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Ethnic hair and discrimination

By Phemelo Segoe

If you’re South African and you have a twitter account, then you would have seen that leading pharmacy and wellness retailer, Clicks, was in a lot of trouble for an ad that was live on their website. Here are images below:

Not only does this ad not compare apples to apples but it is blatantly racist. But does the outrage fit the crime? Yes and let’s unpack why.

Natural African hair has been used as a tool to ostracize and victimize black women for a very, very long time. But we know this. We also know that the media has consistently used white women as a measure of beauty along with their hair. Haircare brands have etched “silky, long hair” into our brain’s reference of what desirable hair should look like and if that is not enough, black hair is still not promoted and appreciated in mainstream media and this Clicks ad was just a bitter reminder of that. Accurate representation of black hair has been an ongoing battle and continues to play a huge role in how black women view themselves and their hair.

Despite shocking a range of hair care brands that are specifically formulated for natural African hair, the deep-rooted belief that black hair is not ideal or, as the Clicks ad incited “normal”, continues to rob African women of their right to just be.

In a racially charged country like South Africa that was home to the “pencil test,” it is a no brainer that outrage would ensue from the above ad but more than anything because it’s so tiring. It’s tiring to have to struggle and fight for bare minimum treatment. It’s tiring to have to always be a revolutionary just to gain access to ordinary life. It’s particularly exhausting to consistently have to deal with racism from people who claim to not be racist at all.

Companies are spearheaded by people. People have beliefs and biases that dictate their actions and outlook. A well-written apology letter will not make a 7-year-old black girl rethink that her hair is actually normal and beautiful. Change has to happen from within and it has to start with accepting the ugly truth and the shame of being racist. Companies, like Clicks, are representations of corporate South Africa. They are a reflection of the beauty industry. In fact, that ad only caught so much heat because black people are finally awakening to their worth and refusing to be ‘othered’. And this is a long-awaited revolution.

People who think “it’s just hair” have never been discriminated against because of it. People who also cannot see how anti-blackness that ad was are carrying anti-black sentiments deep or maybe not so deep, within them. The bottom line is, we are separated by our race but connected by our humanity. It’s going to take acknowledgment of racism, acceptance of the shame attached to it, and a desire for healing to move us into a world that doesn’t use differences to separate but rather to enrich our experience.

Choose healing and never come for black hair.

Love, MPL.

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