Note from BW of Brazil: So, here we go again. I’ve said it before, sometimes I really do believe that companies do things precisely because they know they will generate controversy and make the name of the company trend in social networks. According to some, getting people to talk about you and/or your product, even with negative publicity, is better than people not talking about you/it at all. If that is the case, the company Bombril just just got itself some free advertising. But what’s all the fuss about?
Well, as followers of this blog well know, black Brazilians have long faced harassment, cruel jokes and comments about their hair. No different from many other multi-racial nations in the world, Brazilians harbor decidedly anti-black sentiments against its population of African descent. Anyone familiar with the whole “good hair”/”bad hair” discussion knows exactly what I mean.
Since the beginning (16th century) and the abolition of slavery in the late 19th century, black Brazilians have been taught to feel ashamed of their hair texture. Carrying this stigma into adulthood, many black Brazilians sought to marry and reproduce with lighter/whiter people with hopes of not passing on their African features to the next generation.
If this wasn’t possible, black women resorted to chemicals and tools to straighten out their kinks and curls, while black men simply shaved their heads as close to the scalp as possible. After all, they couldn’t expect to get a good, or at least descent job, with THAT kind of hair.
During this whole time, black Brazilians have had to endure all sorts of negative connotations associated with their hair, one of which was the so-called “cabelo de Bombril”, or ‘Bombril hair’, Bombril being a popular scouring pad for household cleaning. Although, hair is not the main topic of this blog, it is a very popular subject as so many black Brazilians have detailed their experiences and traumas in dealing with society’s criticisms of afro textured hair. To go from taking numerous measures to “fix” the problem, to now proudly rocking those kinks and curls shows that the Afro-Brazilian population has come a long way. Can’t really say the same thing about the producers of Bombril.
I still remember seeing in old editions of the Brazil’s only black magazine, Raça Brasil, advertisements by Bombril. One particular photo caught my eye because something about the man in the ad looked peculiar. It was 1999 so I thought to myself, “Naw, it’s 1999, they couldn’t still be doing THAT!” It was and they were. When I saw another Bombril ad in a different issue of the magazine, looking at the white man in the photo confirmed what I thought: in the previous ad the same man was wearing blackface.
This coincided with my first trip to Brazil back in September of 2000 when I saw a TV variety program in which the musical guests were sister singing duo Pepê e Neném, two black women. I remember that while they performed, the host of the show made fun of them wearing braids meant to mock the girls as well as blackface. I remember the Bahian friend I was with at the time seeing it and laughing while I didn’t see anything funny about it. In reality, I was in shock that this was on television in the year 2000. It would be years before Afro-Brazilians would begin to speak out against the usage of blackface, but speak out they did.
The same voices have made it known that black Brazilians will no longer simply accept images and depictions that make use of stereotypes that have been used to ridicule them for centuries (see here, here and here). Which is the very reason I don’t accept the idea that Bombril simply made a bad judgment call with this latest controversy. The racist association between Bombril and black hair is well-known and has been for decades. The fact that the original ad for the original product dates back to the early 1950s is proof of this.
For the sake of clarity, understand that the term used in Brazil to define kinky/curly hair is “cabelo crespo”. Thus, the company at the center of the controversy simply changed the letter “c” to a “k” and added the diminutive “inha” to complete the alteration of the word. Check out the details of this latest “Oops, we’re sorry, we didn’t know this was racist” in Brazil’s advertising market.
Bombril scouring pad “Krespinha” re-released; product debuted in 1950s using racist image of a black girl – stereotypes associate product with black hair
With information courtesy of Claudia, Hypeness, Alma Preta and Veja Rio
Bombril, one of the largest companies in the cleaning sector, was among the most talked about subjects on social media on Wednesday (17) due to the promotion of an ad with explicit racist connotations for a dishwasher sponge. The name of the sponge refers to the type of curly hair, a common phenotype among black people.
The brand has been responsible for a series of advertising campaigns with black faces since the 1980s and 1990s. According to the company, the name “Krespinha” had already been used in 1952. Indeed, we are in 2020, but it seems that Bombril’s marketing people have remained in the 1950s. The hashtag #BombrilRacista was one of the most talked about subjects on Twitter a few days ago.
