It’s 2011 and I’m a third-year student at the University of Johannesburg, majoring in Public Relations, Communication Management, and Naivety. The course required that you be placed in an agency or media house for practical experience. They threw us in the deep end, out with the sharks and these work experiences are the catalyst for my anxiety.
That year really humbled me and I recall waking up at 4:30 AM so I could catch the Putco bus from Eldorado Park to Sandton at 5:30 AM, in the dark, in the drug-riddled township of Eldorado Park. I wouldn’t dare be late either because unforeseeable circumstances were never good enough of an excuse.
Fast forward to 2014 and I have my dream job. I’m the Account Executive at an events management and publicist agency. I was mingling with monied and sipping champers with the superficial, it was fascinating, plastic and soul-sucking. I stayed because I was this coloured girl trying to make it out of the flats and make something of myself.
Future employers always want to know “what’s your reason for leaving?” and we always say something “professional” like “for growth opportunities”, instead of saying what you really want to say, “because her husband was a racist”, “because I was there to manage social pages and events but ended up doing additional work like calling to book her dogs in at the dog spa”, or “because she gave me a chocolate but when I opened it, she had already bit into it”, or “because I’d have to follow her around at events so I could remind her what people’s names were”, the list is endless. I eventually resigned 8 months into the job because crying to and from work because of a deep depression was no longer an option for me.
Companies don’t like being questioned. My last job downsized and they let go of more than half of their staff. I saw many friends sent off with unemployment, leaving behind more work to be done. I’d been there for 2 years at that point and after taking a knock to my salary when I started working there, I was earning then what I’d earned 3 years before. But alas, you take what you get mos, you must be grateful that they’ve employed you. I was managing a global account with flights to symposiums and training sessions with internationals but my salary didn’t reflect how nice it looked on Instagram.
Those relationships, like most of the others, left me with a bad taste in my mouth about working for people. You can almost immediately suss out the dodgy dealings, secret conversations and brown nosing, the favouritism and ableism, the sexism and sarcasm, the unpaid maternity leave, the “I want a doctors letter,” but medical aid isn’t a benefit, the “I RUN THIS SHIT” talk, but they won’t pay you a market-related salary.
It’s frustrating because they’re so uninspiring. It’s saddening listening to how my fellow creatives are being treated in this industry. Those brainstorms where they feed you old peanuts and tap water so they can sink their fangs in and deplete all your intellectual property which they will pitch to the client. Hou op!
My dream is to work for a brand with transformative, progressive ideas in digital who are human and can compromise so that black girls aren’t risking their lives going to Bree Street for “a sustainable livelihood”, where strange men catcall and harass them. You cannot possibly be trying to say that your concern ends where you convenience begins.
I’m not defensive Susan, I’m trying to keep it together. I come from the flats. I say that to say this; You’re dealing with a strong woman, don’t confuse this for an angry black woman. I have to outwardly exhibit strength and don’tfuckwithmeness on a daily basis so that we don’t look too vulnerable in these streets. We are taken advantage of from the second we wake up, most of us have to get up and travel to town which smells like urine and sin, then get into yet another tin can in the early hours of the morning to avoid being late and drying up privilege tears.
To all my hard-working women and men who literally started from the bottom; you deserve the world and you’re going to give it to your damn self. To the employers …just do better!