News24 Wire
Wire Service
4 minute read
13 Sep 2020
11:12 am

Clicks, Unilever’s apologies nothing but ‘window dressing’

News24 Wire

After almost a week of outcry and nationwide protests over the TRESemmé advert on Clicks' website, Wits University senior lecturer Danai Mupotsa is skeptical about the apologies issued by these companies.

A crumpled up Clicks Club Card | Image: Twitter @BuisangSnr

The African Literature scholar said she fears they lack the true understanding and will to change, as their values and culture are built upon the structures of racial capitalism.

Mupotsa said that representation played a significant role in society, helping people to feel affirmed and accepted.

“If people have never seen themselves in an image on television or in a book or advertising, you start to feel like you don’t exist,” she said.

Mupotsa recalled her own childhood experience, growing up in Zimbabwe, where the only representation she saw of black hair was on relaxer boxes. These featured a black child with straight silky hair.

“That was the image that I aspired to, which was straight hair that was curled in a particular way. Then, when I relaxed my hair and it didn’t look like that, I was confused.”

Clicks ad

The Wits lecturer said that companies such as Unilever and Clicks often hired people of colour as a form of window dressing, instead of transforming and changing the centuries-old issues of systemic racism and inequality. She said it was high time that these big corporations put their money where their mouths were when it came to the systematic changes they incorporate.

“If we start to see black women in different positions of power or occupying strategic positions, rather than just positions, I think there are two effects to it: a reorientation of the world in that organisation, because they come with experience of a body that doesn’t come from a position of power and might bring some insight,” she told News24.

“Then there’s a transformative possibility. But oftentimes that form of representation means that you are in that place and the image is there, but it’s non-performative and non-transformational in that you have to reproduce the same system because the language is spoken – norms and values given in that context remain the same.”

Members of the EFF protesting outside the Clicks store in Mall of Africa attempted to chain the door but were prevented by the Police, 7 September 2020, Midrand. The party has called for a total shutdown of all Clicks stores after a racist advert was shared on social media. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Mupotsa lamented the fact that nationwide protests, such as those staged by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) last week, would continue to happen because of the long history of racial capitalism.

“Companies like Unilever are deeply embedded in the making of global racial capitalism. That system is deeply racialised and gendered. In addition to that, that deep history that is deeply racist has largely remained the same.

“So, Clicks giving us one shelf as ethnic people… against an entire shelf… that gives you the sense of whose point of view matters and who owns things,” the current Atlantic Fellow for Racial Equality said.

Mupotsa believes that the outrage and conversations being had around the issues of racism, black hair, representation and the history of racial science, that have long governed the organisations such as Unilever, are important for people to feel affirmed. It also helped people to realise that there was a possibility for a different kind of reality than the current one.

“If you felt crazy your whole life and then to realise you’re not crazy…that kind of affirmation is energising and heartbreaking because you also realise the extent of the problem. These conversations make it possible for moments of recognition that there are other ways that we can do business,” she added.

She believes that white people who expressed their outrage at the protests displayed another kind of cynicism, as it showed their lack of understanding and affirmed the racist notion that black people have no value.

“We are too quickly asked to think that things have changed. Someone says we have decolonised and then we get happy and then are shocked two years, five years, ten years later when things are still the same.

Actress Gugu Gumede. Photo: Twitter @itsGuguGumede

“We need to be deeply cynical because the things we want are beautiful and bigger than we are imagining. Black children should grow up knowing that they are beautiful, without discovering it after burning their hair for 25 years. To reverse the history, it requires deep spiritual, political, ethical, emotional, revolutionary, reforming and radical kind of commitment,” she said.

However, Mupotsa also called out black people who believed the protests were unnecessary and sabotaged small black-owned companies which sell their products in Clicks.

“I know being recognised by big corporates gives some kind of access and legitimacy to a business. But this is where we all need to take some responsibility in how we mobilise and organise ourselves and imagine a different kind of future,” she said.

“If being in Clicks is the end post, then we are somewhat part of the issue. We deserve better.”

“The inclusion model is, for example, that in Clicks you will always be in the ethnic section because the normative standard is that everybody is white and then you can have the corner section. Now that is an unjust standard and it doesn’t look like that in the country or the world,” she said.

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