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Darkie Toothpaste Changes Name

April 18, 1989 GMT

SINGAPORE (AP) _ Full-page newspaper advertisements formally announced Monday that one of Southeast Asia’s most popular brands of toothpaste is changing its name from Darkie to Darlie.

After more than three years of pressure from blacks, religious groups, politicians and others, Colgate-Palmolive Co. decided in January that Darkie would have to go and its distinctive box be redesigned.

For more than 60 years, the Darkie trademark was a grinning, top-hatted minstrel in blackface. Also on the box is its name in Chinese, which literally means ″black man toothpaste.″

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Colgate-Palmolive said it would phase in the new name on packaging and advertising this year and use a racially ambiguous face under the top hat. However, Monday’s advertisement in The Straits Times carried the same grinning blackface logo. No explanation was immediately available.

The toothpaste, manufactured by Hawley and Hazel Chemical Co. (Hong Kong) Ltd., got its trademark after a company executive visited the United States and saw the late Al Jolson. The white entertainer gained fame as a singer in blackface, and the company decided his wide smile and bright white teeth would be ideal to promote their product.

A company spokeswoman said Darkie held 75 percent of the toothpaste market in Taiwan, 50 percent in Singapore, 30 percent in Malaysia and Hong Kong and 20 percent in Thailand. It was never distributed outside Asia.

Darkie started setting some teeth on edge after the U.S. conglomerate Colgate-Palmolive paid $50 million for a 50 percent stake in 1985.

What was show biz in the 1920s is offensive racial imagery today, and members of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility started prodding for change. More than 240 church groups belong to the New York-basd non-profit center.

After a three-day visit to Taiwan in December, six U.S. congressmen also accused the company of perpetuating racial stereotypes. In a statement initiated by Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., they said Darkie was one of many examples of racism in consumer products in Asia.

Hawley and Hazel tried to satisfy the critics and sustain the brand’s appeal among Asians by test-marketing the several names, including Dakkie, pronounced ″ducky.″

Test sales in Singapore produced no clear preference or aversion to Darkie or Dakkie, said the company spokeswoman, who by custom is not named. The Darkie name and logo were not seen as offensive, she said.

Nevertheless, Colgate-Palmolive chairman Reuben Mark said in January, ″The morally right thing dictated that we must change. What we have to do is find a way to change that is least damaging to the economic interests of our partners.″