With various voices emerging throughout Africa Month that has just passed, I felt obliged to add a critical issue that is slowing down the growth of our continent from “regaining its rightful place in the world”.
Africa is a vast continent of many values, beliefs, and systems, yet we have to conclude that we have similarities that draw us together and compel us to defend our identity against any “foreign” elements that tend to erode what Africans stand for.
It is time to take stock of our failures and successes, especially around the decolonisation and regeneration of the continent through the power and voices of black-owned advertising agencies or black-owned media houses.
I believe black-owned agencies can help to deconstruct “white myths” by taking charge of telling the African story through campaigns they execute for clients. They are in the best position to celebrate our Africaness as black people. We shouldn’t just copy all our concepts from the West and paste them for African consumption.
A typical example of white myth is the entrenched association of white models with luxury brands such as top-of-the-range vehicles, watches, jets, jewellery, perfumes, just to name a few. Very rarely do you see these associated with black models; the thinking behind this being that black models would not command the persuasive impact generated by white models.
I ask myself, whether black-owned agencies or media are aiding the perpetuation of white myth or helping to entrench it in our lives? What needs to be done to avoid this depressing trend and stereotypes that depict the black race as inferior? Are we aware of the effects of the trend in our lives, now and into the future?
Scaling up black identity
What are the roles of black-owned agencies or decision-makers in top ad agencies? As a black agency owner, the aspirations I have to see ourselves scaled, pound for pound, against white symbolism and identity are enormous.
My values increase when I see my fellow black-owned agencies and media houses uplifting themselves by embracing our own and I rejoice in seeing our own identities advancing and receiving equal respect among both my race and others. It gives me a sense of pride, belonging, self-worth and recognition in a world where people of colour matter now more than ever.
I’m particularly unapologetic on the need to unite around the call to protect our identity, and why creativity that is conscious of black power is so important to Africans, in and outside the continent. Embracing our confidence in creativity through the use of our continent’s motifs, ancient signs, shapes, and forms, and doing away with the mentality of “anything white is better” is central to telling our own stories.
I believe that the true standard of black creativity is when our work is equally accepted and symbols are on a par with others.
As Africa Month fades into the background, let us take time for introspection and reflection in everything about our Africaness, at least those who are truly proud of their identity. Being proud of one’s identity means expressing oneself in your beliefs and practices, not copying anyone else’s.
Our introspection must ask what we have done for Africa in the past, what we are doing in the present, and what we will continue to do while reflecting on what we have lost and gained so far.
Declaring our heroism
History has many lessons that tell us how far we have come to accept white narratives and helped it to scale up against our own stories and identities. Back then we were powerless, at least in the sense of standing toe to toe with our “masters”, now we have the means of technology to leverage and take our identity to the next level. We are also enlightened in terms of how we want African identity to be advanced.
We need to start declaring the heroism of our fallen and living legends, the likes of our great artists, political leaders, sportsmen and women, and so forth. Until we embrace the fact that the remarkable stories of our icons are just as meaningful as the whites’ own, the struggle to affirm our identity is a pipe dream. As it has been said before, over and over, African creatives need to help in telling our own stories, glorify them the way we want.
Role of the media
In the struggle for black-owned agencies or media to understand the dangers of perpetuating and elevating the white myth, it is important to examine the role of media based in Africa.
Media owners on the continent are largely white-owned and are better prepared to advance white beliefs and standards. They have the purse and power to control how their story is portrayed in a more positive light.
Of course, a few black-owned media houses keep emerging in Africa, but how effective or powerful are they in debunking the white myth? Not that much, in my opinion.
Black African-owned ad agencies or media must communicate in our African way, tell our African stories to avoid projection and infiltration by Western culture. We must guard against being portrayed negatively or being caricatured by white-owned agencies or media.
Just as we thought we had left behind the effects of the Clicks TreSemmé adverts in 2020, early this year we were confronted by another controversy of the Doom advert. This drives home our call and illustrates the need for ads targeting black people to be awarded to black-owned agencies that are at an advantage to execute the briefs without controversy.
Ironically, our black brothers and sisters who now own media houses may not immediately see the need to undo the damage. Black-owned ad agencies/media industry players have been made to see things through the eye of the white race.
For example some of these agencies insist on using light-skinned blacks in adverts, something that shows the white myth as being permanent in our thinking process.
Sadly, as a result, black creatives overlook the beauty and power in our images, stories, personalities, heroes and heroines, symbols, cultures, and languages. We have, for long, been fed the narrative that our colour is evil and self-belief in our race can’t champion our destiny. In many ways, we feel we are inferior or low-class citizens, or even uncivilised.
By perpetuating the white myth, it is us blacks who are losing out, as our identity loses value and our future generations are left with nothing to look up to.
In summary, I am of the view that there should be more black-owned agencies championing African storytelling through getting awarded all brands that need to talk to the black community simply because we best understand that market.