SLICE: The business of monetising black outrage

Advertising has come a long way since jingles about cereal and housewives wrestling with Verimark vacuum cleaners. The standard, cookie-cutter formula of selling brands, perception or products with the ubiquity of white picket fences and nuclear families with pearly-toothed smiles gushing over washing powder just doesn’t quite cut it.

With limited airtime and competition over space, advertising doesn’t manipulate the unattainable anymore, it weaponises black rage to cause a stir.

Take the now infamous 2017 Dove advert: the Unilever giant distributed an advert of a black woman seemingly transformed as her cleaner, whiter self after using a Dove body-wash.

The racist undertones of the advert became a source of outrage and debate on social media. The recycled PR apology from the brand made its rounds and Dove still remains as prevalent as ever with the backlash barely making a dent in sales.

Another beauty brand, Nivea, was found guilty of the same pattern of symbolising whiteness as the aspiration through their Natural Fairness lotion advert in 2017.

In 2018, H&M made the only black child in their catalogue wear a ‘coolest monkey in the jungle’ sweater, alluding to the racist tropes of othering black people as wild animals.

Gucci’s recent 2019 advert featuring a white woman wearing a Jim Crow-type black jumper with exaggerated red lips seen in the blackface minstrel performances of the 1950s also utilised black outrage to stay relevant.

Each of these brands have released content perpetuating colourism, racism and a strong undercurrent of anti-blackness in a social climate that makes it difficult to believe the intention was anything but deliberate.

Brands feed on the black response to racist representations and with each validly outraged Tweet comes an increase in their chances of staying in the 24-hour news cycle without bearing the brunt of any real lasting ramifications.

Technology enables us to have conversations across borders instead of a one-dimensional, one-stream flow of information with zero participation at the end. Decades ago, adverts were simply funnelled down your throat with little to no input, critique or comment on how they were received other than if the product sold or not.

Decades ago, people of colour were subjected to racist misrepresentation in the media, depicted as voiceless, identity-less tropes without much say in how we wanted to see ourselves.

Now, we have platforms to shut down the careless narratives people who don’t look like us construct but that we need to realise that the freedom of expression has become a weapon in the arsenal of conglomerates.

Retweets, shares and likes are the currency of the digitised world. If your ideas aren’t going viral, they’re lost in a virtual sea of over-saturated content. Advertisers know this better than most.

The pattern in modern age advertising is to bet on riding the clout of trending on Twitter for all the wrong reasons.

As the old adage goes, “bad publicity is still publicity” and advertising seems to manipulate valid outrage at being marginalised as a way to stay in the limelight.

The problem with exploiting black rage for profit is that, even after centuries of colonialism and oppression, our rage isn’t an infinite resource. Monetising black rage is essentially free advertising but what it costs to the psyche of black people is a lot more.

There are tangible consequences to this: black rage has been a tool for our survival in a world that expects silence or submission from the historically and perpetually oppressed. Exhausting black rage by having to constantly fight for your humanity every time H&M wants their name in headlines is causing distraction and fatigue from what we should be really focused on.

Black rage is critically important, it is valid and it is the very thing that ensured the liberation of this country and the emancipated black identity from the constraints and skewed narratives of white hegemony.

The burden shouldn’t be on the marginalised to have to expend our rage to make neoliberal corporations recognise our humanity apart from what we spend or don’t spend. Black people don’t have to expend emotional labour doing free sensitivity training for brands that should know better.

Maybe originality is dead (and there is absolutely nothing about original about racism), but it’s time for a new stage of advertising where humanity is worth a bit more than a click-through rate. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Busang Senne, student journalist at Wits Vuvuzela. Photo: File. 

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SLICE: Leaving with lessons learned

I HAVE always been one to get into trouble before I learned a lesson. Nothing ever quite stuck if it wasn’t my own lived experience. In learning to grow up, however, I have realised that things must be done differently.

I flunked my first year of varsity because I didn’t like what I was doing. This pushed me to do better the following year and to make sure I put into my studies all the work and effort I hadn’t done the year before. It was difficult having to prove to myself that I wouldn’t fall into my own traps in the same space, and this year has been somewhat similar to my second try at first-year varsity.

