER had a white person suggest that I need to straighten my hair, yet my so-called black sisters and brothers have often encouraged me to get a relaxer so I’d have a more professional look. 

Likewise, I’ve interviewed several women who have received disparaging comments from family, friends, and co-workers about wearing an afro or some other voluminous natural hair style. They’ve been accused of not taking care of themselves or not taking pride in their appearance (in other words, not giving a damn) or have been warned that they aren’t going to be taken seriously at work or won’t be able to get a man because of their hair. And in all cases, the culprits were African American. 

As the author of the natural hair blog Naturally Obsessed mentioned on Twitter yesterday: “…there are a lot of black people who feel the exact same way about afros and natural hair styles as that Nivea ad. It’s no different.” 



  1. I agree with you about white people NOT judging. Honestly, most of us only notice curly or straight -it doesn’t matter. I sometimes staighten my hair, and I sometimes hot roll my hair. Either way, it should not matter what you do, as long as you like the way you look. I do believe (after talking to a young woman who is African American) that this division and alleged “racism” is mostly within the African American community. After my friend explained to me the implied “statement” of going natural, I responded with, “I had no idea.” Nor do I think many people (outside of the African American community) do. Thanks for sharing yet another part of our culture that many of us may be oblivious to. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think of my husband’s culture (he is egyptian) and the women all wear Hajib. Because they see the hair as the most alluring part of a woman. I think this just might inspire a blog post – different culture norms for hair and what it signifies! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. To me, the racism is in the “re-civilize” copy. That immediately brought to mind images of Christian missionaries going to Africa to “civilize” African “savages.” Poor choice of words. Also, it’s an inherently violent and creepy image to see a man with a decapitated head in his hand. Particularly with the number of beheadings that have happened in the name of al qaida, etc. Sometimes I just wonder who the hell vets this stuff?

  3. P.S. I love a beard. And a fro. I do not care for the chin-strap beard this dude is sporting now that he’s “civilized.” Is it 1997 and he’s joining a boy band?

  4. I agree, Danielle. I was so distracted by the guy walking around with another dude’s head that I missed the point of the ad – whatever that is.

    I also agree that the issue is the “re-civilize” copy. That, combined with the picture, hints that only brothers with short haircuts and wear sweaters that are two sizes too small are civilized.

  5. I’m not sure about the hair fixation being one-sided. Just because a white person doesn’t say anything about natural hair doesn’t mean they don’t notice. Whereas an African-American woman might feel comfortable telling you to your face, a white woman might not, or she might be judging subconsciously. An African-American or white employer could be equally unlikely to hire a woman with natural hair–but the former would be able to identify why, whereas the latter might have just thought something about “professionalism” and “looking right” and never really unpacked their prejudices.

    Re-reading that, it sounds horrible–“No, no, it’s not just black people! Everyone is judging you because of your hair!” But it’s more that no one group is completely innocent. It seems like the natural-hair movement will help a lot of people in that respect.

    And I’m with Danielle–the offer to “re-civilize” an African-American man, and why anyone thought that was a good idea. That, and wondering why he was throwing Lenny Kravitz off a pier.

  6. @Caperton, don’t get me wrong. I’m not naive enough to believe that white people and other groups are completely accepting of natural hair. I’m just saying that in the black community we tend to say things like “white people are more relaxed when our hair is relaxed” when in reality we seem to have more of a problem with it than anyone.

    And I also agree with Danielle, that the choice to use the word “civilize” makes this ad even worse.

  7. Maybe the catchphrase should’ve been “Get a haircut”
    What insane art director approved this design??

  8. PS – I love a beard too. I’ve been trying to convince the mister to grow one, but he won’t. ๐Ÿ™

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