Fetishism of Soap and Hygiene and Its Implications for Racist Ideologies
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Our modern world is over stimulated by commodity promotion and consumption. Most people continue to consume products at a remarkable rate without stopping to think about what it is they are buying into and how their purchases affect how they think. I attempt to understand the power of commodity culture and its ability to shape societal understandings of social phenomena through an analysis of the commodity fetishism of soap and hygiene and how it has impacted perceptions of racial hygiene and racial difference. I use an analysis of soap advertisements in the colonial era to demonstrate the ability of soap, as a fetishized commodity, to spread the racist beliefs of the British Empire’s civilizing mission. I also utilize a critique of current marketing techniques and promotional material used by development organizations, focusing primarily on issues of hygiene and sanitation, to describe the shared narrative of racial inferiority and the power of the white race to civilize and develop that continues to structure society’s understanding of the sources and solutions to the question of racial difference.