I am lucky to still be able, as a Wits Vuvuzela student-turned-intern, to practice the skills I learned in the same newsroom. My training wheels are falling off and being handed to the baby journalists who are still to find their feet in a newsroom. Having had a rocky ride of a year in 2018, I have used my mistakes to not only learn and ensure I don’t fall into bad old ways, but to reassure aspiring journalists that, somehow, you make it out alive.

I am not suggesting in any way that I have it all figured out, but after treading water at the deep end for what felt like the longest year, I can definitely say I have learned a few lessons that will make my transition to the working world a little easier.

University can be a great space to learn about yourself through fun and failure, but remember that you are there preparing for life in the working world. So let every lesson you learn be used not only to do better yourself, but to teach youself professionalism and a sound work ethic.

I found it difficult to adjust to the realness of the Wits Vuvuzela newsroom last year. I went in expecting to learn through reading, but I was in for a surprise. I did not take well to my expectations not being met, and this reflected in my work ethic and lack of motivation, even when I had plenty of potential.

Knowing better has pushed me to do better, but I couldn’t have done that without my team. Being a student is based on independence, as far as your own progress goes. While employment results in one being financially independent for the most part, being on the job, on the other hand, requires you to be dependent on your colleagues and to answer to someone, as you become their responsibility.

I am not much of a talker: This is ironic, seeing that 99.9% of journalism requires you to engage people – but I have learned that team work makes the dream work, and an important part of that is communication. I went through my undergraduate degree with minimal to no group work. One of my greatest lessons has been learning that a work space cannot function without team work.

Graduating to the world of work does not mean that learning has come to an end. My training wheels have come in handy here. Watching the new class of student journalists learn the principles and ethics of journalism has made me interested in growing my own knowledge of the industry and engaging it from a different angle – more so, now that I pay tax (don’t grow up, it’s a trap).
Continuing to learn for yourself is an important part of growth.

And don’t ignore the importance of the big fish, time! Time is always to be valued, whether it is yours or that of other people.Time and communication are basically co-dependent. They are teammates; they make the dream work. I urge you to master these things before the heat on you is turned up. Getting into trouble to learn a lesson is not cute folks, and there is no time for that in the working world: errors can be costly.

I may not be ready to dive into the big world of work but I have stayed afloat in the deep ends of the swimming pools that I have been thrown into; so I think it’s safe to say that it might be time for me to swim in oceans (lifeguards, stand by).

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SLICE: Don’t fall for Mampintsha’s act

In the early hours of Monday morning, gqom star Sibongekile ‘Babes Wodumo’ Simelane went live on her Instagram, put her phone down, and captured a shocking episode of physical abuse by her partner, fellow musician and producer Mandla “Mampintsha” Maphumulo.

Within a few hours the video was trending on social media with thousands, including prominent politicians such as Nathi Mthethwa, Mmusi Maimane and Fikile Mbalula expressing outrage at the video and at gender-based violence as a whole.
By Tuesday morning, Babes Wodumo had filed charges and Mampintsha had been arrested. He responded by filing counter-charges against Babes Wodumo, alleging that she had assaulted him first.

He had merely acted in self-defence, and was the real victim. I was disappointed but not surprised to see people, mostly men, rushing to his defence and claiming that male victims of domestic violence are not taken seriously.

It is worth noting that this is not the first time domestic abuse allegations against Mampintsha have been made. In late 2017, radio talk show host Masechaba Ndlovu accused Mampintsha of being physically abusive towards Babes Wodumo in a live interview she had with the gqom star. Putting the ethics of that interview aside, according to Mampintsha we should now be made to believe that Ndlovu had invented the accusation, as Sunday night was allegedly the first time he had ever laid hands on Babes Wodumo.

Mampintsha’s behaviour reminds me of a previous relationship that I was in. Whenever my partner called me degrading names such as b***h or c**t, it was supposedly my fault for upsetting him, for pushing him to that point. If I complained about the use of those terms, I was “emasculating” him and “invalidating” his feelings. On one occasion, I remember saying or doing something that he felt so insulted by that he told me he would have no choice but to “defend himself” by blowing up my car if I did it again.

While it is true that male victims of domestic violence are often not taken seriously, this is not one of those instances. Abusers often paint themselves as victims to manipulate the actual victim and any outsiders into thinking that they are the real victims of abuse and that anything they have done to their victim has been done out of self-defence or because the victim has left them no choice.

