Dear South African Advertising Industry
It’s no secret that I’ve been in this industry short of three years and, in that time, I’ve gone through, been witness to and have had to be a listening ear and a strong shoulder to some painful experiences and stories [see Letter to the South African advertising industry — part 1]. These experiences have, in my view, demonstrated how insidiously hostile, resistant and violent this industry really is to the black female body, voice and narrative.
American author Zora Neale Hurston has taught me: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” In this letter, I am choosing to speak out about these painful experiences and stories. Some of them are my own and some belong to other black creative women but, when it comes down to it, the pain is carried by all of us.
This world was not designed for us,
This industry was not designed for us.
They hate us.
Why do they hate us?
These painful words come from a black female body with more life and work experience than me but, who like myself, must navigate this world, this industry and the spaces in-between. The words “THEY HATE US” still ring in my ears and the question “WHY DO THEY HATE US?” rings the loudest. Her words reverberate feelings of rejection, exclusion and imply that we black women have done something to warrant being hated.
South Africa is a patriarchal and highly racial society. Working in an industry that is a microcosm of such a society, the word “hate” is not just a passive state. It is demonstrated daily in micro and macro incidents such as in the assertion of personal prejudices and biases, in the formulation of insidiously racialised systems, and in superfluous displays of power by gatekeepers and people with access to power.
I honestly don’t know why they hate us but the events below may shed some light. I must reiterate that these are not all my stories but I have written them as my own because being a black female creative is also my daily regalia.
- A white female senior told me that she was surprised that I’m “not just a pretty face.” This was one of the rare occasions that she’d engaged with me and those were the words she chose to engage with. I was taken aback by the statement because it made me realise that, from day one, she has clearly judged and labelled me as “pretty-stupid” before I could even say hello. This is terrifying to reflect on — how many other black women who enter the industry feel dismissed, overlooked and forced to disappear purely because people have chosen to judge them on their looks and not their skills?
- Why do all the good briefs go to white male teams? And all the good “black” briefs go to the black male teams? These are the painful questions that we ask ourselves as black female creatives, individually and when we are in caucus. We have a few theories as to why but it’s concerning that we are in an industry that doesn’t see us as worthy of such briefs. That is a painful reality to try and navigate because you’re constantly fighting to be seen and to prove your worth to an audience of zero.
- I remember, in the first month of my internship year, asking for training which was on offer for any and everyone, including we mere interns. So, I enthusiastically approached a white female gatekeeper who oversaw dispensing out the training opportunities. But, before I could even finish my rehearsed request, she told me outright that I probably wouldn’t be employed here at the end of the year so why would the company want to waste their money on me. This was painful because it made me realise that, within the first month, people had already decided, sans opportunities to prove myself, that I wasn’t worthy and wouldn’t make it.
- I was told to stop being emotional by a black male CEO, when I questioned him on why a creative director was letting go of a talented black female creative. The CD, it turned out, was letting her go because he just didn’t want to spend the time training and inducting her into the team. The next week, a white female creative joined his team and he then mysteriously had the time to train and induct her. All I can is: if it sounds, looks and smells like insidious racism, it probably is.
- My name was left out of the credits of a campaign that I worked on that won an international advertising award. When I confronted the white male ECD responsible, I was simply told oops and expected to keep quiet, forget it and move on. Instead of doing that, I told everyone who was willing to listen. I used my social platforms and online portfolio to celebrate my win. The ECD then had to acknowledge, informally and formally, that a black female creative had worked on the winning campaign. This form of erasure occurs frequently in this industry and, too often, people keep quiet, forget and move on.
- A meeting was called with all the creatives to address the dress code of the black creative women in that space. We were told in front of our male peers that how we dress provokes the male gaze and sends the wrong message. This is problematic because the meeting was conducted by a white female senior who publicly pinpointed black women as the problem. The policing of black female bodies by a white female is highly problematic and clearly indicates a need to dominate and control black female bodies. It also makes me question who the true guardians of patriarchy really are.
There are many more untold stories and I will be using every soapbox available to me to unpack them. Black female voices, creators, thought-leaders are championing the change towards more meaningful transformation in this industry — and we’re working radically towards carving out an industry that is more inclusive of us, reflects us and celebrates us.
A young black female creative
Strategic thinker, designer & art director
- Letter to the South African advertising industry — part 1
Khethiwe Makhubo (@Katywe) is a black womxn, a creative being, and she has a strong suspicion that black creative womxn are coming for everything. Find her on Instagram.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.
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