Primary Source
A Collection of Artifacts from the Near and Distant Past

Skin Trouble

Skin Trouble

The Platts’ appearance in Ebony speaks to several, overlapping realities about color and capitalism in mid-twentieth century America. Working-class white ethnics, immigrants, and indigenous people often took great pains not to be forced into a “Negro” existence, as the Platts had been. (So-called black people did the same in the practice widely known as “passing”.) Black media companies, for their part, worked hard to showcase stories like the Platts’ as both a way to sell magazines and to highlight the arbitrary nature of racial categories under segregation.

Yet, the complexities of race and skin color went even further, reaching off the page and into the homes of Ebony’s black readership. Page three of the Platt’s story appears on the same page as Palmer’s “Skin Success” ointment and soap. In addition to helping with rashes and pimples, Palmer’s was well-known to “even” (i.e. lighten) the complexions of its black consumers. “You’ll forget,” the ad assures, “you ever had skin trouble.” One could only hope.