From Darkie to Darlie

When Darkie Toothpaste, sold throughout the Asia Pacific region (including Australia), changed its name over a decade ago to Darlie, the idea was to be just a little less perceptively racist. In fact, Darlie (黑人) translates as “black person,”and we all know what Darkie signifies. The original trade character of a stylized minstrel man with wide smile stems from the late nineteenth century when both black and white “minstrel show” entertainers donned “black face.”

I recently found a new package of Darlie (top), with a decidedly neutralized trade character of a racially non-descript visage on the box. I was reminded how long it took to get to this evolutionary place in the package’s history.

Then I read this quote by Da Xiangchang, which  explains a lot about the product past and present:

“A common perception among the Chinese is that black people have the nicest, whitest teeth, hence the toothpaste. This toothpaste goes way back. I think my grandparents have even heard of it. But is Darkie Toothpaste any worse than Aunt Jemima products in America? Of course, the name “Darkie” is a lot more offensive, but Aunt Jemima taps into all the slavery days where some house slave cooks for the white family.”

Read my essay in Design Literacy here.

3 thoughts on “From Darkie to Darlie

  1. felix sockwell

    who pays $7 for tooth paste? Or for that matter, $70 for a podcast of Joe Duffy? I had a spread in the last issue of Print next to Joe. I believe Heads of State did an excellent illustration to accompany his words. But his words went contrary to some of the thinking he puts into practice. He thinks we (designers) should be making more money, by asking for it. Years ago his firm called me to design some icons for the Bahamas identity. Wow. Duffy is calling. One of my favorite firms. Surely they’ll have $500 for an icon… Nope. And I passed on $300. “OK, well, we’re really sorry you can’t work with Duffy Design, Mr Sockwell. Best of luck.” the account executive sang. I certainly didn’t “get” what I was hoping for. Anyway, I’m sure Joe is a sell guy. Its business, not personal.

  2. tucker

    i have the whole set (being one of the only toothpaste collectors!)
    the idea of a universal tube form that people all over the world apply the culture to, intrigues me

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