Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Because You’re Worth It (When You’re White)

By Dhriti Pandhi, Summer Intern at the Kirwan Institute

It was recently revealed that cosmetics giant L’Oreal employed a blatantly racist recruiting strategy as part of its marketing campaign in 2000. The company was promoting Garnier shampoos in France, and, as part of its hiring practices, sought women promoters who were between the ages of 18 to 22, size 10-14, and “BBR” – bleu, blanc, et rouge (blue, white, and red; the colors of the French flag). In France, BBR is a not-so-secret term used by employers to mean white people of French descent, not Africans, Asians, or people of a mixed-race background.

While many groups retaliated against L’Oreal, including France’s SOS Racisme, a long road lies ahead for France and its employers to curb their racist practices. In fact, surveys suggest that 3 out of 4 employers prefer white workers. Although France is not known for being a completely integrated society (to say the least), the L’Oreal episode conjures questions of how pop culture in general is fighting against (or standing idly beside) racism. France is historically known for its avant garde art, fashion, and literature, yet it has one of the worst track records in the world when it comes to being a racially progressive society.

Much like in France, both pop culture in the U.S. and our attempts at racial integration have been regressive. TV shows like Survivor have had teams defined by race, dating shows are racially homogeneous except for the “token” black or white person, and very rarely do we see mixed families or non-white families on prime time television. Watching Nick-at-Nite reruns of television shows from decades ago like “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” where racial and other political topics are the central themes of episodes, ironically doesn’t make me think “can you believe those were actually problems back then” but rather “today’s shows need a similar racial commentary.” Perhaps the ultimate question is whether [pop] culture truly fights against society’s faults or if it simply exists to mirror them.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting information, questions, and observations. As someone who is in love with France (well, the food & film & art), and even though it's common knowledge (to those of us that know French culture and history), it still comes as a bit of a shock that these issues are still very much ingrained in and a part of French life and culture.
    As I was reading the post I heard myself gasp, and then had to ask myself why. And I think it's because, especially as scholars, we sometimes hope our work has not been in vain; that all the time we have put into writing, reading, teaching and researching has caused some transnational metamorphosis, and a new order, one in which "race" is not an issue (for lack of a better word), has taken hold.
    But, perhaps that's one solution: instead of spending SO much time behind the scenes, we should go OUT into the world and its communities and plant the seeds of change.

    KC-Summer Intern at the Kirwan Institute.