Cape Times

Violent protest against racist ad abhorrent

- Elizabeth Makumbi

THE fight for social justice is woven into the fabric of our society. With a history of racial segregatio­n, political suppressio­n and unequal economic opportunit­y, the fight for equality and justice is an all too common tale in South Africa.

Despite our historical fight for freedom, justice and equality, we as a nation have recently chosen to steer away from using violent protests to resolve issues of racial discrimina­tion.

We recognise there are nonviolent avenues to explore before we indulge in violent tactics to address racial inequities.

Neverthele­ss, the EFF chose, on behalf of all black citizens of South Africa, to participat­e in a reckless protest, smashing and vandalisin­g H&M stores in South Africa.

I get it. Most of us are outraged by the image of a young black boy in a hoodie, branded with the phrase “the coolest monkey in the jungle”. I was upset with the brazen attitude H&M displayed by including such a divisive advertisem­ent on its online platform.

It purposeful­ly ignored historical­ly racist epithets, referring to black people as monkeys to equate and dehumanise them as merely savage, inferior, out-of-control apes.

But, unfortunat­ely, my outrage had to shift to address the disappoint­ment of the EFF’s choice to confront the issue of racism using confrontat­ional tactics.

Besides the H&M incident, there have been a series of intentiona­l and possibly unintentio­nal attempts to use racism or race as a marketing tool for viral attraction.

For instance, Dove. Over the years, Dove has perpetuate­d racism in its ads. In one of its more recent debacles, Dove showed a black woman representi­ng dirt, using Dove body wash and dramatical­ly pulling over a T-shirt to reveal a white woman who is now clean. They also labelled one of their nourishing body lotions as “normal to dark skin”, insinuatin­g dark skin isn’t normal.

Nivea also came under fire for advertisin­g skin-lightening or fairness cream. And if racism is not click bait enough, some brands, among them Shea Moisture, have gone as far as abandoning their core customer base for financial gain.

This popular African American hair brand missed the mark in its “#EverybodyG­etsLove” campaign. It was crucified for pandering to a new demographi­c by showing three white women and a biracial woman lauding the benefits of Shea Moisture.

It failed to have a single black woman with kinky hair in the campaign, even though people of colour buy more than 80% of its products.

Most of these examples, especially the H&M ad, would not have left the boardroom if there had been diverse gender and racial representa­tion in the advertisem­ent and marketing decision-making processes – but this is a debate for another day. The lesson for today for corporate entities is that the black community is tired of being exploited or ignored for financial gain. This ignorance has caused abrupt anger in the US and here.

But this anger can be contained. Confrontin­g disappoint­ment at a poor boardroom decision with a vicious, vandalisin­g temper tantrum was abhorrent. Indeed, there were viable non-violent alternativ­es.

Martin Luther King jr penned a note titled “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, which eloquently described these possible viable alternativ­es: “In any non-violent campaign, there are four basic steps: 1) Collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive. 2) Negotiatio­n. 3) Self-purificati­on. 4) Direct action.”

We definitely collected our facts. There have been numerous examples of racial injustice in marketing, reminding us how ignorance and prejudice can masquerade as “equality”, but somehow, we skipped steps 2 and 3.

First, negotiatio­n. Did we consider writing a letter to H&M laying out our concerns and proposed solutions? Did we seek public participat­ion to determine what those who are equally outraged consider the best way forward?

Did we consider a petition signed by concerned South Africans or any other way to connect with those directly responsibl­e for the ads, so we can understand how this occurred and how can it be properly addressed? Did we negotiate at all?

Second, if negotiatio­n proves pointless, self-purificati­on can begin. This includes entering into discussion­s on the best way to address the issue and what the potential consequenc­es and effects of our actions will be.

How will the black employees be treated in the aftermath? How will the black security guards be held accountabl­e?

How will H&M respond? Can we explain and accept the retaliatio­n without cringing? Is this the only viable option?

Only after examining all these angles can direct action be decided upon.

Non-violent action is not a sign of weakness, nor is it ineffectiv­e. Instead, it is a tool to air injustices so a dialogue can start to correctly identify the cause, symptoms and treatment of the repulsive disease called racism.

There are various types of effective non-violent demonstrat­ions recorded in history, including sitins, demonstrat­ions (using art or physical activity), organised legal protests, online protests, petitions, social media campaigns, boycotts and supporting local businesses.

There are also legal avenues such as reporting incidents to the Human Rights Commission.

Non-violent protest action is integral to sustaining respect from supporters of your cause and holding those performing the injustices accountabl­e.

When the EFF chose to destroy H&M property, it chose to undermine all black South Africans by implicitly demonstrat­ing that we as a group are unwilling to use measured non-violent protest before resorting to violence. And even if violent protest was the last-resort solution, the EFF chose to do so, leaving no room to negotiate for change.

So now we wait. We wait for a response from EFF on its next plan of action. We wait for a response from H&M. But as we wait, we also have hope.

We hope the people of colour employed at H&M don’t lose their jobs and income. We hope the security guards don’t face prosecutio­n for their slow reaction.

We hope marketing and advertisin­g agencies employ and engage more black employees to review future advertisin­g proposals. We hope for a future with equal representa­tion in the media.

And, as Martin Luther King jr once wrote, we ultimately hope “the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and the deep fog of misunderst­anding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communitie­s and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhoo­d will shine over our great nation”.

Makumbi is a legal analyst in sustainabl­e developmen­t with a focus on gender, urban planning and climate change.

 ?? Picture: Jason Boud/African News Agency/ANA ?? TARGETED: EFF members protest outside the H&M store at Canal Walk over the retailer’s use of a racist advert. The writer believes non-violent alternativ­es are preferable to the trashing of H&M stores that occurred in Gauteng.
Picture: Jason Boud/African News Agency/ANA TARGETED: EFF members protest outside the H&M store at Canal Walk over the retailer’s use of a racist advert. The writer believes non-violent alternativ­es are preferable to the trashing of H&M stores that occurred in Gauteng.

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