A once local Chinese brand, the character on the boxes of Hong Kong’s favourite toothpaste is apparently based on Al Jolson. Back in the 1920’s it was thought that “Jolson’s wide smile and bright teeth would make an excellent toothpaste logo.”
Darkie toothpaste’s parent company, Hawley & Hazel Group, was bought by Colgate-Palmolive in 1985. After three years of dismissing criticism as ‘irrelevant’ to Asia, they finally changed the name to ‘Darlie’ though the Chinese name remains “Black Person Toothpaste”. In fact, although the company issued a worldwide apology, their promotional materials in Chinese stated that “Only the English name is being changed. Black Man Toothpaste is still Black Man Toothpaste.”
‘Darkie’ remains a racial slur in many western countries and the image on the packaging is still reminiscent of old Black and White Minstrel Shows in the US or ‘golliwogg’ characters in Britain. The American Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility continues to campaign for the brand to be dropped entirely whilst Colgate-Palmolive have removed all and any reference to their ownership from the product packaging and website.