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Anger mounts over racist hair advert

A lecturer at the University of Free State has added her voice of discontent to the raging debate over a racist TRESemmé advert published on the Clicks website portraying black natural hair as “dry, damaged and frizzy” while labelling a white woman’s hair as “normal”.

Nombulelo Shange, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at UFS said she was not shocked by the advert as she expects nothing less from whiteness and an economic system built on the oppression of black people.

Shange pointed out she was angry that this has happened again, “especially in such an overtly violent manner”.  

“I am angry over the timing – the only time we have in the year to openly and comfortably celebrate Africanness has been tainted. I am angry that whiteness does not rest, not even in Heritage Month,” she wrote this week in an opinion piece on online publication IOL.

“Reading social media comments on the matter, my anger turned to disappointment, as some black men felt confused by our outrage because our role models are women such as Khanyi Mbau, who often wears her hair straight, long, and blonde,” she noted.

“They pit the two struggles against each other; natural hair versus wigs/relaxed hair and did not miss the opportunity to share what their preferences are. When they did this, to me they were no different than the TRESemme advert; they just traded the Western view for a male view and further reinforced the idea that black women are ugly. They turned wigs, a harmless form of expression, into a debate as to whether women with natural hair are more beautiful than ‘fake’ women with wigs.

“They missed the point. The point is that we want to wear our hair the way we want, without fear of external factors such as workplaces and schools that will label us as unprofessional or messy for having natural hair. We also do not need the criticism that comes from black men who question our Africanness or genuineness when we wear wigs,” added Shange.

Small business development minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni further criticised Clicks over its response to the racist hair advert and has rejected the retailer’s apology.

The minister instead urged Clicks to remove TRESemme products from its shelves as an expression of its disassociation with suppliers who promote racist and insensitive marketing.

The retailer later issued an apology and removed the ad.

“We have made a mistake and sincerely apologise for letting you down. We recognise we have a role to play in creating a more diverse and inclusive SA, starting with our website content. We know we need to do better, and commit to ensuring our content better reflects this value,” said Clicks in a statement.

The company explained the advert was not its own, but it was commissioned by the hair company TRESemmé, which issued an apology on its website, saying the advert was meant to celebrate all hair types.

“We are very sorry that the images used in a TRESemmé SA marketing campaign on the Clicks website promote racist stereotypes about hair. The campaign set out to celebrate the beauty of all hair types and the range of solutions that TRESemmé offers, but we got it wrong. The images are not in line with the values of our brand, or Clicks,” said Clicks.

Ntshavheni was adamant a simple apology on racism was not good enough.

“The continuous undermining of black people, of women and black young people is because economically they are not strong enough. So if Clicks are serious about being a good corporate [company] in South Africa, they must contribute to that inclusive economy and say how many of their products are made by black women and how many of their products are suitable for black hair,” the minister contended.

Businesswoman and former Miss South Africa,  Basetsana Kumalo also slammed the offensive hair ad as “utter rubbish.”

Kumalo said black women’s hair was a political issue.  “When we wear dreads or an afro for that matter, in the corporate world, it is seen as rebellion for some reason.”

She noted she had joined the narrative about black beauty a long time ago and would not be silent when she sees the continued portrayal of white hair as not just the norm, but the standard.

“Where does the buck stop? Did you expect us to look the other way…as you subconsciously feed us absent-minded vitriol about our image as African people? This advert is not only utter rubbish from your brands. It is a reflection of an ongoing problem in this industry that dares to define what beauty is to any of us,”Kumalo told IOL.

Following national backlack, the Shoprite group and Pick n Pay have confirmed that they will no longer stock TRESemmé products in their stores. 

On Tuesday, the Clicks retail group said it would delist and remove all TRESemmé products from its shelves with immediate effect and would replace them with locally sourced hair care brands.

It has also suspended all the employees involved in the advertising campaign that infuriated the EFF and led to nationwide protests on Monday.

Clicks said 425 stores in the country had been affected by protests led by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), but that it was too early to assess the nature of the damage caused by vandalism.

By: Neo Ntsele