Wits Black Health Professionals Association open discussion explored the ways in which Black people are actively changing the negative black image in society and mainstream media.

Is an Afro unprofessional? Fifth-year medical student Ntsako Ribisi says she can’t wear her hair in a natural state when she works in a hospital because “they expect me to look professional”. She wears her hair in braids.

Ribisi is not alone in feeling like she has to change her natural look to conform to social standards and the negative black image that is perpetuated in mainstream media.

The Wits University Black Health Professionals Association (BHPA) hosted the Black Love Caucus talk, which was an open panel discussion at the Wits Public Health School on August 24.

Sixth-year medicine student and BHPA committee member Afikile Qobo said the talk is to promote affirmation amongst the black community and take ownership of own black image.

One of the Panellist’s Human Rights Institute of South Africa’s research and communication officer Mawethu Nkosana said the black community rejects stereotypes of blackness presented by mainstream media by creating their own spaces.

“I think the grandiose facts that media has posed about black people, black people have been involved in recreating those facts. Black people have been involved in recreating the facts that have been posed in the media. The reimagining project in black society for me is more important. Black people have been organizing – creating [their own] spaces and reimaging spaces of their own,” said Nkosana.

2015 Miss Jozi and BSc Human Physiology and Biology student at the University of Johannesbug, Musawenkosi Makhalemele, agreed with panellist Nkosana and said that there are many examples of black people who are doing amazing things in the current system that provides an alternative and their own standard of what it means to be black, black beauty and the black image.

“It’s a great opportunity to be a part of something like beauty pageants that doesn’t have a lot of black people, because what you can do is, teach and inform. So for me [beauty pageants] an exciting space to start reform, continue [reforming] and make sure people learn more about who we are,” said Makhalemele, “We should infiltrate the system that has already been created, change it for what it should be and then make sure it adapts to us.”

There are many, many forces — material, historical, cultural, and political — that shape the black image in mainstream media.

Sixth-year medicine student and BHPA committee member Afikile Qobo said, “For ourselves we need to redefine and go back to the roots of where these [current black-image] views are coming from. We need to understand ourselves [as black people] so that when we go into the world and we go into different spaces we can legitimately own ourselves and identity in those spaces and take charge.”



Wits Vuvuzela, May 2017:  Imbawula celebrates black culture

Wits Vuvuzela, March 2016: The short lifespan of the black mannequin