As far as South African media personalities go, Khanyi Mbau is one of, if not the best interviewees anyone can ask for.
So, it was quite disappointing to see that any and everything she could have said in her Behind The Story interview was overshadowed by host Pearl Thusi’s continued refusal to understand the conversation around colourism in the media industry and how it has benefited her.
The morning after the show saw Pearl trending on Twitter for breaking down in tears over what she calls abuse.
A clip shared by Twitter user @mandlamZA opens with Pearl in the middle of a rant saying:
“… they are light skinned and that’s why they are where they are. Yes, there are privileges but let’s also look around and see who is giving those privileges to them and why those privileges exist in the first place.”
She went on to lament how she and others have been called to order over this due to their position within the black community and what she considers an assumption that such people are “easy to abuse”.
“Let’s go back to the source of why they have an identity crisis and why they look different and why we are the way we are and how we got to this place, when we’re supposed to be on the same side as a country and as a people and as a race,” said Pearl.
“We’re on the same side, I am not the enemy. I can’t change how I look and if I did, you’d still be mad so let me live my life. Live yours. I’ve worked very hard for what I have and if my light skin is going to help me feed my kids and that’s what you want to believe then you know what, believe what you want to believe.”
— Mandla Gingirikani (@mandlamZA) October 14, 2020
Ever since having it pointed out on social media that there are people who do not think she is a talented or capable actress and that she is only able to get such prestigious international roles because of her light skin and somewhat racially ambiguous look, Pearl has done nothing but play the victim.
She has refused to engage any input to this conversation at all, opting instead to paint it all as jealousy and bullying.
Pearl is basically doing what white people and black men do in discussions around social hierarchy, privilege and oppression; ignoring any and all valid contributions in favour of trying to seem just as victimised, oppressed and not-so-well-off as the next person.
Let’s take Pearl’s last few sentences and write them as though they were written by a white man, white woman and a black man:
“We’re on the same side, I am not the enemy. I can’t change how I look and if I did, you’d still be mad so let me live my life. Live yours. I’ve worked very hard for what I have and if my status as a white man/white woman/black man is going to help me feed my kids and that’s what you want to believe then you know what, believe what you want to believe.”
Imagine being on the receiving end of these words. Words that basically say “I benefit from who I am, but I refuse to accept that as fact. I will instead pretend that this is something you have imagined because you’re presumably a sore loser who is so jealous of my white/male awesomeness and everything it affords me. Get over it.”
Having Pearl utter these words as a black woman and then proceed to cry is no different.
And to have her do this while facing a woman who pays thousands of rands on a monthly basis to maintain her chemically altered skin colour as a way to ensure she gets job opportunities that were not easy to come by when she was darker is just astonishing.
Even when faced with living proof of the criticism levelled against her, Pearl refuses to acknowledge reality.
Much like any other defensive person in a position of privilege, Pearl then asks “okay, well what do you want me to do?” before following up her hypothetical question with a series of absurdities in an effort to discredit the conversation around coloursim.
“Do you want me to change how I look? Make my skin darker? Should I turn down jobs…”
No Pearl, don’t be asinine.
You’re imagining doing everything but the one thing people need you to do; accept the facts of the matter.
Expecting you to darken your skin and never work again is stupid and no person in their right mind would expect that of you.
However, you do occupy a position of power, even as a black woman. The least you could do is lend your voice to the conversation in a positive way. Even when people are hurtful.
However, your performance of victimhood, displayed on both national TV and on social media creates the unspoken impression that you have broken down after being attacked by a troupe of rabid, jealous and aggressive dark skinned women who can’t stand to see you win because you are everything they cannot be.
Colourism is wrong but no one said you invented it, Pearl. People are simply using you and your prominence as a working example of its pervasiveness.
Unfortunately, some hurtful things have been said to you in the process but that does not diminish the validity of the argument.
And argument being had in Hollywood in various forms. This has resulted in male actors advocating for equal pay on behalf of their female counterparts and white actors doing the same for people of colour.
Earlier this year, Jenny Slate and Kirsten Bell stepped aside from their roles voicing animated characters of colour so that these opportunities could be given to black people. Sure, they gave up one of the many jobs they hold, however, this is but one example.
Following his death, Sienna Miller shared how Chadwick Boseman advocated for her to be paid better on a project they were both cast on after finding out that he was being paid more than she was. Imagine if he decided not to do anything good for a white woman because he is a black man who has most likely struggled to be paid fairly at some point in his career?
So, forget the idea that people expect you to give up your opportunities or get a tan and instead try in any way you can, to advance the industry in a way that benefits as many people as possible.
Kaunda is analogue girl navigating a digital world using the perspective provided by news. She has always had a desire to amass a wealth of knowledge on a range of varied topics and this is reflected in the content she produces. As a digitally adept social media user, you can always trust Kaunda to bring you up to speed on what’s going on in the world at any given moment.