“I work in an industry that is still dominated by white males and continues to treat black creatives as a checklist to appease BEE ratings..”
I am an openly black feminist who moonlights as a commentator and dissector of the trending topics that come out of #blacktwitter, but presently being paid in my capacity as a digital strategist in advertising. I work in an industry that is still dominated by white males and continues to treat black Creatives as a checklist to appease BEE ratings. We are still having to fight for our place in the spaces that seek to invalidate our presence and suppress our voices.
We struggle for very little success in an industry that doesn’t often promote its black employees, thus meaningful growth prospects are quite dim. Where black minds continue to be “devalued” and subjugated in their capacity as copy translators of English-to-vernacular, also known as “black slang” generators. It’s hard enough just to be black in advertising without having white co-workers treat you as though you’re the spokesperson for all things black (the token black), but it’s another thing to be black, woman and feminist.
Being a black feminist in an environment and or industry that is lax is like being caught between a rock and hard place, thus the possibility of future success seems to be depended on one’s ability to blend in without causing a stir. It’s an industry that seems to prefer it if people just “get along” without making noise or a fuss about the politics that continue to oppress the ‘minorities’. It’s one of the few industries that still doesn’t need to account to trade unions or collective independent bodies that propel it to diversify and transform itself. It would appear that these many years into democracy, the industry is incapable of self-correction because it’s still very white and very male.
Think about how many creative directors are actually women in this country alone!? Never mind black women. Those with a share of the market have excused this massive gap by saying it’s an industry problem or blaming it on there not being enough blacks with the skills required to make it in the industry. More and more excuses that only serve to keep advertising as a close-knit community run by a brotherhood of gentleman from your Saint colleges where many blacks still cannot afford to get in.
In my few years in this industry, I’ve had to struggle through often demeaning conversations that render my blackness inferior and my femininity as a weakness. I’ve been called a “militant black panther” because of my refusal to be dictated to, and my inability to apparently “take a joke”. I’ve seen many young black women come and go because of their “dispensable” nature. As a black woman you’re not only expected to be twice as smart, twice as educated but also have an ability to “keep your head down” even when you don’t agree, but still, get paid less than everyone else.
You must somehow swallow a bitter pill and find a way to fit into a culture created by a community of people who don’t take the time to understand where you’re coming from. An existing culture that doesn’t respect the nuances of your own culture. An environment that pays us in kind because apparently advertising is not where you go to make money. Advertising and its culture of parties and drinking expect you to be cheerful even when you’re hardly being paid enough to get to work or make it to month end. Where you don’t get to own the awards you win.
Advertising often feels very disempowering for a young black woman with very strong opinions on gender and race, there is a level of self-policing that’s entrenched in the system. You can be quietly radical if that’s even possible. Don’t saddle the feathers they say, you’re only truly honest and fully yourself in your clichés with other groups of people who share your frustrations. Being ‘radical’ is kitchen talk that we leave at home because we never know who’s listening.
This behaviour is reflected even in the kinds of work black creatives are able to produce, we still need to reign ourselves in because someone else is in charge. I am the uptight black folk in a pool of whiteness that washes away the few black spots when I stand up to object when my white colleagues make “black jokes” or ask to touch my braids.