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Diversity, The Black Sheep of Businesses.

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

I usually never write about anything that involves race as it's a delicate subject; however, current events around the globe and racial stereotypes in Mauritius have inspired me to write about something that concerns each of us. This article is not solely about race but still about marginalisation on a multicultural island like Mauritius. Although none of us wishes to talk about it, this is actually what we all should be talking about. Speaking about it only helps identify prejudices towards particular groups and diagnose our misconceptions when it comes to the latter. It is a sad fact, but since political and economic power resides in specific racial groups, marginalisation is bound to occur. The Creole community has been particularly left in dire social conditions, which has only helped increase discrimination towards them. Since my blog focuses mainly on Small Businesses in Mauritius, I thought it necessary to point out the plausible contribution of small businesses in breaking down stereotypes and the unfortunate part played by big corporations in reinforcing them. I apologise to my readers in advance, if this seems irrelevant and I hope that my honesty will not hurt any race in particular since this is not the purpose of this article.

Pleasant Reading.

Creole: a creative, beautiful and robust group of individuals who have contributed to making Mauritius prosperous, a group that has been marginalised for far too long and who deserves recognition more than ever.

BLM movement is not a meme inspo.

The manslaughter of George Floyd, the revival of the BLM movement are not mere happenings; they reflect what is wrong with our societies. The sickness that lies in our communities is not only about a lack of tolerance or empathy, and it is the result of centuries of racial stereotyping that have shaped our perceptions. Be it in the US, UK, France and even on a multicultural island like Mauritius. A lot of support has been demonstrated in support of the BLM movement despite the pandemic but much of it seems to be a bogus display of concern. Various sources have criticised businesses of false interest and severe issues to secure their brand image on social media channels. People of Colour (POC) have been disparaged by the pretence put on by many businesses. Brands such as L'Oréal Paris or Pretty Little Thing have not been spared.

Read more here:

L'Oreal, Zimmermann and Reformation accused of racism after posting in support of Black Lives Matter

and here:

Backlash with 'inappropriate illustrations of jet black hand'

Other brands such as Glossier have boosted their reputation by showing their genuine interest in the matter with a diverse workforce and an even more varied social media presence. Glossier is probably one of the brands with which anyone can identify him/herself with, irrespective of gender or race—being murdered because one's skin colour is not a joke, not a Meme inspiration and should never be banalised. POC have remained silent for too long regarding injustice. Therefore, it is no surprise that they have started to speak out and call out brands upon their dishonest acts and talk about various forms of discrimination now that they have the chance to do so.

Racism, Oppression and Colorism.

Although, many movements worked towards an equal society for everyone in the 1960s, racism and colourism are still relevant issues in most places be it in the US or Mauritius where we barely see darker skin tones in adverts and on billboards. It is a sad truth, yet colourism remains ingrained in our culture and society. Representation of darker skin tones remains a matter of concern. Lightening of the skin is still hyped.

It is generally assumed that anyone can identify themselves with light-skinned individuals. When it comes to success, and anything that has to do with luxury in Mauritius, is usually associated with white skin mostly Caucasians/Mulattos or some mixed individual and mind you, by mixed, half Caucasian, not Creole/Muslim or Hindu/Creole etc.)

It is impressive how white skin is still adored despite our history of oppression.

Let's be honest, how many times have you come across dark-skinned models in Mauritius? Some skin tones are "acceptable" and some are barely represented. There is a massive underrepresentation of darker-skinned people when it comes to media in Mauritius. Let's forget about visual representation and colourism, what about diversity? A la tête of big corporations, there is still a substantial lack of diversity. I recall being told by a friend how during a video conference, a South-African member on the committee commented how only white people could set up and manage businesses as they possess the required skills. In contrast, the "others" make an effective workforce.

This is not an individual case; incidents like these are so common that racism and oppression have become almost banal. We no longer consider it as discrimination and brush it off like it was a bad joke. How many such remarks needed to demolish the self-esteem of POC? How hard should they work before achieving senior positions?

I recall hearing my dad's carer saying something that hit me hard when my dad asked to have rice and lentils early in the morning, and she repeatedly answered: "Mone travail kot blanc moi mo koner komen bisin manzer." I instantly wondered if the white way of doing things was the only or the right way of doing things.

People live, eat, and act differently around the globe; each of us has a unique lifestyle. How can one judge that the white way of eating or doing anything is superior to others? Strangely, people feel valuable when they work for the same race that first condemned them.

Just another winning card for some businesses.

Regrettably, businesses usually function like political parties, they frequently relate to problems that will fit their plan, but instead of votes, they acquire loyalty and revenue. This might explain why so many brands thought it was necessary to show their concern regarding the BLM.

For change to take place, businesses need to consider diversity and inclusivity. Think also about the treatment given to your customers- is the same being offered to everyone regardless of who they are, how they look or how they speak?

A recent Vogue Britain interview with British anchor Ajodudu, who is of Nigerian descent describes how regardless of her success she has suffered from racism all her life.

