ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Colour of Ego or Egalitarianism?

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Hindustan Unilever’s decision to drop the words “fair” and “lightening’’ from its advertisement caption for its “Fair & Lovely” product has rendered the issue of colour of human skin as the critical focus of the public debate. For many, such a decision is welcome towards minimising, if not completely eliminating, discrimination based on colour- and gender-driven stereotypes. It is, perhaps, rightly argued that the “opportune moment” signifying a moral initiative taken by the company under reference, however, has arrived at such an initiative only after a long career that the advertisement under reference continued to ­enjoy. However, this initiative has come up primarily in the immediate context of the tragic death of George Floyd who was brutally killed in police action in the United States (US). The emergence of such moral sensitivity, which, for its validity, depends on the negative context of the tragic death, raises a couple of relevant questions. First, how does one understand the cosmetic company’s arrival at this moral sensitivity? Second, how does the assumption that playing down the skin colour as a physical property of the corporeal body would have a positive impact on the moral constitution of the self as well as the other?

Arguably, as the late arrival at moral sensitivity would suggest, the market driven by an utilitarian profit motive lacks self-sufficiency, particularly with regard to social ethics. The logic of profit fails to create a compelling impact on those company owners who, on account of their disinterestedness, could not make their respective advertising policies sensitive to sociocultural equality. If the company under reference had responded to such a normative concern much before the occurrence of such a tragic context, it could have saved itself from the charge of being instrumental in its moral commitment to a social cause. While one would tend to appreciate the decision, in a larger sense, it could be argued that the capitalist market does suffer from this moral lapse. In the context of the general lapse in the economic world of the market, there is a scope for the moral argument that cultural equality or colour egalitarianism as a moral value does not seem to have its origin in the profit-driven market. Hence, those who control market transactions in general and cosmetic products in particular need to import moral values from spheres other than the market. Thus, these companies have to pick up some “ethical tips” from the moral practices around which human interactions happen outside the market transactions. It could be then argued that moral values may not necessarily have their origin in market transactions. The market, thus, tends to have an instrumental commitment to moral ­values that reside outside the former. A capitalist market works with the rational calculation that on instrumental considerations it is compelled to drop the politically incorrect tag in the present case of fairness from the caption of “Fair & Lovely.’’ What it cannot permit is the risk of adversely affecting the production of the cream under consideration. The moral standing of capitalism therefore lies in what it requires and not in what it permits.

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