Agency Life: The black elephant in the room — part 3
by TJ Njozela (@tj_njozela) In the second column in this trilogy on transformation in the ad industry, I addressed how the white peeps contribute to its stumbling along. We’ve still got a long way to go but at least you’ve got a starting point. My people, I’m just going to go straight into it. Sorry, not sorry.
Yeah, I said it. And, no, it’s not coconut tendencies. But before you run to Black Twitter to have my black status revoked, let me explain.
Say you want to go out for dinner. It’s pay day, and to give meaning to the end of a broke month, you want something nice. Something foreign. Something Italian. You live in the boujee suburb of Bryanston, Johannesburg, and you have a choice between an Italian-owned restaurant whose owner is a sucker for grappa, beautiful women and sports cars, or a black-owned restaurant whose owner is also a sucker for grappa, beautiful women, and sports cars.
Essentially, you’ve got a choice between going to an Italian restaurant or an Italian Blackstaurant. But, even though the food at the Blackstaurant is exceptionally better, there’s just something about the term “Blackstaurant” that makes you slightly uncomfortable, and it doesn’t help that I keep mentioning the word “Blackstaurant”.
It’s the same thing with BLAxellence. If one restaurant is excellent and the other BLAxellent, the upper case “BLA” doesn’t make it any more comfortable.
Fundamentally, it’s great to celebrate black people who are achieving success or making a difference in their communities, cities, or the world. But let’s just celebrate their excellence in a way that doesn’t make it sort of cheapen what they’ve done.
This next thing is probably one of the most difficult things for anyone to do. But, if you don’t, how will anything change?
It’s like, you know, that thing with that guy the other time. Already you’re thinking what thing, what guy, what time?! That’s because I’m hinting instead of just saying it.
Now imagine if I didn’t even hint, and then got mad that you don’t know what I’m talking about. It would be unfair. But that’s what most people do every day. They don’t say anything, they become disgruntled and blame their boss for their unhappiness.
Stop it. Just say something.
If you’re unhappy about how much you get paid, don’t sit and hope that the advertising gods will miraculously whisper sweet somethings into your boss’ ear, and she’ll give you a raise out of nowhere. Or, if you just moan in the corridors that you don’t get any nice briefs, they’ll magically fall into your lap.
You’ve got to say something, and not by gossiping or complaining; make a case for yourself like the responsible adult you sort of are. Give valid reasons for why you should get a raise by stating the value you’ve been adding to the business. Ask to be given opportunities to work on stuff that will help you to grow, even if you must work with other people on it.
In the end, no one knows what you want unless you tell them. It’s not easy, I know, but for those who don’t know what “ringa” means, you don’t learn to speak for yourself, you’ll always be in the shadow of those who can. Ok, I’m done now.
Ok, I’m not done. Yet. Whether it’s the guy who always rocks up at work late smelling like eau de groovas, the girl who tries to use big words but then English shows her flames, or the guy who ravages chicken bones at a department lunch, we all generally have the same reaction: “Eish, darkies.”
I know, it’s fun to say these things, and we all laugh together at the ‘embarrassing’ things we do but, at the same time, it’s propagating the stereotype that we’re all the same.
And we’re not.
The guy from ekasi who’s fluent in multiple languages is very different to the guy in the ’burbs whose parents bought him his first car, who is very different to the girl who only buys Louis bags and red bottoms. And those are just three kinds of blacks.
In reality, there are more kinds of black people than there are shades of grey, but when they say or do things like I’ve described, everyone who isn’t black thinks we’re all the same. That’s why we have ads with dabbing gogos and desert dances.
And in the age of #BlackInsightsMatter, here’s the best insight into black people: we are not all the same.
Of course, transformation is a subject that’s so complex and so important that three articles from some creative guy won’t change things overnight. It’s going to take time to get it right. It’s not anyone’s fault (except maybe the apartheid government), but it’s everyone’s responsibility to make it happen.
The key things are that we need to work on changing our personal perceptions and biases, and then work together to create not just an industry but a nation who treats people fairly and equally.
It’s not an impossible task. With understanding, patience, and being aware of our role in shaping the narrative, it’ll be a lot easier to deal with the black elephant in the room.
- Khethiwe Makhubo:
- TJ Njozela:
- Lynn Madeley:
- Jarred Cinman:
- 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 a creative group head at Net#work BBDO. With several years of experience in the advertising industry, he’s more than a writer; he is also a reader, a thinker, and an avid liker of things. 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.