- A TRESemmé shampoo ad that depicted blonde hair as “normal” and the hair of two Black women as “dry,” “damaged,” “frizzy,” and “dull” prompted widespread protests across South Africa.
- The ad was published on the website of Clicks, a major pharmacy and beauty retailer in the country.
- The Economic Freedom Fighters, a South African opposition party, said the ad suggested that Black people’s features represent “damage, decay, and abnormality.”
- TRESemmé apologized on Tuesday, but protests continued and turned violent, with reports of demonstrators setting fires and throwing petrol bombs.
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A TRESemmé shampoo ad that depicted blonde women’s hair as “normal,” and Black women’s as “frizzy and dull,” has prompted widespread protests in South Africa and stores to pull the product.
The ad campaign, published Monday, showed two Black women and a blonde white woman. The Black women’s hair was labeled “dry and damaged” and “frizzy and dull,” while it labeled the blonde woman’s hair “normal.”
The ads were published on Friday, September 4 on the website of major South African pharmacy and beauty retailer Clicks, according to Reuters. It’s not clear if the ad campaign ran in any other country or by any other retailers.
You can see the full ad here:
Upon the campaign’s release people started tweeting their anger at TRESemmé and Clicks, with many using the hashtag #ClicksMustFall.
Tshepiso Vanessa Ralehlathe, a model and student in Johannesburg, tweeted on September 4: “I’m so tired of brands using our Blackness as a publicity stunt or advertising tool. I’m so tired of educating corporates about Black hair, Black skin, Black lives. This is blatant racism @Clicks_SA.”
The Economic Freedom Fighters, a left-wing opposition party, also said in a statement on September 6 that the TRESemmé ad suggests that “Black identity exists as inferior to the identity of white people.”
“It is an assertion that white standards of beauty are to be aspired to and the features of Black people represent damage, decay, and abnormality,” the party wrote, and called on supporters to protest at Clicks stores.
Since Monday, people have protested at hundreds of Clicks shops around the country, with some of them turning violent. Clicks said there were protests at 37 stores in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Gauteng, and Western Cape provinces, according to Reuters.
Someone threw a petrol bomb at a shop in Emalahleni in the eastern Mpumalanga province, and protesters in Johannesburg wielded hammers and set fire to another store, South African news site News24 reported.
“We are no longer going to accept any apology which is not accompanied by justice,” EFF leader Julius Malema said to supporters outside a closed Clicks store in Limpopo on Monday, according to Reuters. “Who is punished for projecting Black people as ugly people?”
On Tuesday, a 52-year old woman pointed a gun at protesters outside one store in Port Elizabeth, eastern South Africa, according to News24.
Both the woman and protesters declined to open criminal cases against each other, though the woman was charged on Wednesday for pointing a firearm.
Though no protesters or Clicks employees were injured, staff members were told to go home for their safety, and one journalist was harassed, News24 reported.
Clicks also shut half of its 880 stores around the country on Monday and Tuesday to avoid the unrest. It also shut all its stores on Wednesday to offer counseling to employees who may have been impacted by the protests, and reopened stores on Thursday, according to Independent Online.
At least 10 arrests have been made for the destruction of property at 425 Clicks stores around the country, News24 reported Wednesday.
‘We got it wrong’
TRESemmé, its parent company Unilever, and Clicks have since publicly apologized for the ad campaign.
In a joint Twitter statement published on Thursday, the EFF and Unilever said they “agreed that the advert is offensive and racist.”
Unilever added in a statement on its website: “We are very sorry that images used in a TRESemmé South Africa marketing campaign on the Clicks website promote racist stereotypes about hair.”
“The campaign set out to celebrate the beauty of all hair types and the range of solutions that TRESemmé offers, but we got it wrong,” it said.
Clicks also suspended two staff members, and a senior executive resigned. It also vowed not to sell TRESemmé products in the future.
Clicks CEO Vikesh Ramsunder also said in a Monday statement: “I am deeply disappointed that we allowed insensitive and offensive images to be published on our website. I apologize unreservedly for the hurt and anger these images have caused.”
A spokesperson for the South African Human Rights Commission said it will investigate the advertisement, while another opposition party announced it would be pressing charges against the EFF for the damage done by the protests.
The Democratic Alliance said it will pursue legal action against the EFF for incitement of violence and destruction of property.
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