UNICEF Germany blackface

dear all,

This link was forwarded to our media-watch organisation by disturbed readers:


This is an actual ad-campaign by UNICEF Germany!

This campaign is “blackfacing” white children with mud to pose as “uneducated africans”.

The headline translates “This Ad-campaign developped pro bono by the agency Jung von Matt/Alster shows four german kids who appeal for solidarity with their contemporaries in Afrika”

The first kid says:

“I’m waiting for my last day in school, the children in africa still for their first one.”

second kid:

“in africa, many kids would be glad to worry about school”

third kid:

“in africa, kids don’t come to school late, but not at all” (!)

fourth kid:

“some teachers suck. no teachers sucks even more.”

Besides claiming that every single person in “Africa” isn’t educated, and doing so in an extremely patronising way, it is also disturbing that this organisation thinks blackfacing kids with mud (!) equals “relating to african children”. Also, the kids’ statements ignore the existance of millions of african academics and regular people and one again reduces a whole continent to a village of muddy uneducated uncivilized people who need to be educated (probably by any random westerner). This a really sad regression.
Bottom lines of this campaign are: Black = mud = African = uneducated. White = educated. We feel this campaign might do just as much harm as it does any good. You don’t collect money for helping people by humiliating and trivilaizing them first.

Unfortunatley, if it was clear to the average German that this is wrong, UNICEF and the advertising agency wouldn’t come out with such a campaign.

Please write your opinion and help make clear and explain why it is wrong to use “blackface with mud”, and write to UNICEF at publicrelations@unicef.de as well as the advertising agency at info@jvm.de with a copy to Black German media-watch-orgaiztion info@derbraunemob.de what you feel about this campaign and why. Please include a line that you’re going to publish your mail and the response.

by the way, the slogan of the advertising agency who came up with this, reads
“we communicate on eye-level”.


Noah Sow

NOTE: The pictures uploaded here are not in the same order in which they appear on the UNICEF site.

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  1. <b>mattilda a.k.a. matt bernstein sycamore</b>

    What an atrocity — thanks so much for posting!

  2. Francis L. Holland Blog

    There’s an article about this in the American Journal of Color Arousal (AMJCA): UNICEF Ad Campaign on Africa May Be Symptomatic of Extreme Color-Aroused Disorder (ECA)

  3. I find that deeply disturbing. One of our contributors referenced this posting in an article (http://www.nowpublic.com/unicef_black_face_campaign_0).I find it truly shocking. I’m really uncomfortable with equating being black with being dirty (even though I’m melanin-deficient). Also, to quote the film The Last Supper, “Africa is a continent”, which is to say that it is not a homogenous whole. I see what UNICEF is getting at, but it seems really misguided, like when Cartman dresses up as a klansman in South Park.

  4. Thank you for sharing this information with us. Did you identify a mailing address or URL to use if we want to protest the use of this ad with either UNCF or the ad agency itself?

    peace, Villager

  5. I wrote in as you suggested. My e-mail was worded as nicely as possible while still getting the point across and requesting a change.

    This video has nothing to do with anything but it’s caught my attention and while the video may be a bit…conflicting… the artist himself seems generally geared towards something very positive. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWqa7cbdOC8&mode=related&search=

  6. Black Woman in Europe

    King Taco, thanks for the video link. I agree that the artists has a good message trying to encourage black youthw to read and have good hygiene. Seems as if he’s trying to say that it is cool to do such things.

    Do you think that it will be effective?

  7. Sorry to say but that’s really stupid to get upset about something without even understanding the real sense nor even trying to read the whole text! (and there’s a lot more text between the lines)
    So please: Read it! Translate it ALL!! and ask somebody who knows what the well-known german proverb “Farbe bekennen” really means which is citated here by the black faces of the kids (who by the way aren’t painted with mud, but theater make-up, which is also well-known as used by millions of little carroll-singers each year to commemorate black King Balthasar)
    before yelling!

    The citated proverb, every german knows is “Farbe bekennen” – (literally translated it’s “to show/confess color”) but the real meaning (aside of a lot other meanings) is “to show/ to state/ to confess on which side you are really standing even if inconvenient (at this moment), to declare with whom you are really sympathsizing”
    (it’s derived from the old military tactic to sneak/to get into enenmy land in disguise and to raise your flag (aka to show your “color”) in the moment of truth).
    So it’s not the least racistic, with showing black kids instead you wouldn’t get the context at all and these white kids are showing with some (in the order of the appearance in your blog) proudness, naturalness,logicalness – isn’t it?,clearness without any doubt on their faces which side they take (when it’s going as always about the (economic) interests of a (wealthy) G8 against Africa).