What this behaviour did was keep me in a perpetual state of confusion. I never knew if I was at best overreacting or, at worst, being abusive myself. At one point, I stopped telling my friends and family what was happening in my relationship because I had been effectively convinced that doing so was a form of abuse.

Throughout the relationship, I was constantly made to feel as though everything that had gone wrong was a result of my own bad behaviour, and that if I continued to behave “badly”, it would justify him behaving even worse. I began to live in fear, and it wasn’t until that fear became so pronounced that I struggled to concentrate on my schoolwork, that I realised I needed to get out. And I did.

So I see straight through what Mampintsha is doing. It’s what my ex did, and what countless abusers before and after him will do. And if you are one of the thousands of people watching what is happening, I have one message for you: don’t fall for it.

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Q&A with Ian Mangenga

IAN MANGENGA is a Wits Geography, Archaeology and Environmental alumnus and recently started an organisation for young African women named Digital Girl Africa, to educate women on using digital technology. She is a former chairperson of Rethink Africa at Wits. She is an entreprenuer with the aim of empowering women by redefining the digital landscape of Africa. (more…)

SLICE OF LIFE: Budgeting, saving and auditing yourself

The annual budget speech is an opportunity for the government to evaluate the financial wellbeing of the nation and to outline how the nation’s purse will be used in the new year. The event is a time to step back, to take stock and to reflect on past shortcomings and future plans.

The budget speech is similar to what most of us do at the beginning of each year. With our New Year’s resolutions, we evaluate our year and consider how much of our time and effort we will allocate to improving or changing certain aspects of ourselves.

We do an audit of ourselves, measuring how far we’ve come from the previous year and how far we still have to go to reach our aspirations.

It is in this way we keep ourselves accountable to ourselves. We measure our successes, subtract our failures, multiply our joys and divide our sorrows.

This time last year I had just completed my undergraduate degree and undertaking a new challenge, my honours in journalism. I had come out of a relationship, lost a number of friends and was still recovering from the hangover of a hectic December.

As the year went on I had my trials and tribulations. I lost a dear friend, struggled academically, drowned my sorrows in alcohol and found myself on sprints of depression and anxiety.

I had my successes too. I made  new friends, learned new skills and overcame so many of the  obstacles that stood in my way..

One of the ways I kept myself level-headed during an intense period in my life was through regular reflection on my past, present and future.

I thought about which moments had brought me to where I am today and where I hoped to be in the near future. And I quickly realised, I had to do some budgeting.

One of the things I evaluated was my time: how it was spent and how I could use it to improve myself. In my opinion, time management is the sort of skill that can only reap rewards.

When considering how I could spend my time more productively, I realised just how much of it went to waste on sleeping, lazing around and procrastinating.

Sometimes it only makes sense to change so that’s exactly what I did. One of the things I worked on was learning to use my time for things that benefitted my wellbeing and studies, and prioritising those activities over less fruitful ones.

Managing my finances was equally important. Reflecting on how my money was spent last year, I thought about what I had to show for it and whether it had brought me closer to where I wanted to be in my life.

Truthfully, it was quite embarrassing to compare the amount of new clothes I had and how far I still was from reaching a sense of contentment.

That’s why in my budget for this year I’m hoping to manage my finances better by saving before I spend and not letting myself get pressured into spending more than I have to.

Lastly, mental health is one of those aspects in life we should always put under the microscope every so often. Varsity gets overwhelming at times and it’s too easy to slide into bouts of depression and loneliness.

One’s  mental health is key to how the experience of varsity shapes you. Doing an audit of oneself is a healthy way to maintain stability and productivity, which is the goal at the end of the day.

There’s a reason the Budget Speech is public, declared in front of hundreds of straight-faced parliamentarians who scrutinise every single aspect of it. This is for accountability and transparency.

Like the government, we should be accountable for our decisions and transparent with our goals. We should surround ourselves with people who will scrutinise our successes and pick us up after our failures.

SLICE: Finding more than I bargained for in journalism

The world of journalism is awash with endless possibilities, and after entering it with the aim of ending up in broadcast journalism – a year’s worth of training has unveiled many other interests I never imagined I had.

Looking back to my high school days, I had often watched e-News and fell deeply in love with broadcast journalism after seeing anchor Nikiwe Bikitsha doing a live crossing during the funeral of the late great Nelson Mandela and testing prominent South Africans with tough questions.

