Not Yet Uhuru: Clicks Advert Exposes Racism in Advertising
Once again, a South African company has had to apologise for a “little” racist glitch and the rainbow nation’s glitter has yet again been scattered. The glitch took the form of an advertisement on Clicks Stores’ website, which depicted Black women’s hair as brittle, dull, damaged and frizzy. This perpetuated a long-standing stereotype that Black women’s hair in its natural state is not normal. The advert went on to suggest that White women’s hair is “normal” and healthy. Various news anchors, especially from the eNCA news channel, expressed their revulsion. The channel’s Melanie Rice said that every day, she is reminded through popular culture and her environment that her whiteness matters as it is reinforced on television, and in films and advertising. At the same time, many people voiced their frustration on social media platforms. Julius Malema and his political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) took up the struggle for Black female hair representation.
Racism does not need to be overt to be violent. Indeed, it often takes subtle forms. The advertising industry has been a critical force in driving covert racist images of Black people for many decades. Examples include an advert for soap that claimed that it cleaned and whitened Black skin to present a clearer, pure skin tone. The beauty industry’s use of terms that allude to cleanliness, purity, and a refreshed self, disguises a racist discourse that denigrates the black body or people of colour.
An advert that supports the ideals of White supremacy and Black inferiority cannot merely be described as a “marketing strategy” gone wrong. The race binary misrepresents and whitewashes Black experiences.
South Africa is a violent society, and violence begets violence. Violence manifests differently, and as a society, we need to engage in uncomfortable and challenging conversations that will eventually shift how this society engages racial politics, the racial economy and the way we think of ourselves as humans. Black South Africans are still fundamentally divided, and divide and rule, separatist ways of thinking sustain the White supremacy that so many of us are still fighting. The fact that most Black South Africans are far removed from strategic and critical points that could work for change makes it even harder to achieve a fair society.
Clicks should do much more than apologising on social media or removing TRESemme products from their stores. Apologies perpetuate the racist mentality that continues to pervade South Africa 26 years after the official demise of apartheid. If the company wants to continue to do business in South Africa, it needs to take a serious look at its executive-level transformation structures.
Ms Luthando Ngema is a lecturer in the Media and Cultural Studies Department, School of Arts, UKZN. Her multidisciplinary interests include understanding urban cultures; representation of gender and race issues in the media; political communication and communication for development.
Photograph: Photobooth Durban
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.