“Disgusting,” “Sickening”, “Too far”. These are some of the reactions to this years’ Sainsbury’s Christmas Advert. A controversial advert perhaps? Is it offensive and pushing the limit of what a supermarkets’ Christmas advert should be like? Not really. The advert includes a very normal Christmas scene, one we’re all familiar with, a family sitting together to have Christmas dinner, sharing some jokes, and being happy. Oh but the family are Black, still a normal family but Black and that seems to be an issue. The advert has provoked horrific reactions like this one “Why cast a Black family instead of just a family?”.
If going about 60 seconds without seeing any white faces on TV really upsets you, then imagine being from an ethnic minority background where seeing people who like you on TV is rare. If featured at all people from ethnic minority backgrounds are often reduced to caricatures and stereotypes. That’s why there is something about empowering about seeing a “normal” Black family on T.V. a sight that is somehow rare enough to provoke an angry response from some.
Widespread backlash against representation has been a growing trend this year. Alesha Dixon and Diversity expressed support on Britain’s Got Talent for the idea that the lives of Black people matter and received a shocking level of abuse and hate. These reactions while at times ridiculous and over the top are important to take seriously. Racism is a product of unequal power in society, in the UK this has been pushed and maintained by our key societal institutions. It has also been maintained by unequal representation in T.V and media that have historically ignored the lives and stories of ethnic minority communities and have pushed an idea of Britain as being white and not multicultural.
Equal representation is a very important thing, it helps to show people that they have a space in society and belong there. The telling of Black stories is key to fighting racism. The Small Axe series created by Steve McQueen being aired on BBC, is helping to introduce a large audience to people like Altheia Jones-Lecointe and the rest of the Mangrove nine, essential figures to understanding the history of Black people in the UK and highlighting the discrimination and oppression that have been at the heart of the experiences of the Caribbean community in Britain in particular. Series like this one help to educate us all, they highlight the depths of Black people’s experiences in the UK and teach us more about the UK’s history. A series like this one isn’t possible without equal representation and the space for people from marginalised groups to produce art and tell stories that are meaningful to them.
To end racism, we need to create a society where people from ethnic minority backgrounds are treated as valued members of society. Achieving equal representation in media is a key thing to achieving this. We need to get a point where more than 2.2% of UK produced television episodes are made by directors from ethnic minority backgrounds. This will help our media and T.V to reflect the reality of the UK in the 21st century, as a place that is multicultural and diverse. This will also help to show people from ethnic minority communities that they belong in the UK. A Black family being in an advert should not be a controversial thing. The fact that so many people could feel angry about it hints at a media industry and a society that has plenty of work to do in creating a space in which the lives and stories of ethnic minority communities are valued.
By Nelson Cummins