Corporate controversies and South Africa’s response to racial discrimination

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By Zinhle Geluk

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 10 of VARSITY News.

 

The past week saw racism rearing its ugly head once again. This time through hair politics– a lingering debate that has been going on for decades on end. Twitter was taken by storm when a hair advert from one of the national pharmaceutical stores, Clicks, was released. One could see a white woman’s hair said to be straight and normal and a black woman’s hair deemed damaged. This saw a huge outrage from the country which caused radical organisations like the EFF to embark on a protest at all Clicks stores located across the country. I believe this time around Clicks thought they could slightly get away with it by the usual drive that often happens. By using the notion of “any publicity is good publicity” and that they would simply issue an official apology and hashtags would trend for a day or two and blows over. However, it was far from the ‘usual’ when the EFF embarked on protests and some stores were vandalised. There were concerns about as to whether that would affect jobs of the employees working at Clicks especially given the tough economic challenges that were brought on by the current Covid-19 pandemic.

 

One would also recall that a similar boycott was done in H&M in 2018, who were also under the crossfire for the same thing when they displayed a black child in a monkey top captioned “coolest monkey in the jungle”.  After many protests and hashtags, life went back to normal and today people still shop there. With Clicks it seemed to have left an even more bitter stain and taste. It could be that perhaps as people of colour, we have reached our limit in terms of contending with corporate racism. One renowned media personality mentioned something which I found valid. They mentioned that we always quickly forgive. A brand will ‘realise’ something problematic that perpetuates racial discrimination and, as mentioned previously, will later post an apology saying that “we didn’t know” or “it was a mistake” and we move on and continue supporting them. He mentioned that is why they see no problem because everyone knows the drill.

 

This time around it went radical and has sparked huge conversations across the country. One which I found interesting was that these series of events point out the internal errors with South Africa’s historical transformation. Government needs to consider stronger and more realistic policy measures against racial discrimination. Ultimately, circumstances like these in the South African context of systemic racism through corporations require pragmatic systemic responses in order to put an end to this.

 

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