Bizarre Products: Darkie Toothpaste

Darkie, darky or darkey are all spelling variations of a term used to disparage people with dark skin color. The term was originally used in the United States, but apparently picked up international usage, as evidenced by a brand of toothpaste that came out in Shanghai, China in 1933. This toothpaste was originally sold as Darkie toothpaste. Just in case anyone thought the meaning was ambiguous, the manufacturers put a big picture of a literally black (think the Crayola color, not the skin tone) man on the packaging with a huge smile, a bow tie and a top hat.

What this caricature of a dark-skinned male and the name of the toothpaste were meant to signify is a mystery. It's obvious the company had no problem making use of racist terms, but what does skin tone have to do with toothpaste? Moreover, why is this man dressed like a backwards butler? Do all black butlers have nice teeth? If so, why use this as a marketing gimmick, but pile a disparaging phrase on top of it? I suppose it is just a lesson in the absurdity of racism.

The company that made Darkie toothpaste was eventually purchased by a large, reputable company that did not market the name. However, it took until 1990 to change the name to Darlie. It is the most shocking thing of all that such a product still existed up until about two decades ago. The box still features a black man, but at least he does not look like a racist caricature from the Civil War.