I saw this campaign by British shoe company Clarks in the window display of Galeria Kaufhof at Alexanderplatz, Berlin, in November 2018. It features black models and the slogan “Comfort in your soul”.
I snapped some photos because I thought it was a good example of how black people are often used in advertising to represent values like authenticity, closeness to nature and soul, simplicity and comfort – all the things that the presumably white potential customer might feel that they lack in their busy life.
I was reminded of this campaign when I read bell hooks for our upcoming class in Images, Race and Representation (my emphasis):
The acknowledged Other must assume recognizable forms. Hence, it is not African American culture formed in resistance to contemporary situations that surfaces, but nostalgic evocation of a “glorious” past. And even though the focus is often on the ways that this past was “superior” to the present, this cultural narrative relies on stereotypes of the “primitive,” even as it eschews the term, to evoke a world where black people were in harmony with nature and with one another. This narrative is linked to white western conceptions of the dark Other, not to a radical questioning of those representations.
In the next paragraph she could have been talking about this very campaign, but of course the examples are endless:
Should youth of any other color not know how to move closer to the Other, or how to get in touch with the “primitive,” consumer culture promises to show the way. It is within the commercial realm of advertising that the drama of Otherness finds expression. Encounters with Otherness are clearly marked as more exciting, more intense, and more threatening. The lure is the combination of pleasure and danger. In the cultural marketplace the Other is coded as having the capacity to be more alive, as holding the secret that will allow those who venture and dare to break with the cultural anhedonia (defined in Sam Keen’s The Passionate Life as “the insensitivity to pleasure, the incapacity for experiencing happiness”) and experience sensual and spiritual renewal.
More on othering later (cause I have a lot to say about it).
hooks, bell. 1992. “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance.” In Black Looks: Race and Representation: 370. Cambridge: South End Press.