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.
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.
Gucci and Moncler did blackface. Burberry thinks a noose around the neck is fashionable. I’m starting to believe the fashion industry has an agenda this Black History Month pic.twitter.com/CSVuNhlpVe
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.
Old girls of Roedean School in Parktown, Johannesburg, have joined in the debate about transformation in education by taking to social media to talk about racial discrimination they experienced at the elite school.
We, alumni of Pretoria High School for Girls stand in solidarity with the bold and courageous learners of the school, who have spoken out about rank racial discrimination at our old school.
We are emboldened and inspired by their brave and principled stance in upholding the values the school was established on. These are encompassed in the mission statement of the founding headmistress, Ms Edith Aitken, who established the school with the honourable goal of educating young women so that we may leave our mark on the world, shape agendas and fight for equitable change when called upon. Many of the school’s alumni have answered this call over the years. Ms Aitken’s values are self-evident in many of the esteemed public figures, big and small, which spent their formative years at the school. Among these are educationists, public interest lawyers, the public health system’s doctors and nurses, and other professionals.
So, whilst many of us were familiar with some of the school’s more archaic practices in our day, it is with dismay that the country’s attention was drawn yesterday (Monday 29 August) to present-day racism, bullying and patently race-based shaming of black women’s bodies by staff at the school. Some accounts point to black staff members being demeaned as well, and so we level our dissatisfaction at the school’s poor track record with regard to transformation of the staff-body that is not commensurate to the changing body politic of the school.
We pledge our support to the crop of young women-leaders who have brought national attention to issues we are sorely aware are rampant not only at PHSG, but across the country’s Model C schools.
Girls, we are with you in spirit, minds and bodies, and we assure you that as Old Girls you have all of our support. We are here to share with you our experiences of the school and situation you find yourselves in, and are a call away should you seek any guidance, assistance and other practical services. Among us are lawyers, student activists, psychologists, doctors and members of the media. We are also academics at tertiary institutions, teachers and nurses. Call on us if you need to, but remember also: you have inspired us. There is much we’d like to learn from you, too.
Signed: (more names to follow)
1. Sibongile Hill (Class of 2002) – Medical Doctor 2.
Tidimalo Ngakane (Class of 2002) – Lawyer
3. Katy Hindle (Class of 2002) – Lawyer
4. Akhona Pearl Mehlo (Class 2002) – Lawyer
5. Janet Jobson (Class of 2002) – Civil Society
6. Angelique Terblanche (Class of 2002) – Manager
7. Letebele Tsebe (Class of 2004) – Scientist
8. Shanti Aboobaker (Class of 2004) – Journalist
9. Jocelyn Evans (Class of 2004) – Engineer
10. Nqobile Simelane (Class of 2004) – Economic Development Manager
11. Christine Emmett (Class of 2004) – Academic/Commonwealth scholar
12. Yonda Siwisa (Class of 2004) – Advertising Executive
13. Ncumisa Sakawuli (Class of 2004) – Banker
14. Anushka Singh Bhima (Class of 2004) – Lawyer
15. Linda Lesu (Class of 2004)
16. Tali Cassidy (Class of 2005) – Epidemiologist
17. Lindelwa Skenjana (Class of 2005) – Marketing
18. Nadia Ebrahim (Class of 2005) – Scientist and Teacher
19. Leila Ebrahim (Class of 2005) – Dentist
20. Diale Maepa (Class of 2007) – Medical Doctor
21. Lerissa Govender (Class of 2004) – Lawyer, Civil Society
22. Moipone Moloantoa (Class of 2004) – Advertising and Marketing
23. Carla Dennis (Class of 2002) – Actress
24. Thuli Zuma (Class of 2003)
25. Katie Miller Beyers (Class of 2002)
26. Olympia Shabangu (Class of 2002) – Lawyer
27. Pilani Bubu (Class of 2002) – Entrepreneur, Singer-Songwriter
28. Leila Badsha (Class of 2005) – Entrepreneur
29. Thabisile Tilo (Class of 2006) – Teacher
30. Danielle Kriel (Class of 2004) – Lawyer
31. Olympia Shabangu (Class of 2002) – Lawyer
32. Dina Lamb (Class of 2002)
33. Tessa Kerrich – Walker (Class of 2002) – Entrepreneur
