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Racism still rules in adverts

The doctrine of racism, that a person’s race determines his or her level of intellect or ability to do certain things, is a human construct. We know that now, yet we continue to behave otherwise because it is what we believe.

Like organised religion, our belief induces in us safety and comfort by the simple yet infinite mechanism of inventing ideologies that lead to the same conclusion, holding on to an idea and an ideal that is not real.

As if they are Tellurian (earthly), the constructs that make up racial identity are around us, constantly being reinforced by us against our surroundings and vice versa.

I was surprised to witness the notion of inverted racism at the post office the other day. White on white racism, in which an Afrikaans woman brought her race and culture into a matter that was a simple case of bullying. The minute she opened that can of worms, the others, two elderly white South Africans of English origin and an elderly man of Eastern European origin, seized the opportunity to prove her right, calling her a monkey and treating her as they would somebody they hate for being something they ­cannot change.

It was a disgusting display of what we have come to know as South ­Africans. As one forced to observe such behaviour, I am constantly looking for the manner in which we got here.

At the risk of sounding like a neo-intellectual hipster, I do not watch television often, but when I do come across one, I thoroughly enjoy it, but from a safe distance. It provides the outsider with a useful barometer of where we are.

While watching television last week, I saw commercials that exasperated me, bringing back memories of South African advertising from the 1990s and early 2000s. I could not believe that advertisements were still perpetuating the notion of whiteness and blackness.

I grew up on a diet of adverts that placed Caucasian people in a misty and romanticised light, a bubble of innocuity, wholesomeness, health and purity, where the light is always soft and natural and everything is in smiley slow motion.

I thus grew up thinking that white people were better, healthier and purer than black people. We were almost always portrayed in a darker grading, with loud music and fat ‘”mamas” doing things like speaking too loudly or falling or licking their oily, fat fingers because they were eating something that was “nca”.

I was disappointed to find that change is not happening fast enough. I felt irritated that I was still operating from a racial position, that those who intended the message to be so were winning.

I was surprised that I still supported the black character in a race or a game show in which he or she was pitted against whites. And I was confused at why we make things revolve around race when they are actually about being human.

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Milisuthando Bongela
Milisuthando Bongela is the Mail & Guardians arts and culture editor. She is a multi award-winning writer, blogger and collaborator. She has experience in the arts having worked in fashion, music, art and film as well as a decade-long career in consulting, entrepreneurship, blogging and cultural activism. She is also directing a documentary about hair and black identity, a film she calls the report card on the rainbow nation project.

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