We didn’t start the fire, it was burning and firms must help, ...

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We didn’t start the fire, it was burning and firms must help, not hinder

The way the EFF externalised its frustration about the Clicks advert is how most black people feel daily

EFF supporters protest outside Clicks in Sandton City Johannesburg. The chain caused an outcry on Friday when it posted an ad on its website depicting black hair as dry and damaged, blonde hair fine and flat.
WTF! EFF supporters protest outside Clicks in Sandton City Johannesburg. The chain caused an outcry on Friday when it posted an ad on its website depicting black hair as dry and damaged, blonde hair fine and flat.
Image: Thulani Mbele

The question whether the EFF’s protest against Clicks was justified or not is irrelevant. Of course, hair is a hot topic. Black hair has, for centuries, been used as a weapon against black people.

The narrative that hair is “not a sensitive topic” is just another way to undermine the black experience and invalidate black pain. If you don’t believe me, just look up “pencil hair test South Africa” and see how identity features were used to enforce racial abuse and discrimination against black people in this country.

Naturally, when people are justifiably enraged, politicians take advantage of the situation and none are better at that than Julius Malema. He is good at reading the room. If people wanted to talk about it, hashtag their frustrations or walk by and pretend Clicks was not being racist, they would have. They just needed someone to gently nudge them in the direction most black people were already heading ... rage!

By saying black hair is dry and damaged, Clicks is ranking those with a specific hair texture as “second-class citizens” compared with those with long, silky hair. This is problematic and racist. What Clicks and other retail chains do to black hair is a form of violence against identity.

A vigilante group attempting to petrol bomb a Clicks store in Mpumalanga on Monday is reminiscent of how people attempted to take back power from the apartheid regime. Those who petrol bombed the apartheid establishment also felt everything was set against them.

Today, black people have legal and constitutional rights, but instead of building on the bedrock of law and constitutional rights, they would rather revert to what worked in the past — bringing about change through protest and, sometimes, violence. People do not trust the democratic and legal methods of fighting racism. That extreme left and right wings thrive proves there is no trust in the government delivering on constitutionalism, the rule of law, justice, anti-racism and social cohesion. That employees of Clicks could become collateral damage in the debacle shows how destructive racism is.

Corporate and retail SA need to learn to read the room. Racial micro-aggressions and petty undertones in adverts are not how you get people to dance. Corporates need to realise that they, too, play an important role in racial debates and driving genuine social harmony.

The manner in which the EFF is externalising its frustration is how most black people feel daily about matters that trigger their anger, though most of us bottle it up.

So who is to say the people who were egged on by the EFF to attack the stores did not already want to do it? Is Malema taking advantage on the spur of the moment or is this an indication of how fed up people are?

Who started this fire in the first place?