The White Elephant in the Room

“What’s the price for a black man life?
I check the toe tag,
not one zero in sight.”

January 28th -J Cole

The above lyrics are important to me when talking about the value black bodies add to diversity when it comes to working in an ad agency. Being in the ad world as a black body, let alone a black female, is exhausting and the value of black people in anti-black spaces is never truly representative of their worth.

Let’s talk about the (white) elephant in the room: black people occupying spaces that are not conducive to THEIR growth and development. I’ve worked and studied damn hard to be where I am in life and see transformation as the latest buzzword in boardrooms to get brownie points, respect, high fives or client signatures on dotted lines. Recently, I had (insert male client) second-guess me on an official internal finance process by querying it with my line manager. Said line manager repeated my response to him in Afrikaans and only to have him accept her response over mine within a second. I was seething. Another example that black lives are not truly free because freedom comes at a price that will forever be too expensive for us black people to afford. This rainbow nation we speak of tends to disappear at opportune moments and the black person is expected to ‘get over it’.

That moment was when my value as a professional evaporated into thin air because my value as a black person was never there to begin with. It was not enough that the English I was taught at school and passed with ‘higher grade’ status did not guarantee me of being treated like the qualified professional I was. I felt my intelligence and confidence crumble into the crevices of white privilege. I did not matter, I was invisible and had to be ‘checked’ because my tongue did not speak Afrikaans.

Being a black female body in the ad world is a double-edged sword. You have to fight 2 wars (patriarchy and discrimination) with different people at the same time whilst trying to build a career. Being taken seriously in the ad world is a daily fight and black bodies end up becoming invisible because people “don’t see colour”. When black bodies get asked the proverbial question “How do we get black people to trial our product?” we (black people) are expected to engage and share our opinion that gets stretched to fit around the entire black population.

Do black voices matter or are they used as checklists in the name of diversity in boardrooms? My recent experience demonstrates that even when black bodies are educated to the 9th degree, we are still not respected, deserving, valued… worthy. Will we ever be? Questions that need answers, but I’ve come to the realisation that such answers might not be achieved even in my lifetime because it will take me a lifetime to ‘get over it’.

Writer: Mbali Zondo


  • George Matsheke
    13th Oct 2017

    The Dove advert scandal is a perfect example of what is wrong with agencies
    world wide not just here at home

  • Nina
    25th Oct 2018

    I am starting to think these issues are unique to black people in certain countries m,SA being one. It’s like a constant battle of sorts instead of just being,Black.

    Just give the adverts where black people are dancing :-/

  • Montso
    29th Oct 2018

    Thank you for this piece. I think that we need to get to a point where we can clearly define what transformation means in our respective working/business spaces. The discourse at the moment is largely driven by political interests and does not fully embrace the aspirations of the largely marginalised population. The truth is that corporate SA is specifically unfriendly…eintlik hostile to black women. In some (read most) instances, black women can’t even rely on the support of black men. We are often complicit, whether tacitly or implicitly, in their victimisation and for that I truly apologise.

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