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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.

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