Practising "politics of the stomach" is something many a South African politician, celebrity, and influencer has been accused of in recent years. What started out as a concept to illustrate the relationship between patrimonialism, clientelism, corruption, and power back in 1989 has since evolved in meaning to refer to people whose political ideologies sway towards wherever their next paycheck is coming from. In her 2003 book, Politics of the womb women, reproduction, and the state in Kenya, author Lynn Thomas references the concept devised by Cameroonian author Jean-François Bayart and explains it as follows: "The politics of the belly points...
Practising "politics of the stomach" is something many a South African politician, celebrity, and influencer has been accused of in recent years.
What started out as a concept to illustrate the relationship between patrimonialism, clientelism, corruption, and power back in 1989 has since evolved in meaning to refer to people whose political ideologies sway towards wherever their next paycheck is coming from.
In her 2003 book, Politics of the womb women, reproduction, and the state in Kenya, author Lynn Thomas references the concept devised by Cameroonian author Jean-François Bayart and explains it as follows:
"The politics of the belly points to the propensity of politicians to hoard and greedily consume resources in things and people. In addition to highlighting the significance of idioms of eating and the belly to African conceptions of power, Bayart's analysis insists on the importance of vertical relationships – those between social unequals such as […] patrons or clients – to understand African political history."
Bayart first presented this concept in his 1989 work titled L'État en Afrique: La Politique du Ventre (Politics of the Belly: The State in Africa).
Outside of the scope of politicians and state power, the concept of politics of the stomach has been used as a lens through which to view other power dynamics and unequal relationships involving money and the point at which money dictates one's political ideology.
Social media, namely platforms like Twitter, have made it easier for fans to gleen what their favourite celebrities and popular personalities' ideals are.
These platforms also function like archives in that they allow fans to access previous posts in the event that they feel as though their "faves" are contradicting themselves.
This plays an important part in the act of holding people accountable. But, it tends to pose a problem where people have simply grown and evolved because they are allowed to change and change their minds.
Something that cancel culture doesn't always take into consideration.
Take the TRESemme and Clicks natural hair saga for example. After Clicks found themselves in the hot seat, they fingered TRESemme as the original creators of the offensive content. As the parent company that owns TRESemme, Unilever was required to atone for their sins.
According to a statement issued to the Citizen by Unilever in mid-September, the company had put in place a number of internal plans to tackle what they call "unconscious bias" and to ensure that they never found themselves in this position again.
"We were shocked to discover that we had supplied images for the Clicks website that portrayed black hair as inferior. This was racist and we apologise unreservedly. We immediately began an investigation to understand what happened. At the same time, we began reviewing all the marketing campaigns and images in our South Africa portfolio to make sure they match our commitment to celebrate all beauty and promote diversity and inclusion," read part of the statement.
The company also promised to set up a new Diversity and Inclusion Assets Committee, "representative of our consumers, to ensure future advertising campaigns and publicity materials reflect our values."
This is addition to setting up an Advisory Board with internal and external experts to review how the company's hair care products in South Africa can offer consumers the solutions they want in positive and empowering terms.
According to Unilever, the Advisory Board would also develop programmes to deliver immediate support to black hair stylists and small professional salons in the coming months.
Furthermore, Unilever committed to reviewing their mandatory diversity and inclusion training in addition to accelerating their training on unconscious bias for all staff.
Although news of these plans was not as widely propagated as the scandal itself, Unilever has emerged relatively unscathed despite calls for brands within its stable to be cancelled.
This allowed Unilever to proudly launch the brand new #BeautyAtHomeWithU campaign with a number of African influencers at the forefront of the campaign. People who fans sometimes look to as a barometer for where to stand on certain issues.
In the age of cancel culture and calls for one to put their money where their mouth is, by not spending it with companies that show no regard for black lives and identities, where are influencers of colour supposed to draw the line?
Not only when those companies are the brands that pay for the campaigns that pay an influencer's salary, but also when those companies own the very platforms these influencers have built their entire business model on?
Having ethics and standing for something matters, but how does one reconcile the importance of such things when the debt piles up and the fridge starts looking empty?
Alternatively, how great can it be to revel in the spoils of a paycheck funded by people who see you as less than human?
When faced with the choice between one's politics and "a bag" (of money), what choice is a public personality supposed to make?
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.
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