As I took in her work on a daily basis, I admired the way she articulated herself, put corrupt officials in the hot seat by asking them tough questions live on air and how she moved effortlessly between television and radio.

Bikitsha certainly inspired me to pursue journalism with the hopes of one day being a senior news anchor on one of the world’s respected news channels. And so, with this in mind, I started my honours in journalism and media studies degree at Wits University in 2018.

After getting admitted to the journalism honours programme, I chose to major in television/videography with the aim of learning how to speak with confidence and poise in front of the camera before I finished my degree.

Little did I know that I would end up learning how to operate a camera, to be the one interviewing people from behind the camera and editing the footage into an entire news or lifestyle package.

I have basically learned how to produce videos that have more than just talking heads, but include sequences, cutaways and whatever else is needed to make a great video even fit for television. This was certainly way more than I had bargained for and I fell in love with the craft more and more as the year progressed.

The scope of experience I gained in the Wits journalism department proved that videography was not the only aspect of the course that became my ‘thing’. Investigating and writing ‘spicy’ stories, as my peers would call them, became one of my favourite things to do as a young journalist.

The excitement that came with hearing the rumours about a certain professor being dismissed from the university for nondisclosure of a relationship with his student was exciting enough, but it didn’t match the thrill of digging deeper,proving the story was actually true, and getting to interview all the people involved.

Beyond those spicy stories though, I also admired feature writing from a distance. After having to work on a feature article for the 2018 in depth project, I learned how difficult it is to find the right words to describe one’s surroundings in the form of showing instead of telling. Although I have not perfected the art of feature writing as yet, I certainly know a thing or two about such articles, all thanks to my mentors.

Now that I am a qualified journalist, I have come to appreciate the multifaceted field of journalism and certainly look forward to using each and every one of my skills to expand my horizons as opposed to only heading to the one thing that brought me to Wits Journalism, broadcast journalism.

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SLICE: When the party turns into a hangover

By Naledi Mashishi

IT’S THAT time of the year again when wide-eyed first years, still wearing their matric jerseys, descend on Wits University campuses for the first time.

Entering university is like entering an alternate world: the buildings are bigger, the crowds are larger, and everything is seemingly much more relaxed than parents and teachers have made it sound.
You don’t have to go to school assemblies, or wear uniforms, or cheer at house events. In fact, there’s no one telling you to do anything. There’s no teacher ordering you to go to class, or calling your parents when you don’t do your work, or yelling at you for having the wrong colour hair.

When you enter university, the world is your oyster. In fact, the world is a party. You’re exposed to so many new sights and sounds and people. Societies clamour to convince you to sign up, you can queue on the library lawns to get your name printed on a coke can, and your nights are long evenings filled with dancing and drinking, with no mom back at home to tell you to be back before curfew.

But inevitably it happens. You go from getting As and Bs in high school to praying for a 50%. The “one or two” lectures you miss result in you being weeks behind your work. The late nights turn from parties to last minute 2000-word essays.

And after another unappetising meal of chips and pizza at the dining hall, all you want is to taste mom’s cooking. The excitement you felt from entering varsity turns into feelings of anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, far from your support structure, and overall sense of feeling alone. The great party turns into a hangover.

When talking about the transition from high school to university, much emphasis is often placed on the workload. In reality, one of the biggest shifts often experienced is on your mental health.

The pressure of varsity work, the knowledge that family members have sacrificed immensely for you to be able to go to university, and the alienation that comes from being in a new, unfamiliar environment surrounded by unfamiliar faces, can all play a negative role on your mental well-being. In a number of cases, this leads to anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts.

So how do you cope? There are a number of mechanisms students can use to keep their stress levels down and mental health in check. And drinking alcohol is not one of them. Coming up with a study strategy that allows you to keep up with your readings and school work by working consistently throughout the term, rather than leaving work until the last minute, can help reduce the stress and anxiety that comes with last minute work.

Joining one of the numerous societies on campus can help build solid friendships with new people and provide a great hobby that keeps the stress at bay.

The most important step is to ask for help. Ask your lecturers and tutors for help when you are struggling with your schoolwork. Reach out to your friends and family when you need a shoulder to cry on.
Importantly, there are a number of campus counselling facilities such as the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU). Reach out to them when you feel that you’re battling to cope.
Above all, remember that you’re not alone and that there is help available.

Honestly, you’ll be okay.