    The text between the lines is saying (can’t read all as it’s very little on your photos) but at least the beginning:
    “In Afrika kann jedes zweite Kind nicht zur Schule gehen, Alle m??ssen Farbe bekennen um das zu ??ndern. Schreiben Sie Angela Merkel. Alle Staaten -auch die G8- m??ssen ihr Versprechen einl??sen” = In Africa every second child can’t go to school. Everybody has to “show colour” to change it. Write to Angela Merkel (german chancelor – (head of the german state)). Every state -the G8 too!- has to keep their promise to …

  8. That’s just unbelievable!

  9. Black Woman in Europe

    Dear Anonymous, thanks for your comment. This UNICEF campaign was bought to my attention by an Afro German who speaks German and can read between the lines. What has become clear is that what is racist to one person is acceptable to another. I think UNICEF Germany can be proud of the work they are doing to help educate children in Africa, but they can also raise awareness and funds without using black face which never makes black people feel good when they see it.

  10. First of all, why is it that we refer to Africa like it is a country, when in reality it is an entire continent with over 50 countries, some of which are not in extreme poverty…like South Africa for one..

    I think UNICEFF Germany should be trying to raise awareness but not in this way. It is almost as if they are saying that “African” children (rather than naming specific countries that need help) are not good enough to be featured in advertisements, so they used Black-faced White kids instead. Also, some of the sayings they have in these ads are ridiculous, such as “kids don’t come to school at all.” Didn’t Black-face go out with the Minstrel Shows in the early 1920’s??

    Would it be fair to turn the tables now and say that Germans are uneducated because they thought these ads were clever enough to actually run them?? I don’t think they’d like that at all, and I hope enough people speak their minds about this and let UNICEF Germany know these ads are not right…

  11. I really don’t understand why people don’t do any sort of research before creating/design things like this.

    Misunderstanding or not, this sort of thing shouldn’t happen. UNICEF is a large organizations, but you’d think the leaders would communicate with one another before approving such things.

  12. Reply to Anonymous:

    I understand your need to ‘explain’ but your belated explanations have missed the mark. The fact remains that no research was done to find out how Africans or people’s of African descent would react to this sort of ads before it was approved. It was a great error on the side of UNICEF that they’ve taken them off their website.

    As an African I’ve never been to Germany nor do I speak the language but when I saw the ad I raised a brow and said to myself, “What the hell were they thinking?”

  13. “You don’t collect money for helping people by humiliating and trivializing them first.”

    Unfortunately I believe it is all too common, perhaps even normal operating procedure.

  14. On another site, I read a reply from UNICEF stating that they tested the ads with a sample of germans before going public with the ad campaign and that not one person in the sample was offended by the ads. As usual, it’s the institutional racism that’s the culprit, and it’s what doesn’t get addressed. The ad is just a reflection of unexamined accepted (racist) beliefs.

    On a related note, a friend of mine told me some vague details about a racist cheer recited by german soccer fans towards black soccer players. does anyone know the details about this?

  15. wow.. i dont even know where to start abou this.. And it seems like the collective memory is so short.. people will get mad!! raise the roof… but 3 months later.. its all forgotten…
    Well.. it sure feels like that for so many pressing issues!!


  16. This isn’t so much about the post but… you have an interesting blog; my mother just sent me the address so I checked it out. I’m living abroad as well, not in Europe but in Tokyo, Japan. I blog on my experiences and sometimes I review American or international policy decisions or events. I invite you to check it out: http://onetokyo.blogspot.com. Do you know of any other African-American women doing East Asia?

  17. ‘Extreme Colour Aroused Disorder’!? The anti-racist lobby would probably get a lot farther if not for excessively neurotic deconstructions of everything. Maybe the ad is poorly thought out but, as a graphic design student, I can see the logic behind it: It’s trying to say that all children are the same, by creating an explicit link between the children of the (mostly white) Germans and those children in Africa who are disadvantaged. They wanted to stir peoples empathy. Did their attempt at communication fail? Apparently in your eyes, yes. But people this is hardly blackface. This wasn’t done to consciously denigrate black people, that’s just your own neurotic paranoia (I can point out, for example, that the advert never explicitly makes clear in any way that it is mud making the childrens faces brown: thats your own mind, and you should think about that). The advertising company/UNICEF was probably stupid not to do wider consultation and discover the objections that would be held to this. But still, I hardly think this ranks as an ‘atrocity’. Heads do not need to roll at UNICEF, of all damn places.

