By Lehlohonolo Shale
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 10 of VARSITY News.
Hair is political. This is the postulation of writer and lawyer, Christine Qunta, in her book Why We Are Not a Nation. I agree.
The recent events at retail store, Clicks, in our country has shown that matters of hair can no longer be left to the domain of the fashion and beauty industry anymore. Clearly, they are worth more than that. The healthcare group recently posted an advert on its marketing platforms claiming that African women’s hair is “dry and damaged” whilst European hair is fine and normal.
Many people took to social media, and correctly so, to protest this anomaly. As it is, political action followed. Leading the pack on this front was the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) who threatened to shut down the chain store’s outlets. They eventually did– or at least most stores did close.
Looking back, it was an appropriate and immediate action against the transgressing store. At the same time other social media users felt a parody on Clicks would work better so they took onto social media to post counter-narratives, or at least the same train of thought to invert the pyramid – so to speak. This device is a powerful tool in the hands of the oppressed and has been used in the past to open new battle fronts against racism. It is the same tool that is used successfully by satirists in literature.
Due to the causalities suffered by Clicks a truce had to be called. Today we are at a stage where Unilever SA, the company which licences TRESemmé products, has agreed on several concessions. Amongst these is a commitment to “set up a new diversity and inclusion assets committee.”
However, in order to cure a disease (i.e. if you view racism as such) you need a good diagnosis which will result in a possible cure. You also need to administer the correct prognosis. Again, you don’t want a situation where after a hard-fought struggle all that is offered becomes cosmetic. Our people have gone through that many times resulting in a sense of despondency when it comes to possible political solutions.
Empowering those who suffered economic exclusion in the past is a good thing but more needs to be done.
In one of his writings the late Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, shows that for the ideology of colonialism to succeed the invading power must degrade the dispossessed. This they do, amongst others, by shaming their bodies. An unworthy body, in a sense, becomes justified to be denigrated. Once this logic becomes hegemonic then the African body is obliterated, safe for abuse in an exploitative economy.
If we take Achebe’s argument to its logical conclusion then we begin to understand that Clicks’ ad and similar reactionary actions are not to be unexpected. In fact, it would be surprising if the likes of TRESemmé were to valorise the oppressed.
So, what then is the way forward? For me, the capitalist/imperialist mentality of many institutions needs to be dismantled. You can’t effectively do it without dismantling the capitalist/imperialist economic base itself. A new people-centred base will ensure that the racialised social relations are abandoned and destroyed.
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