Some time ago, Unilever removed all references to “white” and “whitening” from its skin care products and also changed the name of its “Fair & Lovely” brand, because, you know, “fair” and “lovely” are awful words with despicable connotations. At the time, Unilever, the parent company of many brands, including Dove, Ponds and Vaseline, said it wanted to promote a “more inclusive vision of beauty.” To that end, it also removed the words “fair,” “fairness,” “light,” and “lightening” from all its products. The replacement brand name for the erstwhile “Fair & Lovely” line of products was/will be revealed once legal and regulatory requirements are met in each nation where the products are available. The company added that, even though it’s changing the brand name, Fair & Lovely products never included a skin-bleaching product and used natural ingredients such as vitamin B3, glycerin, and UVA/UVB sunscreens to protect skin of any color. Well, that’s good to know, because I was previously under the assumption that using a “Fair & Lovely” product immediately rendered one white as a sheet.
The French cosmetics behemoth L’Oreal promptly followed suit, announcing that it was removing repulsive words like “whitening” from its products. The company issued a short statement, part of which read, “The L’Oreal Group has decided to remove the words white/whitening, fair/fairness, light/lightening from all its skin evening products.” The decisions by Unilever and L’Oreal came hard on the heels of those by other giant consumer products companies to dispense with long-time brand names and logos. (See also, Land-O-Lakes, Uncle Bens, Aunt Jemima, etc., etc.)
Moreover, several realtors have announced that they will no longer refer to “master bedrooms” or “master bathrooms,” opting instead for the less offensive descriptors “primary bedrooms” and “primary bathrooms.” You can bet that Mastercard, Master Chef and Master Lock will all be changing their names soon. The words “mastermind” and “masterpiece” will soon be expunged from the language, as well.
Terms such as “white elephant,” “white knight,” and “white noise” won’t be far behind. Tangible things like “white boards,” “white gold,” “white pines,” “white Russians,” “white rice,” “white vinegar,” “white wine,” and “white zinfandel” will have to be renamed or banned outright. The act of “white water rafting” will be fraught with less peril than the utterance of the phrase. The iconic kid’s book “White Fang” will need to be retitled, as will popular television shows like Netflix’s “White Lines,” even though the former is based on the actual color of a canine tooth and the latter on the demonstrably colorless drug cocaine. The regionally beloved fast-food chain “White Castle,” home of “the slider,” will have to be brought to heal, too. Perhaps it can rebrand itself “Peoples’ of Color Castle,” or “POCC.” Speaking of iconic, the Beatle’s “White Album” is obviously a thinly disguised ode to white supremacy and will have to be rechristened. Maybe it could be re-released with the addition of several Rap songs and retitled the “BLM Album.” For Black Lives Matter, not Beatles’ Lives Matter.
Of course, if all iterations of “master,” “white” and “whitening” must be airbrushed from the English language, as well as those of “fair,” “lovely,” “light” and “lightening,” then those of their synonyms must be excommunicated, too. “Illumination,” “brightness,” “luminescence,” “shining,” “gleaming,” “brilliance,” “radiance,” “luster,” “glow,” “dazzle,” “incandescence,“ “phosphorescence,” “torch,” and “beacon” must be verboten, too. The same for “ability,” “intellect,” “intelligence,” “knowledge,” “skill,” “talent,” and “understanding.”
And then the synonyms and iterations of those words will have to be removed like so many Confederate statues, and so on and so on, until one day there will be no words left. Our vocabulary will be as stripped down and barren as our history.
And we will stand there in the darkness—mute, dumb, clueless, unmoored, adrift—and wonder where the light went.