Agency Life: The black elephant in the room — part 1
Black people might find the awkwardness of ‘white people smiles’ in the office a lot more awkward, and white people might start wondering if young black creatives really are ‘gathering’ to talk about fashion and music, or if they’re plotting the next #ThingThatMustFall. But, ladies and gentlemen of the advertising industry, I put it to you that, while this series of articles is going to be challenging and, at times, as comfortable as a turbulent flight back from the Loeries after starring in your own version of The Hangover — thank goodness for sickness bags — in the end, we’ll have a platform where we can talk about the black elephant in the room in a constructive way.
Before we get into what we need to do with the elephant, we need to understand why it’s there in the first place. Fortunately, there are some valid reasons for the need for transformation, and how as a nation we got to this point. Here are a few that will help contextualise our current economic climate.
1. Because apartheid
For most of us, the only thing we remember about 2010 is that Phillip was here. But the biggest news story of the year (well, one of them; the other one was the Haiti earthquake) was the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Over 700m litres of oil spilled into the ocean, some of which is still washing up on shores to this day.
The pressing question is: what does the Gulf of Mexico have to do with apartheid?
I think it serves as a good analogy. As much as apartheid ended long before anyone ever would have thought Donald Trump would one day become a president, its effects are still being felt in the era of Zumanomics.
And, if the impact of an oil spill a few years ago is still felt today, how much longer would it take to not feel the effects of a complex system designed to disenfranchise, exploit and deprive a people not from a particular racial group from economic freedom?
So, when people say “Apartheid is still alive”, they’re not holding on to the past; they’re actually living it in the present.
2. There is a lot of black people in South Africa
Saying there is a lot of black people in SA is like saying there is a lot of fish in the sea. Duh. But this obvious fact is one of the reasons transformation is necessary. Because it doesn’t make sense to have a country where a minority has a bigger share of the pie than the majority. It’s like your little brother or sister getting a bigger piece at the braai than your dad. It’s just weird.
So, one of the main objectives of transformation is levelling the playing field. That’s why there’s a focus on empowering people who were previously disadvantage by the old system. It’s not about putting black people on boards and so on just to be nice. Black people deserve nice things, too.
3. We all want to live in a nice country
One of the things we have going for us as a country is how nice we are. Whenever people visit SA, they never stop going on about how nice the people are here. And of course we are nice. Though most of these really nice people are part of the growing middle class who, for the most part, are doing ok. But there are also some not-so-nice people, most of whom are living in tough situations.
Imagine how nice the country would be if everyone were doing ok, and didn’t have to resort to being stats about how much our country sucks.
Even white people would be able to walk freely in inner city Joburg, at night, with no fear of anything happening. Even the ‘boujee’ black people will start doing night runs in the city streets.
Yes, it will take a lot of work to get the country to this utopian level. A lot. But because transformation aims to give everyone a chance to lead a happy, economically empowered life, it’s a good first step towards it.
Transformation is by no means a perfect plan. After all, it was a government idea. But the intention is 100% solid. And, as with most of the government’s plans, it’ll only succeed if businesses and individuals make it work.
As an industry that creates jobs from conceptual teams to community managers, from the people who put up billboards to sound engineers, advertising has the potential to contribute and perhaps even lead the way when it comes to transformation. There are some challenges, however, and we’ll look at those in the next article.
- Jarred Cinman: An introduction to BEE in the advertising industry
- Big Q Transformation series:
- Mxolisi Goodman Buthelezi: Transformation isn’t dancing for chicken, airtime or policies
- Monalisa Sibongile Zwambila: Transformation needs buy-in on the demand side
- Grant Sithole: Transformation — the proverbial workhorses have bolted
- Zibusiso Mkhwanazi: Transformation — clients must take road less travelled
- Masego Motsogi: What we need to achieve true transformation
- Sbu Sitole: Concept of transformation not embraced by our industry
- Ahmed Tilly: “Some” transformation is simply not good enough
- Ivan Moroke: Transformation apartheid plagues SA ad agencies
TJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) is an award-winning senior copywriter at FCB Africa with several years of experience in the advertising industry. More than a writer, he is also a reader, a thinker, and an avid liker of things; and he once walked from Joburg to Cape Town in 30 days to raise funds to buy wheelchairs for people in need. #30Days30Wheelchairs. TJ contributes the regular “Agency Life” column, in which he gives career advice for working within the advertising industry, to MarkLives.