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Uproar Over Offensive Toothpaste Name Results In Change

January 27, 1989 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Darkie toothpaste is being renamed and redesigned to remove its logo of a grinning black minstrel after several groups complained to Colgate-Palmolive Co. that the product was offensive, the company said Friday.

The toothpaste is manufactured and sold in Asia by the Hong Kong-based Hawley & Hazel Group. Colgate-Palmolive, which sells household and hygiene products worldwide, became a joint partner with Hawley & Hazel in 1985.

Since then, a group of congressmen and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of church investors, have been putting pressure on the companies to change what they said is racially offensive packaging.

The popular product, which has remained unchanged for 62 years, will be renamed Darlie in all of its markets - Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand - within a year, Colgate-Palmolive said.

The company said the logo will be changed to a ″to a non-racially offensive silhouette″ - a racially ambiguous man in a top hat.

″The management of Hawley & Hazel and Colgate-Palmolive have agreed that the old name and package presentation represents offensive racial stereotyping that should be changed,″ Colgate-Palmolive said in a statement.

″We think it’s acceptable,″ said Dara Demmings, a spokesman for the Interfaith Coalition, which seeks to influence social and financial issues within corporations through stock ownership.

In addition to pressure from the coalition, three Interfaith members who each owned at least $1,000 worth of Colgate stock registered objections at a shareholders meeting in May.

The shareholders included the Illinois-based School Sisters of St. Francis; Southern Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in San Antonio, Texas, and a nun who owns shares for the Sisters of Loretta, based in Kentucky.

Similar pressure from outside groups led Quaker Oats Co. to modify its Aunt Jemima figure in the 1960s to make her look less like a plantation cook and forced the Sambo’s restaurant chain to rename itself No Place Like Sam’s in the 1970s.

Ms. Demmings said she believed Colgate-Palmolive officials were hampered by objections from Hawley & Hazel, who told a group of congressmen as late as last month that it had no plans to change the product’s name.

″It’s unfortunate that it took so long,″ said New York Rep. Edolpus Towns, a member of the Congressional Government Operations Committee who voiced objections to the product during a visit to Taiwan in December.

Towns also praised Colgate-Palmolive for making ″a diligent effort since day one of their relationship (with Hawley) to correct this insensitive name and logotype.″

Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, another committee member, praised the company ″for its understanding, albeit late,″ and urged other companies to ″act accordingly.″