Why Can’t Ads Get Black Women Right?

American television has a long and storied tradition of using degrading portrayals to depict black women—even during commercial breaks.

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“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

—W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

I wonder if the peculiar sensation W.E.B. Du Bois had in mind when writing The Souls of Black Folk is the same one I get when watching KGB’s latest ad. The directory assistance turned question-and-answer text service has me experiencing the 21st century version of double-consciousness—an American Negro woman, a consumer—two warring identities and one bad commercial break.

Case in point: “Extensions.” A KGB commercial featuring an all-black, female cast.

The commercial begins innocently enough with three black women sitting in a hair salon. One of the women is getting extensions sewn into her braids and ponders out loud about what type of hair her extensions are made of. “Natural,” her preoccupied hairdresser replies. Unsatisfied with that answer, she turns to her phone, seeking a better one from KGB—known in their commercials as the Knowledge Information Bureau. Send a simple query via text to 542-542, and then an answer is returned in short order.

“Where do natural extensions come from?” they ask.

The scene quickly changes to a distant farmland where two KGB agents find the source of the woman’s curious strands—a yak.