How Celebrating Christmas While Black Caused a Ruckus
Examining the racism behind the trolling of Sainsbury's 2020 Christmas ad
If you want proof that anti-Black racism is everywhere, you have only to look at the vitriol spewed by commenters after the release of the Sainsbury's Christmas video ad in the UK.
The content of the ad is pretty unobjectionable. It features a daughter talking to her dad about enjoying gravy and roast potatoes this coming Christmas. And there are stills of Christmases past throughout the one-minute video.
Sounds good, right? You’d think it was guaranteed to give viewers the warm fuzzies and stir up some pleasant holiday feelings.
Well, not so fast. While some people of all hues loved the ad, a lot of white Brits didn’t. The reason? Because the family featured in the ad was Black.
Many of the white people who commented negatively felt that:
There were no British people in the ad (clearly, Black Brits don’t count for them)
Since it was a Black family, the dad portrayed probably wasn’t the father of the children (I kid you not, someone actually said this)
It was disgusting, and grounds for a boycott of the supermarket chain (I can’t even).
Check out the ad and the comments on this Twitter thread:
The bottom line: celebrating Christmas while Black is somehow out of the ordinary.
As a Black woman, I loved the ad. I was happy that for once Black Brits could see themselves represented in an everyday experience, where the color of their skin was incidental. Many of the Black commenters agreed.
Though many UK programs now have diverse casts (another huge bone of contention for some commenters), often the fact of Blackness or brownness is part of the storyline. It was great to see that the Sainsbury’s ad avoided this, as Alicia Adejobi said in Metro:
“It was beautiful to see people with my skintone on TV but it was just as beautiful that, for once, it wasn’t ‘about’ them being Black.”
Racism and Representation
But clearly, surprising not a single Black or brown person, the UK still has a deep and often unacknowledged problem with anti-Black racism and bias.
Many non-melanated Brits are happy to talk about ending the trade in enslaved Africans, but less happy to talk about the racial power dynamics resulting from colonialism that still affect Black people’s experiences in the country and around the world today.
The reaction to the ad illustrates the now common saying that for those accustomed to privilege equality looks like oppression.
While there have been more diverse casts on screen in recent years, if you think about the history of television in the UK, most programs have featured white people. It seems hard that Black people shouldn’t be allowed a single one-minute ad without stirring up venom.
Plus, this ad is just one of a series of three from the supermarket chain. Another ad features a white family. I have yet to hear of any Black or brown people objecting to that. For us, lack of representation is the norm, and some of us may not even notice it explicitly. However, we DO notice and appreciate when we are represented.
I found it interesting that one person chose to question the family dynamics. Clearly, far too many dysfunctional Black families are shown in the media, and not enough functional ones. As I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, representation matters.
Myths and Stereotypes
Funmi Olutoye wrote about the controversy in the Independent, and made a few good points, including:
People are uncomfortable confronting the myth that the UK isn’t racist (yes, of course it is)
People are afraid that this is the tip of the iceberg leading to a Black supremacy that operates the same way white supremacy has (don’t worry; we just want equity, but if that’s what people think maybe it’s time to rethink white supremacy?)
People seem to only want to see Black people in certain stereotypical roles and settings (I guess the ad was far too normal)
“If that means [Black people are] in the places where you typically only see white people and you have an issue with that, then you are part of the problem. Inclusion is not supremacy.”
So, where do we go from here? I applaud Sainsbury’s for making the effort to diversify its Christmas advertising (though I notice its management team is not diverse), and for avoiding the obvious stereotypes of Black people. And I’m happy for all those Black Brits who’ll see people like them on their screens this Christmas.
But the racist backlash reveals that there’s still a lot of work to do before an ad like this is seen as just as normal as an ad with an all white cast. It would be great if the next time this happens, we can all get warm holiday feelings without feeling the chill breath of racism.
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.