João Pimenta: “Afterward, people ask why I am aggressive. In the midst of so much racial discussion, how often the topic of racism is being discussed, the brand comes and puts this out. This “incredible” re-release of a product from the 50s.”
PASSA: “Racist genius in an image:
– changing a C to a K
– “the darling of Rio now in SP”
– the bushing placing itself for orders
– the personification of the bushing as a black person
– the infantilization of hair (it’s not crespa, it’s ‘krespinha’)”
A product called “Krespinha”, by S.A. Barros Loureiro Indústria e Comércio, was sold at the Sabarco store, in São Paulo. The promotion in 1952 included a black girl in the logo, her hair had the same shape as the steel sponge. The campaign also carried the phrase “your orders”, putting it in a tone of servitude.
Yasmin Santos: “The ‘krespinha’ is not a new product on the market. In 1952, a sponge with an identical name was sold in the country and used the design of a black girl in its advertisements. Oblivious to the growing debates about racism, @BombrilOficial decided to re-release the product, keeping its original name.”
Diego Cartaxo: “How is it possible? A brand of such size of Bombril approves a product that has 100% reference to racism? Where’s the research? The marketing team? Creation? Directors? No sector saw this absurdity? Without a doubt that #Bombril (is) Racist
And Bombril wouldn’t even have gone so far as being associated with racism. For years, “bombril hair” has been a common nickname for black people who wear their hair naturally. This type of offense contributes to construct a negative image and low self-esteem for the black population, which is the majority in the country. The brand had never encouraged nicknames, but it also never spoke out.
There are symbols that mark our lives, whether by choice, chance or imposition, both in a positive and negative way. To make itself present, racism uses symbols and codes and hits its targets straight, leaving eternal marks. When a company like Bombril keeps a steel wool pad in its catalog – “for almost 70 years” – with the same name, Krespinha, we confirm something that is not new to us: the top of the pyramid has not changed. White, wealthy people, who still don’t coincide with the power of large companies and institutions, continue to feed the oppressive structure that kills us in seconds or in homeopathic doses during our lives.
In the 1950s, the product had just arrived in São Paulo, some time after it was launched in Rio de Janeiro. “In Rio, everyone knows me. I’m Krespinha – the best sponge for cleaning the kitchen. The paulistas are also going to love me,” pointed out the publicity report accompanied by the figure of a black girl. In a nutshell, in the ad, we found several codes that refer to the oppression suffered by people of African descent, especially women: curly hair associated with a cleaning item, black body in a position of subservience and black being resistant to all types of work and exposure. Not coincidentally, definitions that accompanied the reality of blacks enslaved here in the country.
To reinforce these brands today is to face resignified wounds. It is difficult not to find a woman with naturally kinky or curly hair who has not been the target of this harsh association with steel wool, especially in childhood. When I saw the tweet with the name of the product, I felt the same lump in my throat when I swallowed the cry when I was about 5 years old, after hearing this. But, if the privileged group has made little progress in deconstructing the racism that shapes its trajectories, the weight of the voice of those who have already suffered discrimination and those who have allied themselves with the causes is strong, giving more balance and importance to reports of racism like this.
“In the midst of anti-racist demonstrations, we have such an action that ends up legitimizing the importance of our act. At the same time, it makes me think about the legitimacy that these people have to manifest themselves in such a racist way,” says Denna Souza, a member of the collective Manifesto Crespo, which has existed for nine years.
Wearing cabelo crespo/cacheado (kinky/curly hair) is one of the forms of resistance and maintaining a link with the story itself. Slavery and exploitation not only took citizens from their countries, but also subjected them to a severe processo de embranquecimento (whitening process). Between rapes of black women and facilities to attract European immigrants, the myth of racial democracy was necessarily inserted in the history of Brazil, causing blacks to reject their features and not even see their own ethnicity – in order to be treated better.
Ana Caroline: “let me tell you a story: one day I was leaving work and a car stopped at the light and some 4 boys shouted “bombril hair” from inside. they shouted at me, at my hair. so, you wake up and face this.”
