FieldNotes: From staying to slaying
by Marguerite Coetzee. Here are three lessons as to how #ImStaying may teach us about reflection.
Rooted in privilege
#ImStaying is a Facebook group that is said to have been started with the intention of countering negative narratives about South Africa. It is intended to create inclusivity in a seemingly divided nation, to chant an anthem: “I AM STAYING!” However, the very notion of having an option to leave, but choosing to stay, is rooted in privilege.
Most of South Africa is not afforded that choice and stay out of necessity or not having an escape route. I joined the group in its early stages, hoping to indulge in stories excluded from mainstream media. What I came to find instead was underlying tones of rainbowism, tokenism, and other forms of patronising, paternalistic, privileged posts. The group was also heavily controlled, preventing any ‘negative’ comments, discussions or debates. Following from my encounter with angry drivers, I typed up a post and submitted it to the group. For a week, my post was pending approval from the group’s admin, after which someone on their side deleted it.
What did it say? It went something like this: “There is a theory in the social sciences that all the world’s problems can be traced back to three institutions: patriarchy, capitalism, and white privilege. What can we do to tackle these challenges and create the South Africa we all belong to and dream of?”
Admittedly, I asked this question in the hopes of sparking a conversation but came to realise that this group isn’t the platform for confrontation, observation, or reflection. Here are three lessons for brands.
Lesson 1: Look for signs
Frustrated with the “toxic positivity” of the group, local artist David Scott of The Kiffness revealed that many of the people on the page were expats living abroad; they had, in fact, left (read the full story here). Scott has since created his own group, called #ImSlaying, in which people share comical photos and stories of themselves succeeding in life.
The original group should not be disregarded or completely discredited, because it exists for a reason. That reason might be that consumers of media are searching for other narratives, communities, and outlets.
- Brands could create such connections but should be weary of putting up a false façade of unity that covers up and ignores the lived realities of many. Look for signs of unrest and dissatisfaction — that is the road you need to take towards creating meaningful change.
“False hopes are more dangerous than fears” —JRR Tolkien, author.
Lesson 2: Map the journey
South Africa faces the challenge of several legacies, of patriarchal power structures, of capitalist systems that create exclusion and invisibility, and of privilege that favours the few. We have been through this journey before. Coming from a highly racialised past and moving to democracy, younger generations have since called for the fall of sugar-coated reconciliation.
Knowing where we come from and what we have been through can help guide where we are going.
- Brands could reflect on their own narratives, or contributions to national stories and consumer identity construction. Consider the impacts made, and the shifts needed.
“A generation which ignores history has no past, and no future” —Robert Anson Heinlein, author
Lesson 3: Change direction
If we imagine transformation to follow the shape of an S-curve, it becomes easier to anticipate, prepare for, and shape change. A time of growth is often followed by a transition in which the old is discontinued, and the new emerges (read more about the Sigmoid Curve here).
It could be said that SA is currently in a state of transition, transformation, and uncertainty. What we do now will impact our trajectory going forward.
- Brands could create a shared vision of the future and actively work towards it, along with their community and consumers. Don’t be afraid to change direction if needed; being resilient means adapting to change.
“Where the fog is thickest, begin” — Marty Rubin, author.
Marguerite Coetzee is a senior strategist at Instant Grass International and an anthropologist, artist and futurist who provides research and insight services through Omniology. FieldNotes, the latest series in her regular column on MarkLives, captures experiences from the field, shares the cultural lessons learned, and advises on qualitative tools, methodologies and frameworks when exploring the world of the consumer.