US consumer brand Colgate-Palmolive has said that Darlie toothpaste – infamous for its racist branding and history – will be rebranded following enquiries by HKFP this week.

The toothpaste was known as “Darkie” until 1989 when the owners apologised and replaced the name in English. But local advertising assured customers that it would still be called “Black People Toothpaste” in Chinese, as it was for decades.

Darkie and Darlie toothpaste. Photo: Wikicommons.

“Darlie is a Chinese brand owned by Colgate and our Joint Venture Partner, Hawley & Hazel,” a spokesperson for Colgate-Palmolive told HKFP.  “For more than 35 years, we have been working together to evolve the brand, including substantial changes to the name, logo and packaging. We are currently working with our partner to review and further evolve all aspects of the brand, including the brand name.”

In light of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement for racial equality, Quaker announced that it would drop its “Aunt Jemima” food brand on Wednesday, admitting its racial undertones. Meanwhile, Mars said this week that it was reevaluating its use of “Uncle Ben’s” branding for its rice products.

“Darkie” remains a discriminatory slur in many western countries and the image on the packaging is still reminiscent of racist Black and White Minstrel Shows in the US. Darlie’s Hong Kong manufacturer, Hawley & Hazel, is owned by the New York-based Colgate-Palmolive.

Colgate-Palmolive previously sought to distance itself from the Asian brand, removing references to their ownership from its website. Despite its decades-long commitment to Darlie, the firm has previously launched Black History Month campaigns and its own Black Leadership Network initiative.

Neither Hawley & Hazel nor the multinational responded when asked by HKFP if they supported or opposed BLM.

‘Exploitative’

Innocent Mutanga, co-founder of Hong Kong’s Africa Center, told HKFP earlier on Thursday that the black community were shocked that the brand still existed: “Colgate-Palmolive is profiting from exploiting racist and problematic images.”

Mutanga said the Centre was “disappointed at the hypocrisy and performative aspect” of the brand after learning that the derogatory Chinese name remained whilst the English one was dropped.

Innocent Mutanga, co-founder of Hong Kong’s Africa Center. Photo: Bradley Aaron.

He called on the firm to take three steps: “Colgate-Palmolive needs to do three things in light of the BLM movement; 1. stop the brand, 2. make a public apology and 3. give out ALL the money they have ever made from this brand towards fighting against racial prejudice.”

Latest

Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.