Levi Kaique Ferreira: “‘But Levi, you’re seeing racism where there is none.’ They recycled this product whose promotion had a black child with curly hair, the name is Krespinha and I am seeing racism where there is none? #BombrilRacista”
Winnie Bueno: “Krespinha, Bombril’s steel sponge, perpetuates racist stereotypes and control images that associate the body of black women with heavy domestic work. The name and the mkt is based on racism. Historically it hurts the subjectivity of black women and remains firm in the market.”
For this reason, making use of recreational racism, that is, camouflaging “joke” racism to profit, shows that the attack is not only on the type of hair curvature, but on what it represents. It’s not a complaint just for the pains we are experiencing, it is a demand mainly for respect for our culture and also for the concern about the endless cycle of hostility to which black people are subjected. What message do you send to a white child and a black child through the existence of this product, for example?
The new version of the product doesn’t present an image, but the message is there. It’s subliminal. Many internet users were offended and negatively surprised by the re-release of the sponge, reporting lifelong cases of bullying. “The world goes through a process of awareness with our children to understand the beauty of our race, in this comes Bombril to show the existing structural racism. Respect, please!” wrote veteran actress Zezé Motta on her Facebook profile.
CNN Brasil’s anchorwoman Luciana Barreto, who is black and did her master’s thesis on racism, used her personal experience to make an alert about how certain comments can shake children’s self-esteem to the point where they begin to hate their body, their color and their hair.
“I can say that any white or black person, knows that calling the hair of black girls in school Bombril was very common as an offense (…) Now people are offended again for having their own hair, which is of its nature, with a pejorative way of being called. This is part of structural racism”. Luciana also made a point of reminding us that racism is a crime.
Social network personality Luana Fernanda Lima was yet another woman who found it difficult to accept Bombril’s decision to bring back such an item when she remembered her own traumas due to the connection made between the product and her hair.
“I don’t know when they made this association of cabelo crespo with Bombril, but it was very present in my childhood and adolescence and there was no one to tell me at that moment that it was racism. I was very ashamed of my hair,” said Luana via Instagram Stories.
“They said my hair was Bombril and that it had to be put behind the sponge to scrub the pot. And then a brand in the 21st century, knowing everything that’s happening, our struggles and our causes, releases a sponge named Krespinho,” said Luana.
Thamara Pinheiro, who already had her work recognized by the Golden Lion award in 2019, is a writer at the advertising agency Soko, in São Paulo.
Tired, but optimistic. That is how black movement activist and advertising writer Thamara Pinheiro, from São Paulo, defines her reaction to yet another case of racism. “We are talking about a real change, there is nowhere to run. There is an intense movement on the internet, which will echo internally in the company and in the market as a whole. When we speak at meetings that diversity in staff is essential, they think we are asking them for a favor. If there were black people there, this product would hardly return with that name”, points out Thamara, former member of the JWT agency’s 20/20 program, which aims to occupy at least 20% of its strategic positions with blacks until the end of the year.
The publicist warns about the inclusion of these professionals in the entire process of creating and producing advertising campaigns. “It is not enough to just put a black face in the campaign, it’s necessary to create internal inclusion actions and these people need to have opportunities within the company and be heard”. As a response, the black population and its allies shouldn’t buy more products from this brand, advises Thamara.
In 2019, Bombril posted a loss of BRL $40 million, of which BRL $ 5.3 million in the fourth quarter alone. However, the company’s track record was not the worst. After adjusting the price of its products, the company earned BRL $ 285.8 million in the third quarter of 2018.
The company, based in São Bernardo, in the ABC region of São Paulo, owns the following brands: Bombril, Brillo, Força Azul, Kalipto, Krespinha, Limpex, Limpol, Mon Bijou, Pinho Bril, Polibril, Prá-Lixo, Q’Brilho, Q’Lustro, Remobril, Sapólio Radium and Vantage.
On the Bombril website, the product was defined as “perfect for heavy cleaning”, being used to remove dirt and grease “quickly and effectively, without effort”. Late in the morning, it was taken off the air. Sought for comment, the company has not yet responded to questions.
After the negative repercussion of the product, Bombril spoke publicly and stated that “there was no intention to hurt or affect anyone”. According to the company, “there is no more space for manifestations of prejudice, whether they are explicit or implicit”. The company also removed the product from the brand’s online store.