On 23 March in the afternoon, driving back from a client meeting, I heard Zandile Nzalo (standing in for Jenny Crwys-Williams and doing a damn fine job) interviewing Louis Itumeleng Seeco [pictured below]. He's a marketing and advertising man and the author of a new book, Marketing the Same Difference, published by Knowledge Resources at R299. Louis' business website is www.elements.co.za The book is also available from Exclusive Books. What froze my brain in mid-meander was his comment that 'black people still use whites as the benchmark of quality and efficiency' or words to that effect. For a moment, I thought he was just yanking the listeners' chain and expected him to guffaw with merriment after an appropriate pause. But he didn't laugh. He was in deadly earnest.
Zandile tried politely pushing back on the issue but he was undeterred. He went on to say that because of advertising, marketing and media 'conditioning' (and also self-esteem issues) black people still rated white trends, opinions and skills very highly. Please remember this is my memory of what he said and not a verbatim transcript. But truly, I am not exaggerating.
In a state almost of shocked disbelief, I pulled my car to the side of the road so I'd be able to give my full attention to the call and dialled Talk Radio 702. What amazed me was that when I said what I wanted to discuss on air, the young producer began to argue on behalf of the guest, even saying that in Xhosa there was an expression of admiration, meaning something like; you've become so good you're just like a white person. She defended him by saying that if you had someone come to install a meter (electricity or other) in your house, you'd accept that the white guy knew what he was doing but might have reservations if it was a black handyman. My plumber is black. My electrician is black – and both do way better work than the unreliable white dude we used to use. And not at bargain basement rates either, mind! I began feeling like I needed therapy or anti-psychosis meds.
After an ad break, on air, I told Louis that I was a marketing and communications strategist and a former J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather advertising man and that I simply couldn't believe my ears. He was polite but continued to insist that whites wouldn't and didn't understand the extent to which they were still held up as icons of efficiency, expertise, reliability and so on. The rationale got worse. He said that if a black person was about to undergo surgery and a black physician approached them, they might only be comfortable after the medic had explained his credentials and qualifications. I interrupted to say that one of the top radiologists in the country was in attendance at the Rosebank Clinic when I was there a few weeks back. No change. I actually felt a sense of disconnectedness and as if I'd been beamed backwards by Scotty into an Apartheid-era radio discussion in which the black guest was trying to schmooze the racist white host. But nope, this is a dyed-in-the-wool, seasoned marketing and advertising man.
I said to him that I felt there was a huge need to have a conference-type panel discussion, exploration or debate on the issue. I simply could not and cannot believe that in 2010 it's possible for black people - and young black people in particular - to espouse such thinking. What do you think?
Footnote: Please note - I am not in any way trying to 'get' at Louis in this post. I don't know him and we've never met. My intention is for the event to act as a catalyst for discussion.