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‘You are not going to let that word hurt you’: Procter & Gamble ad taking on racism is met with praise — and outrage

Procter & Gamble released an ad showing how black parents have discussed racism with their children over several decades. (Video: Procter & Gamble)

A new ad to be released next week by one of America’s biggest household products companies has drawn outrage — and praise — for addressing racial bias.

“The Talk,” a two-minute video by Procter & Gamble, depicts black mothers of different generations, talking to their children about racism.

“It’s an ugly, nasty word, and you are going to hear it, nothing I can do about that,” a mother tells her young son in an apparent reference to a racial slur. “But you are not going to let that word hurt you, you hear me?”

“Now, when you get pulled over …” another mother tells her teenage daughter.

“Ma, I’m a good driver don’t worry, okay?” the daughter answers.

“Baby, this is not about you getting a ticket. This is about you not coming home.”

The new ad builds on the company’s 10-year-old “My Black is Beautiful” campaign, which has produced audio interviews about bias. The company, which makes a wide array of products from laundry detergent to tampons to cough drops, says the stories they tell are meant to reflect the real-world experiences of many of their customers. It has also produced videos about gender bias, such as the Always #LikeAGirl and Ariel #ShareTheLoad ads.

Always is the first feminine care brand to advertise in the Super Bowl. (Video: Always)

“The Talk,” which appeared online two weeks ago, sparked a heated public reaction on social media, with some commending the company for addressing a difficult topic, and others accusing it of race-baiting and vowing to stop buying their products.

“Let the boycott begin on P & G!!! Cannot believe they would cut their noses off, to spite their faces,” a person commented on a YouTube page showing the ad.

“To all the people offended by this commercial … not every ad is target toward you,” another person wrote. “What’s wrong with a mother trying to protect her children and prepare them for a world that is not always (accepting).”

A website called said the commercial attacked whites, adding, “In a cynical attempt to sell more soap and household cleaning products to the African American community, consumer giant Procter & Gamble decided to produce a commercial pandering to what they believe African-Americans think.”

While the advertising industry has been criticized in the past for a lack of diverse perspectives, in the past six months corporations have been bolder about supporting minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQ people, said Lee Ann Kahlor, associate director of the Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations at the University of Texas, Austin.

“Companies are entering into public conversations about topics they shied away from in past,” she said. “I think it is because some organizations want their voice and brand to be distinguishable and apart from the current views espoused by our president and some members of the House and Senate that dominate the media right now.”

Procter & Gamble has seen backlash about its “My Black is Beautiful” campaign in the past, but this video, coming at a time of extreme political and social polarization in the U.S., has struck a deeper nerve than usual, said Damon Jones, the company’s communications director. He said the ad was not meant as a political statement.

“It’s unfortunate that in the current environment everything becomes politicized, because the talk between a mother and a daughter isn’t politicized at all; it’s just reality,” he said, adding that the goal of the campaign is to spark a constructive dialogue about race. “It would be great if we lived in a society where we didn’t need the Talk.”

Jones said he has personally spoken to people who have called in to complain.

“I try to help them understand the concept of the campaign,” he said. “I don’t think race has ever been an easy subject for us to tackle in this country, but avoiding it doesn’t push us forward, and part of this campaign is about getting people to have these difficult discussions so we can get to a better place.”