i was introduced to Merlize by my good friend Terence Mentor aka Afrodaddy, who, if you are not following, you should sort that out here.
i started following her on Instagram after Afrodaddy and i had done an evening podcast about inclusion. anti-racism and blogging and quickly got to see that Merlize is someone that speaks out about injustice. Which, as you know, makes me really happy. So i asked her if she would be so kind as you write a piece for my blog and my hope is that you will take a look at her page and start following her on the social medias and help amplify her voice as someone who speaks a strong and honest truth. Which is not always easy.
Thank you, Merlize.
Meet MJay aka Merlize
South Africa is all about color. In our flag, in our music, but mostly in our people. Being the so called “rainbow” nation does however have a tendency to make things seem seamless and easy, in and around the color conversation. This is sadly far from what we experience on the ground.
I’m a woman, a South African mother, and on top of being a business owner and talk show host, I also Identify as colored. It may seem curious to you that I even have to make this distinction, since many don’t identify a such. I don’t have any issues with how anyone identifies in our country because being so different is what is supposed to make us as beautiful as we are. However, being colored has unfortunately been linked to all sorts behaviors and stereotypes, which I cannot conform to.
When I went into business five years ago, I knew that I would be facing a number of challenges. Not having a tertiary education, with no business knowledge whatsoever and then being female to add to it, I was pretty aware that these things would present me with challenges that I needed to be ready for. I had no idea how my race was also going to affect how I did in the business world, and being that naive has really taught me so much about the effects that our past still has on us daily.
It’s a known fact that we are predisposed through the teachings in history that light and bright is the better choice, and we choose it based on a belief more than the truth. What we don’t even realize is, that by continuing to believe this way, we continue to place ourselves at a disadvantage. We teach others that it is ok to keep thinking this way, when in fact it isn’t at all.
I’ve learned this the hard way. In my industry, it’s easier to sound more “white”, speak kinder and softer and keep quiet when you are being addressed in demeaning way because that way you don’t have to explain your rolling R or your “attitude” problem. This behavior has allowed people to believe that we will take whatever we get, and so, we do.
As a Photographer for 10 years now, it took me a long time to really pay attention to the fact that who I am and look like puts me at a disadvantage, because white is trusted, and my natural hair and my straight talk can be intimidating and scary to address. At some point, something had to give. I was at the end of my finances every month; my debt was in a bad place and I just couldn’t seem to secure enough work to take me through the month.
This wasn’t the life I wanted or left my job for. Why were all my black and white friends working every day, taking trips, buying homes and cars and why were they getting so much attention for their work on social media, when all I could get were a few likes. I was frustrated and angry. Why did I seem so invisible.
Then I attended a Friends workshop that woke me up, hard. I could take advantage of taking ownership of being as raw as I was as a colored woman and then charge what I was worth in the process. He didn’t say those words to me exactly, actually, not at all. I got this revelation from his unwavering doubt in himself to charge what he believed he was worth and get every penny he knew he deserved.
This was the tipping point for me. As a Colored woman, and I believe for many colored people, feeling seen meant we would take whatever we were offered because It gave us some perception of value. Our value has been largely stored in the acceptance of the other races.
To colored people, White people hold all the tools in education and worth, and the black people have been given power, so they must have more than we have. I have come to discover though, that a black government in power doesn’t translate to benefits for black South Africans at all. In fact, we as black and colored people are a lot more impoverished than we were when we had a white government.
This perception that we have as colored people has however put us at a mindset disadvantage to our counterparts. It took this workshop to make me realize this. I needed to find out how much I valued myself and all of my coloredness in order to teach those who hired me that they should never take advantage of this worth. This realization changed a lot for me, and I’d love to say that I am now a world-renowned photographer and speaker, but I’m not, and I am nowhere near wealthy either.
This realization changed my perspective in how I was allowing others to treat me because we are groomed this way as a colored people, but that didn’t mean that I was getting more work. In fact, as soon as I raised my fee and charged what I should have been all along, those who were “using” me before couldn’t justify my prices. I lost all my clients and basically had to start from scratch. It turned out that those who I worked with also didn’t believe I held much value because they were not willing to pay an industry standard for the work I provided.
Things got bad and I was asked by family and friends on numerous occasions if it just wouldn’t be easier to get a job. It would have been, but then what? I work in a job I hate until I die? Why can’t a colored person not pave the way in both belief and achievement for once without begging for help and support from the man? It just didn’t make sense to me to submit myself to that life again, even if it meant that I was going to struggle for the rest of my life, and it was surely starting to look like a real possibility. Call it stubborn, but after really paying attention to my worth in this time, I knew I had far more to offer than a job was able to give me.
It’s taken many years of struggling and one client at a time to help the business really get off the ground, and for a long time still, we may be considered a small business, because I can honestly say that being my authentic self may never be completely accepted in the South African landscape.
I’ve never been known for taking anything lying down, so I’m never planning on letting my skin color stop me from working to achieve, even it means that much of what I do gets suppressed because I don’t fit into the narrative that we have created ourselves. It’s my responsibility to at least start the conversation around how being my colored self can bring about truth in the statement “rainbow nation”.
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Thank you so much, Merlize. So much to learn from in your story. Really appreciate you sharing yourself with us in this way and thank you for being bold and speaking out with all the pain and cost that often involves.
To see more of Merlize’s work and to start following her – and please share these links on your social media spaces as well:
MJay Media Group PTY Ltd
@mjayMediaGroup on facebook and Instagram
Owning This Life Pty Ltd
@owningthislifesa on Facebook and Instagram
Merlize Jogiat on Facebook
Who is a black or brown person on social media that you would love to see featured on this blog? Please make the connection and let’s make it happen!