Let’s Unpack This

Cultural ‘Cleanliness’ Wars Spotlights White Hypocrisy

Some White folk spend a lot of time monitoring Black cleanliness. Meanwhile, others barely wash up at all.

Garfield Hylton
Published in
5 min readAug 26, 2021
A hand holds a bar of soap. Image: Getty

Over the last few weeks, White celebrities have been making headlines for their hygiene practices. On schedule, social media descended into the cultural “cleanliness wars” as everybody realized “proper” hygiene has a great many definitions. But, there’s a strange hypocrisy when one juxtaposes White people’s crusade against soap and water versus their constant critiquing of Black aesthetics.

Ashton Kutcher and his wife, Mila Kunis, said they don’t shower frequently and only wash their kids if they “see” dirt on them. Kutcher washes his armpits and crotch regularly but not the rest of his body. Kunis washes her face twice a day but doesn’t see value in a daily shower.

It echoed sentiments of a Twitter thread from roughly two years ago. Medium writer DarkSkyLady captured it during her request for White people to stop oversharing on social media. In that thread, White people were far too eager to tell social media they take showers but don’t wash their legs. Her article featured one White commenter mentioning they don’t use washcloths while another called showers a matter of “personal preference.”

Writing for Medium’s ZORA publication, Nicole Froio also noticed the debate’s cultural wars. Froio believed there was some merit to the idea of class and hygiene. She wrote that “marginalized people in society are stereotyped as dirty or smelly, but the privilege to wash once or twice a week, at most, is hardly afforded to those who live outside the margins.”

America gave White people permanent housing in those margins at the exclusion of everyone else. Still, my issue isn’t necessarily with Kutcher, Kunis, or whoever’s hygiene practices. It isn’t my place to tell people how to clean themselves. They just aren’t allowed in my house.

But, what this does bring to my mind is the amount of Black labor expended to ensure we look, and smell, our best.

Parents were taking care not to burn the skin off the heads of Black daughters with combs heated on a stovetop. Images…



Garfield Hylton

Medium Creator Fellow. Award-winning TV news journalist. Freelance writer. Mad question asker.