Letter to the South African advertising industry — part 1
Dear South African Advertising Industry
I am writing this letter to you as a black woman who has worked for you short of three years, and in my time here I have experienced how hostile, violent and resistant you are to the black female creative voice.
As a black female body entering the advertising space, regardless of skill and abilities, it is made very clear from the onset that I am just an HR tick box.
“Stay in your box” is insidiously communicated to me in daily micro incidents — such as being talked over in meetings and brainstorms, being milked for black and specifically black female insights and then being left out of those projects altogether, and constantly getting mindless briefs that require me not to think, which render me having little to no creative input and impact — are just some of the ways that we as black female creatives are gradually, insidiously and systematically being written out of the script.
Being muted in these daily micro incidents all add up and become a bigger and more violent act of erasure, dominance and seizure of the black female creative and black female narrative. This is indicative of and reflected in the type of black female tropes in adverts (we are always doing laundry, singing for bread and other basic goods, cooking stew for an award, dancing for something – again — in a taxi to get a loan to sink further in debt, doing our hair and gossiping about our neighbours —just a few examples of the endless misguided representations of the black female being and experience).
These images lack thorough research and consultation and, as a result, black girls and women have to consume these supposed narrations of themselves which are half-assed insights that don’t reflect the full spectrum and the intricate nuances and are, ultimately, dishonest representations of the black female experience. This is problematic because what it shows is that black women are constantly and inaccurately being spoken about, for and on behalf of, and never to or with.
This comes as a result of the exclusion of black females in creative spaces, which is aggressively systematic as reflected in the lack of black women who walk on stages to collect awards, the small number of us in impactful and key decision-making roles, the lack of black women in positions of power with agency to recruit, etc. Our lack of presence is a systematic act, one of supressing the black female creative which leads to the appropriation of the black female narrative. As an industry you are doing a great disservice to the brands that market predominantly to the black female demographic across all strata because the messaging becomes lost and mixed up in the politics and systematic exclusion and silencing of the black female creative.
This letter is a revolutionary act, a ripping off of this tape that has been muzzling my mouth and rendering me silent. It is me fearlessly finding and using my voice because it dawned on me, as Audre Lorde wrote that “[my] silence will not protect [me].” I am realising that, by being silent, I am complicit in my own erasure. Choosing silence and being resigned to the status quo is problematic, even more so because it all stems from a place of fear. We fear our voice and we fear how disrupting and challenging the current standing voice is our risking being placed on the blacklist. But the irony is, by virtue of being black and female, you’ve already been blacklisted: you are labelled, judged and stereotypical assumptions have been placed upon you the minute you walk through the door.
This letter also serves as a call to action to all black female creatives to awaken to their own voices: speak up and end the silencing, end the monotony and end the monolith.
Change won’t happen when we look to our gatekeepers to do it. We have to be our own locksmiths and be key players in the emancipation of our own voices and the true proprietors of our narratives. To the black female creatives who work this industry, let this serve as a notice, to the awakening to, the realisation of the power of our ideas, our creativity and our unique voices. Our point of view matters, our creativity is golden and our unique voice is the disruptive and change agent that this industry so desperately needs.
Black female creatives represent the change and the future of this industry. With that being said, we can no longer hang on the edges of the HR tick box hoping to be seen and begging to be heard.
A young black female creative
Strategic thinker, designer & art director
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