Read more here:

She refers to the current flow of coloured content as tokenism which brands use whenever it is profitable for their businesses and gets rid of whenever it suits them. For Ajodudu and many others, people of colour should not be grateful when they are featured in an ad. It is instead the norm that should be reviewed, anyone is fit for representation and should be represented. While including other races and ethnicities, businesses are not doing a favour to minorities. Companies should in fact, strive to ensure that changes are long-lasting.

The irreparable damage

For those of you who know a little bit of history, economic power largely remained in the hands of colonials after independence while the nation's larger racial proportion essentially handled political power. The deal was simple; economic barons would make the country prosper if the more significant proportion stood as the foremen of politics and saved the barons from possible violent uprisings. The truth is that this has only made things a lot worse. The Creole community has been left with little to no representation at all. The "Cités" are a proof of that, no real attempt has been made to change things, they have been abandoned and left to struggle and we wonder why cases of drug use, abuse, prostitution and underage pregnancy are still staggering in number in such places.

All the filth associated with the "Cités" is a result of our incompetency and nothing more. Marginalisation is still an unresolved issue, and this does not seem to be ending anytime soon. Creoles are still the most discriminated against; they have been persecuted for centuries, and people are always wary of them till this date. Let's think about the recent murders; how many of them were killed for petty crimes and how many of us condemned their doings for what happened despite knowing that manslaughter is never a solution. As soon as one hears that the person killed was of the Creole community, it no longer matters, and why should it if I don't belong to the same community. This is precisely what matters. Suppose I accept how community X is treated and find it rather fair that they are discriminated against. In that case, I will also justify another community's treatment of myself thinking that they are superior. But what about those who believe that working for the white community is a privilege. They are only reinforcing the white man's false superiority. If this goes on, POC will never be able to recognise their value; their culture and legacy will be erased with each passing year.

No culture is superior to another. White is not a benchmark. Speaking French or English should not determine our worth. Neither should gender or skin colour. Speaking creole anywhere should be accepted for it's our mother tongue. One does not go to Russia or Denmark and not expect the people to speak Russian and Danish. By repetitively choosing another language over our mother tongue, we only erase our roots, which should never be the case. We should never consider any race to be superior or inferior. History has taught us one thing: our differences are often misinterpreted as weaknesses, but they are what shape us and make us unique.

How do SB challenge stereotypes?

Small businesses have been aiming at changing things. Inclusivity has been part of small companies, or so it seems on social media platforms while big corporates still emphasise our differences. For instance, their ads will ensure that the role of a plumber or a housekeeper will likely be played by a darker-skinned person, customarily from the Creole community. At the same time, the owner or director of a company will most likely be Caucasian. Instead of breaking down stereotypes, big corporates ensure that these are reinforced and will perpetuate for years and years as they have always been.

For change to happen, it does not always require cash; it sometimes requires a lot of small forces put together to move things forward. How does the input of small businesses differ from bigger ones? Since smaller companies in Mauritius are generally are made up of very few people, their concern for diversity is usually genuine, and I haven't personally witnessed a rise in awareness just for the sake of sticking to the norm. Most small businesses are supported by people of different backgrounds, gender, communities, ethnicities, and almost each and everyone is represented. None seems superior to the other. If you take a look at their customer base and their content, you quickly realise that there's no discrimination. If you read the comments, you grasp that support is from anyone. There has been an ongoing increase in support of local artisans.

Unfortunately, too often, it is just another means for big corporations to diversify their business. Local crafters and artisans can only turn their passion into stable companies if their products are not bought at a low price and resold at a much higher one. If this is the case, then the only aspect that is right about such a business type is visibility and nothing more.

Why, as a small business owner, you should be involved?

Having a social media platform allows you to have a voice and to speak out on various issues. The thing about colourism or racial issues is that stereotypes have existed for far too long for these to disappear within a day, a month or even a year. We have to be realistic enough to know that these are deep-rooted in societies, in our mentality and these will not be broken down by a simple post on injustice or by using a few pictures of POC to enhance diversity but what it can do is raise awareness in some way or another. And if thousands of businesses do the equivalent with genuine concern, it will undoubtedly impact the overall social media audience. While I do not think that social media reflects our behaviour in real life, I think part of our business values should bear a certain degree of moral leadership. To make money just for the sake of making money serves no real purpose. As a small business owner, you can change things to a certain level- what matters most is that you have the power of shaping younger generations and breaking down years and years of racial stereotypes. Small businesses can influence their audience.

Marginalisation, discrimination, and oppression have existed for far too many centuries for these to be regarded as glitches. Small businesses owners seem to care a lot more than just making profits, they care about sustainability, mental health, the Pride Month and I believe they have a say on colourism and diversity in Mauritius as well, but I may be wrong.

Things will not change promptly. Lasting change takes time and efforts from all parts of the society for it to occur. But if every small business owner and each of us brush off societal issues bound to affect our future, we certainly need to review our priorities. We all have our part to play when it comes to discrimination.

Let's rethink how we perceive each other, for once let us make Creoles CEOs when designing adverts; role reversion is more than empowering; it could change the audience's perception towards one race. This wind of change is probably the only chance for long-lasting change to take place. Let us not make the BLM movement just another trend.

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