It was only a matter of time before the stench of our most hereditary ailment contaminated the atmosphere one way or another.
The only question was what guise it would assume this time: a skin-lightening soap for black skin? A black child in a hoodie, with the words “Coolest monkey in the jungle” emblazoned across the torso? A beachgoer uttering the K-word in a video? A stranded motorist rapid-firing said epithet 48 times at a helpful metro cop, or any of the other innumerable ways in which a black person is demeaned or bastardised for his natural genetic chemistry?
This time, though, the offenders had me googling “the making of a TV advertisement campaign”. Even the B-grade variety of these are said to have at least a dozen hands and eyes on deck, from the creative agencies to the post-production houses and, of course, the advertiser – in this case, TRESemmé – finally giving the stamp of approval.
None of them saw anything remotely untoward in the ad before it was posted on the Clicks website. What the footage showed – that black hair is 3D (dry, dull and damaged) and white hair is fine, flat and normal – not only met their permissibility standards, but was entirely normal to their Eurocentric gaze. Chew on that a while: nobody saw anything wrong with this crass misrepresentation and gutting of the black identity.
What came next was the usual knee-jerk group of black Twitterati losing their marbles and the EFF protesting that we actually do matter.
Unsurprisingly, the party urged its faithful to “attack” Clicks stores and, predictably, the protest soon spiralled out of control. An eNCA reporter, Nobesuthu Hejana, was reportedly harassed in the ensuing chaos, a claim the EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi watered down by saying “she was merely touched”.
Ah, this madness. Would Ndlozi have been as nonchalant had the reporter been his sister or mother in this country ravaged by gender-based violence? We shudder to ask.
Or did we excuse his glibness because we’ve heard far worse about miniskirts and rape before?
The party has met with Clicks and Unilever, TRESemmé’s parent company. Yet, when we’ve forgotten about this incident and the next big story makes us turn on the telly, black people will still be dancing in ads because the food’s so good or the washing powder makes the laundry so bright. They’ll be singing because the spice is hot.
The airtime’s cheap enough to warrant an impromptu Vosho. They’re the target audience who don’t require much wit, subtlety or meaningful artistic creativity in advertisements for many of the products sold to them.
“The affluent among them are known to have a knack for the most expensive; the middle class are sometimes a bit more finicky. As for the rest, we’ll just have to see,” is what this writer imagines is said in white-dominated ad agency boardrooms.
Recording R33 billion in revenue last year, the Clicks Group will revamp its vandalised stores. And millions of unemployed black people will be too hungry to resist submitting their CVs to the very retail chain said to have spat on their collective worth.
The arrested protesters who were urged to partake in the attacks face the possibility of criminal records, tainting whatever minuscule employment opportunities they might have had. I doubt many of them had jobs, since they “attacked” during office hours. Yet the offensive media stereotypes will remain entrenched because the big companies are still white-owned and black people are merely broad-based BEE partners who’re seemingly being done a favour.
In this belligerent political reaction, we’re still begging for a place at the table. We haven’t made our own. Black rage isn’t ferocious enough to rattle the concrete institutional systems to their colonial foundations.
The violent rhetoric doesn’t live up to the reality of how essentially powerless we are. Because true power isn’t in how many doors we ram down, but in how tactically we use the little spending power we have to make stores like Clicks feel the pinch in their bottom lines.
If there’s one thing capitalists don’t take kindly to, it’s running at a loss. What did the vandalising of stores do except put people out of jobs and break a few items? It hardly dented the great behemoth of white monopoly capital.
These guys have insurance and investments, and the images of violent protests did nothing but deter potential investors and tourists to our shores – and, in the process, make us look like a primitive rabble whose only language is violence. Surely the political struggle ought to have advanced to levels that even big corporates don’t dare to offend a darkie. Not because the black person will fight, but because he or she is a treasured client whose business is important.
However, what Clicks CEO Vikesh Ramsunder labelled as “insensitive and offensive images” will pop up again because we’ve yet to enjoy the benefits of capital warfare. It will take more than black fists punching the air and chanting slogans to effectively take on these venerable institutions.
Our radical parties are a fringe known to embrace – or, at least, quote extensively from – the Black Consciousness movement of the late Steve Biko, yet I’d wager even he would be embarrassed that, 43 years after his death, things look as backward as ever. After all our democratisation, even leaders are cowering, asking for white approval in the land of their birth under a black government.
They’re no different from the necklace murders of the struggle era – hurting black employees at Clicks while the big executives slip into their Mercs and drive off untouched.
Inasmuch as Clicks admittedly got it wrong, the response did nobody any justice. The objective of our time shouldn’t be about being the loudest or strongest, but about using the mighty mind to dig the darkie out of gutter-bound poverty, so that he has a choice to denounce calls that don’t square with his conscience.
Our people deserve better than to be denigrated online or be subjected to cheap politicking. Anything short of that is empty sloganeering – all talk, no tangible results.
Mayaba is a graduate and freelance writer