34. Myna Pindeni (Class of 2004) – Women Empowerment Programmes Officer
35. Julia Eccles, (Class of 2003) – Advertising professional
36. Jenni Myburgh (Class of 2004) – Author and app founder
37. Erin Hommes (Class of 2004) – Activist and senior researcher
38. Jessica Schnehage (Class of 2004) – Entertainment consultant/Business Owner
39. Nuraan Muller (Class of 2000) – Director
40. Refilwe Tilo (Class of 2002) –
41. Chantelle Gilbert (Class of 2002) Restaurant owner/chef
42. Laura Ilunga (Class of 2003) – Pilot
43. Princess Magopane (class of 2002) Lawyer
44. Desré Khanyisa Barnard, 2003, Master’s student, ad hoc lecturer
45. Tshegofatso Phala, 2004, Pro Bono Attorney and Human rights activist
46. Lethabo Maboi (Class of 2003) Creative Director at Styled By Boogy
LISTEN: The opening title screen of the documentary explores racism and the language barrier experienced by non-Afrikaans students at Stellenbosch University. Photo: YouTube
A documentary exploring racism and the language barrier experienced by non-Afrikaans students at Stellenbosch University is causing widespread debate from within the university itself to politicians in parliament.
Last week, student organisation Open Stellenbosch, together with Contraband Cape Town, released the short documentary Luister. The documentary explores racism and the language barrier experienced by non-Afrikaans students at Stellenbosch University.
Stellenbosch University’s relations manager Wim de Villiers said he is more than willing to meet with Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education. This comes after political parties voiced their concerns over a documentary which features student accounts of alleged racism.
The ANC in Parliament expressed outrage on Tuesday over the racist reality at the University that the documentary portrays. Parliament now wants to have an urgent meeting with the institution’s management.
Luister is a 30 minute YouTube documentary showing the lived experiences of more than 30 students and a lecturer at the university who have felt forms of racial prejudice. It also deals with issues of non-transformation at the institution which is still 65% white.
De Villiers said Luister gives the false impression that management isn’t serious about transformation. He added that the University has always taken the issue seriously but highlighted that there also needs to be mutual respect from the students.
Open Stellenbosch responded to the Universities comments saying that they were, “disappointed that even now, confronted with the raw testimony of students talking about our personal lived experiences of racism and violence, the university continues to insist that our voices are a ‘misrepresentation’”.
Since its release on YouTube a few days ago, it has already had over 125,000 views. According to Open Stellenbosch, the group wants to show the public the extent of racism and exclusivity at Stellenbosch University.
“For the past three months we’ve been acting in action against the university to appeal to these issues. We saw the need to draw broader attention that’s why we decided to put ‘Luister’ together.”
“Luister is a film about Afrikaans as a language and a culture. It is a film about the continuing racism that exists within a divided society. It is a film about a group of students whose stories have been ignored. Luister is the Afrikaans word for Listen.” Contraband Cape Town added this description on YouTube.
White students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have taken to Facebook and Twitter with “racist” commentary, leading to further debate and clashes across social media, during the #RhodesMustFall campaign. Their comments have been shared under the hashtag #RacismMustFall.
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A group of UCT (University of Cape Town) students, including members of the SRC (Student Representatives Council), threw human excrement at a statue of Cecil John Rhodes earlier today, in protest against “white arrogance”.
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Today we’re taking a look at the #WitsShutdown protests which are over historical debt and unaffordable accommodation, which have seen several students suspended, physical clashes between protestors and security and disruptions to the academic programme for many. In this bonus episode of We Should Be Writing, we let students unpack their views on what has […]