Today, it’s unusual to see a major U.S. advertiser using only white models in its ads or using racist themes to promote its brands.
When that happens, the advertiser usually gets into trouble — as Abercrombie & Fitch has done, repeatedly, over its racist promotional efforts.
In fact the advertising business has a long, lousy history of racism.
But ads have also been used to change people’s minds about race, and to make racism unacceptable in the media. Here’s the story of race in America, as told through its ads.
Warning: This slideshow contains ads dating back to the 1800s, some of which are very racist. Readers may find them offensive or upsetting.
1875 onward: This ad for N.K. Fairbank Co.’s Fairy soap was shameless. (Fairbanks was founded in 1875; this ad probably appeared sometime after 1897.) The black child is presented as if she’s devoid of any positive qualities whatsoever.
Source re N.K. Fairbanks.
1889: The Aunt Jemima brand was founded, just 26 years after the emancipation proclamation. Despite the obvious racism of this ad (which came years later), Jemima was always portrayed with at least one positive quality: Her food is good. The tone, however, is antebellum — blacks are domestic servants.
1900: At the turn of the century, Bull Durham tobacco still portrayed black Americans with exaggerated features..