Being Black In Advertising in South Africa is Exhausting

Even just thinking about this, it is tiring. I’m sure what you are about to read is just the tip of the iceberg, but here’s a list of a few things that explain why it is exhausting to be black in advertising:

– as a black creative, you essentially have two jobs. The first is doing the day-to-day job that you get paid for (as little and discouraging as it is), and the second job is managing your blackness. If you’ve ever worked two jobs at the same time, you know how taxing this is. Managing your blackness can mean that you have to make sure and fight that your blackness does not get in the way of your career progress. 

– if you are a black woman, damn, it gets worse. Black men do enjoy certain gender privileges. As black men, we can get away with slightly more than black women. But, we are all on the same bus, it’s just that men are seated, and women remain standing. When you are standing, in the bus of a long-distance trip, those standing will suffer more and much quicker, than those who are seated. But, we are all in the same WhatsApp group.

– white people in advertising experience the industry differently from black people, because there’s a systemic perception that white people “deserve” everything, and that black people are “lucky” to have everything, and therefore should be grateful (i.e.: we are undeserving). And this is precisely why black creatives get taken advantage of, because it is this mindset that is oppressive and keeps one in check. 

– two creatives; white and black who start off together in the same position inside an agency, will never be in the same position two years down the line. This has nothing to do with talent, intelligence, or performance. Black professionals get less opportunities, and white creatives get better opportunities, better briefs, better money, better experiences, they are empowered, whilst black creative have to find their own way. White creatives get promoted quicker and their salaries grow faster. Getting promoted or a salary increase as a black professional is a trap, because you will pay for having asked for and receiving an increase. Die Pope sal dans sonny – you will work for that money (that’s why there needs to be remuneration transparency inside ad agencies).

– a black creative can stay on the same salary for three years, whilst most white creatives get mid-year and end of year salary increases. The argument is that they work harder. Well, of course, because they’d be getting more briefs (exciting ones), getting more opportunities and chances to prove themselves. But it has nothing to do with talent, it is pure systemic discrimination. 

– black creatives usually get crumbs of briefs. They get the jobs that nobody else wants to do. You know, those not so sexy or exciting briefs. If you are a black creative, you continuously have to “fight” to get opportunities. But not many fight, because fighting is scary. Fighting just makes things worse for you. You get worked out of the system real quick. 

– as a black creative, you can’t afford to do anything wrong, because even a natural mistake “proves” that you don’t deserve to be here, and that the only reason you are here is because of BEE. Imagine that, walking around with this thing hanging over your head that you are only in the boardroom because “it will look bad if there are no black faces”. See, we even get reduced to just being a face – and not seen as a professional who is there to add value – hence many remain voiceless. The face is there, but dololo value. In worse case scenarios, when you are invited to meetings, sometimes you get “coached” on how to behave, how much you should say or not say, and all you have to do, is to just be present, smile, and leave the rest to your white managers. 

– if you are black in advertising and don’t speak for yourself, your career is dead before it even began. 

– this is exacerbated by BEE. When you are black, it matters not how well you perform, you are always seen and perceived as a BEE point. The only reason you are in the boardroom is to improve the agency’s BEE rating. That’s why most agencies rate better, even without black representation at the top. 

It’s like being a black cricket player, you will be seen as a none deserving quota player, or there is an actual cap on how many black people can be in a room or in positions of power. Why? Because the aim is not to empower you, it is to meet the criteria. That’s why we still have few black people in positions of power, because we are ticking the legal law, and doing so because it is the right thing to do.

– black people struggle to get promoted. Instead of being promoted, a title will be created for you. Black people are usually the ones who harbour new titles. For example, if you are an Account Executive (AE), instead of being promoted to an Account Manager, the agency will create a new layer into the hierarchy, they will say that you’ve been promoted to “senior” AE. There’s no such thing, from being an AE, you have to move to be an AM. 

– we struggle to get promoted, as a result, we are left to self-promote. Self-promotion is basically the act where a black professional has had enough of writing a 300-page thesis explaining why they deserve to be promoted. They therefore self-promote by applying for a better position elsewhere. Applying for a better position elsewhere may sound like a natural thing that most professionals go through, but no it is not. Black creatives do this from an exhausting place, fuelled by the negative energy of being rejected multiple times in the agency. By the time a black professional resigns, they’ve had a thousand internal (in their head and heart) meetings contemplating the next move. We don’t resign for better opportunities, we resign for less exhausting environments. By the time a black professional resigns, trust me, they’ve had hundreds of meetings that prove to be futile and therefore lead nowhere.

– being black in advertising means that you always have to explain your worth. It’s exhausting. As a black professional, each day is literally a new day. Meaning, it’s a new day to prove yourself again. 

– as a black professional, you always have to remind people that you are actually present, and have to raise your hand to be noticed, otherwise, it’s like you don’t exist.

With that said, #BlackCreativesMatter #BlackLivesMatter

I, therefore, hope that Black Lives Matter to #Loeries, the #ACA, and any other industry representative body.

PS: If there’s a single black person who feels that any point mentioned above is misrepresentative, I’ll retract this post. Tell me now or forever hold your peace.

Writer: Bogosi Motshegwa

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