  18. Meh…I can’t help but think that my knowledge of the legacy of blackface and whats behind it is what makes this offensive. It could easily be a bunch of black kids with flour on their faces . . .for me, part of living in Europe was not being offended when my American sensibilities are aroused instead of my human ones.

  19. To the second to last commenter:

    Anti-racism would probably be advanced much further if more people with unearned social privileges wouldn’t go into classic denial mode like you just did. I like how you separated yourself from anti-racism in that comment, shows us where you’re coming from.

    Organizations like Unicef would not exist in the first place if it were not for the white supremacy, neocolonialism and neoliberalism in the first place. It’s pretty much established that most large NGOs like Unicef are highly problematic and obviously inseparable from their social contexts. Ads like this reveal the pervasiveness of the underlying idea that of the “Western Savior”, when so modern inequities and conflicts stem from imperialism itself.

    They couldn’t be bothered to find actual children from African countries, and the slogans used were flat out false and defy basic common sense. And you don’t understand squat about blackface, which rests on innumerable fucked up assumptions.

  20. Many of these comments hit the mark. Many miss it completely. This is not so much a racist commentary, but one of ignorance – and poor design. Its bad enough the campaign assumes all of Africa is one country and completey void of resources including education, but what really gets to me are the images. In concept it makes sense, (kids assuming the parts of their African counterparts, disgruntled at their lack of a decent education) but incredulously, the kids look happy. If the mud/face paint, whatever it is, was intended to put these kids in the “shoes” of poor African kids without access to a decent education, these kids should be sad, maybe even crying. Their happiness makes a joke of the subject and trivializes the campaign.

    Finally, the statement that the ads were tested in German focus groups and NO concerns were raised, is a sad statement on the German polpulation. Germany has a long history of exhibiting nationalistic and myopic pride counter to modern Western sensibilities, so its really not much of a surprise, but still, in today’s world, to think this would generate the appropriate response is quitre disheartening.

  21. Thanks for posting this. I can’t believe UNICEF would be so stupid.

    I like your blog.
    Check me out – I’m from DC!

  22. PLEASE STOP SEEING RACISM EVERYWHERE. JUST STOP IT. YOUR COMMENTS ON HOW RACISIT IT IS ARE MAKING ME SICK TO MY STOMACH. IT IS EMBARASSING TO ALL BLACKS. I know that your ancestors went through a long time of opression but you need to stop using the “race card” to your benifit without any reason at all. No, not all people in Africa are uneducated. BUT A LOT ARE. And because of your stupid comments they may never be. NO, white does not equal education. There are just as many white people that are not educated. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

  23. This wasn’t done to degrade black people, that’s just your own neurotic paranoia. It doesn’t say anywhere that the kids are wearing mud on their faces. You people are saying that. Thats your own mind, and you should think about that).
    How do you knnow that its all white people that came up with this ad? Couldn’t there be some blacks that partook in creating this wonderful ad? Stop being paranoid. And to be honest with you, if we are going to speak about saying racist statements, if white people came on stage and made jokes about blacks, you people would blow the roof off. But let me point out that a lot of black comedy men have made careers out of it. We watch TV, listen to “white jokes” and in no way find it offended due to lack of paranoia.

  24. I don’t know what to say anymore. I never really expect much from “white” people with their mental dis-ease superiority complex. Those images are really disturbing and I”m not surprised by some of the response by people who think the “design” was ineffective. Whats really interesting to me is the way people who probably have never experience racism, can speak from a perspective as if they have. Like they KNOW the struggle of “black”, “Africans,” “people of color” so well.

  25. “Black” people need to stop asking and crying for help, and help ourselves. That’s why we gets no respect! We knew who the enemy was from the beginning over 400 years ago, but we still give a dam about what “White” people think . Please family, Its about time we create our own racism and unite against poverty, injustice, and inequality.

  26. Whoever the ‘mastermind’ behind this campaign is, needs to be fired and re-educated.
    It’s a despicable display of ignorance on so many levels!!!

  27. Black Women in Europe

    Miggy, I feel you. I never found out if there is a black person on staff there. And now it Black Peter season in Holland and Belgium which means its black face season.

  28. Danke for posting. Yes, there are so many contradictions. It’s a problematic mentality of the org.

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