Slavery or Exposure?

26 Feb

Exploitation-of-Labour

I began my career as an entertainer and activist over two decades ago. The journey has been phenomenal with many joys and successes and just as many challenges, downfalls,​ and mistakes. I suppose these are all part of our learnings and time on this earth, sometimes we are faced with situations that we continue to make the same mistakes, as the adage goes- “You can never make the same mistake twice because the second time you make it, it’s not a mistake, it’s a choice.”

― Steven Denn

I wanted to write about something that affects many artists and activists worldwide but particularly in Africa. When I refer to artists I am including actors, TV & radio personalities, musicians and fine artists. Unfortunately, the entertainment industry has not been given the recognition and respect that it deserves, one can look at the lack of funds allocated to artists, we could unpack how labor laws have excluded us. This then leads to many artists having to do many jobs to make ends meet and often dying as paupers. With this lack of respect for our talent many people, corporates, governments often do not see the need to remunerate us, exhibit our work or help in promoting us on the correct platforms.
A few months ago, a published author under a local publishing label was called to an event only to find that the event organizers, were profiling him but instead of buying his books, they opted to photocopy the whole book and distribute it to the guests. Not only is this disrespectful but is also against the law. Knowing very well, that legal fees cost a lot, they ill probably get away with it.

So I want to focus on the notion of people thinking that we will work for free under the banner of exposure and now since the hashtag #GBV is on everyone tongues, they are approaching activists to come and do work for free. I have spoken about this on many platforms but yesterday I received a request which rubbed me up the wrong way. I received a WhatsApp message from a person, a stranger, stating she received my number from a mutual friend, she as requesting my services at a GBV hackathon, which was to run for two days in conjunction with an embassy. I asked her to send me an email, so I could get a better understanding of the event, so I can quote appropriately as my rate card includes consulting work, speaking, facilitation and emceeing. She immediately replied to say that the client had not allocated a budget for my job description so the job would be pro bono. So firstly, asking a stranger to work for free is rude and constitutes another form of abuse, secondly, if there was a budget for everything else, why were the talent excluded?
Needless to say, she replied with an apology and then quickly tried to change things around stating that she was not getting paid as the company she was working for was hosting it so to strengthen relations with the embassy. So somebody is getting paid, Mmmmm!!!

19slavery

A simple apology would have been enough but knowing the fact that they were willing to exploit women for their benefit, speaks to the reality that as Black women we still carry the load of other people and are not seen or respected.
This then brings me to another factor of expecting activists to do the work for free. As activists we did not wake up and decide that we would choose this carer, for many of us, it was a calling. It is a job that often requires a lot of hours, unpaid hours, it takes us into dangerous places and often dangerous scenarios as we are dismantling the patriarchy and therefore have to go up against the misogyny and hatred that is attached to that ideology. Then there is the emotional stress that we have to endure for being in the sector, to missing out on family time and often worrying about getting food on the table and paying bills, as our work often takes us away from paying jobs. There are very few of us who can afford psychologists and additional therapy, so we carry a load of others as well as our own, but we continue as this is who we have been called to be. We have studied and have learned life experiences from being in the sector for decades, so when we raise the alarm or our voices, we are speaking from places of authority and agency, we know what we bring to the table, using us to better or promote your platforms can be done in a symbiotic way but we will not tolerate being exploited under the banner of CSI or giving back. We understand that corporates have their CSI projects but our livelihood is our CSI so when you need a speaker, researcher or expert/consultant to come and do your work, we are capable but it is not our duty to operate as slaves on your sinking ships.

This, of course, is different when it comes to NGO work, as we understand the challenges that are faced and we often opt to assist​ where we can.

So in closing understand the dynamics and different levels of abuse. We know the obvious ones of physical and sexual, there is emotional and psychological​ and​ financial​l. Examples of financial abuse are not allowing​ somebody to work, or making them work but not paying them, trying to make them feel bad and coercing them to work for free by saying that they should​ want to give back, is playing on their emotions and then denying them remuneration is financial abuse. Think about the long term effects that this can play on an individual who already does​ the good work but is expected to make your image look good and they go home hungry.

-end

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