By Chiara Stennett, BA Politics and International Relations
Online Responses to the Sainsburys’ Christmas advertisement featuring a Black British family reveals the harrowing racism that is damaging our society. Some white tweeters went so far as to say the ad was ‘absolutely sickening’ and ‘horrific’. How can the gathering of a happy family at Christmas cause so much resentment?
Sarah Beckett, the organiser of the Voice of Colour British Instagram account posted a thread of responses from a large group of white users on Twitter titled ‘For those who say racism isn’t a problem in the UK anymore…’
When looking at the advertisement itself, we must try to understand why there is so much hatred and resentment towards it. It is extremely difficult to empathise with this feeling when observing a family reminiscing of happy times and presenting authentic English traditions such as roast dinners, Christmas hats, baking, and dressing up for Christmas day.
We must remember that Britain has created a hierarchy through colonization where white Europeans have systematically been promoted superior to Black and brown people. Racism is embedded into the fabrics of our nation and this is not easily cured.
We must remember racism and discrimination were only made illegal in Britain in 1965.
Some white social media users said they feel alienated and unrepresented with the influx of Black people in advertising, stating ‘Every single tv ad this evening is black … I’m going to take a stand & not buy from these companies until they show more white people.’
This is a feeling Black and mixed-race people are far too familiar with. The lack of representation they have faced for hundreds of years is astounding. This year’s Black Lives Matter Movement has been a call for recognition as well as fundamental rights worldwide. Thus, white people should be aware that there is now an emphasis on pushing this representation.
Symbolic annihilation is a term used to describe the absence or erasing of a certain group of people, a certain minority, in this case, Black people. It describes the underrepresentation leading to the upholding of social inequality. This advert aims simply to represent this minority which have been erased for far too long.
Many racist responses have also argued that because ‘Britain is a majority white country’ Black people should not be representative of English values and in this case an ‘English Christmas,’ Yet, surely one must look at the presence of Black people in British history before we deem them as ‘un-British’.
Let us not forget that Black Caribbean’s, Africans and Asians were persuaded to come to Britain in the 1960s by government schemes, only to be met with racism, bigotry and resentment which would last their entire generation and has continued for generations after.
Many white people on Twitter questioned whether the family was ‘British’, despite the evidence that Black people have been a part of British culture throughout history as early as 668 AD; a Black bishop in Canterbury or the huge influx of Black Africans arriving in England in 1589, to name a few. Racist comments such as ‘Christmas in Nigeria’ and ‘Good advert, looking forward to seeing the UK version’ reveal worryingly nationalist responses which are based around the myth that black people are not truly British.
So why is representation important?
The media has always influenced a lot of what people understand about communities they do not know and for rural Britons who do not live alongside Black people, information about this group comes in the form of media representation. Harmful stereotypes which ‘other’ Black people, showing them as criminals, as ‘backwards’ perpetuate these stereotypes allowing racist views.
This advert provides a representation of Black people showing them enjoying something which is a beautiful part of British Christmas tradition.
However, what these adverts do not address is the systematic racism which is still very prevalent in England. Systemic racism in the UK this year manifests itself by the disproportionate policing and arrests enforcing the lockdown; the Stop-and-search rate indicates that Black people are nearly 10 times more likely to be stopped than white people.
Alongside this is the disproportionate rate Black people are dying from coronavirus; being four times more likely to die of it than white people. Social inequality in housing, deprivation and lower-income front line jobs reveals the terrifying reality of the structural racism in the UK.
This Sainsbury’s advert does not solve this issue, nor does it shed light on the devastating reality of structural racism in the UK today. However, it is an attempt to say ‘I notice you and I stand with you,’ and that’s a start.
Photo Caption: ‘Gravy Song’ Christmas Advertisement (Credit: Sainsbury’s).