On reactions to representations of diversity

The closing title of Sainsbury’s advert “Gravy Song”, by Wieden+Kennedy London and Pulse Films.

Lots of conversations about diversity, equity, inclusion and representation have been promoted as a result of one advert in Sainsbury’s 2020 Christmas campaign featuring a Black father singing about gravy to his daughter:

In a post on LinkedIn, Steve Murrells, CEO of the Co-op Group, celebrated Sainsbury’s advert and — despite it being a site with our real names and work identities being centred — far too many people are so invested in white supremacy that they felt the need to say so.

There were many replies from people who don’t understand their own racism, the first comment that LinkedIn showed me read as follows:

I seriously think that Racism and black live matter is being misinterpreted. There’s no place for racism. But being able to have your opinion is slowly being taken away from us for fear of being called racist. All the black advertising is now starting to have a negative effect, I’ve heard normal everyday people saying it’s getting out of hand and they’re sick of seeing it. The UK is still a predominantly white country and the freedom to act and say what we feel without prejudice should be made clear.

And I felt a need to reply. It’s terser than I’d like, as LinkedIn has a character limit for comments (and I was writing it before getting my shit together for the day, without easy access to references), but it felt like it’s worth sharing more widely, to remind people that “I’m not racist but” is racist.

The loss of privilege can feel like oppression

The loss of privilege can feel like oppression. As a queer man, I’ve seen the straight community convulse in homophobic reactions to the increased acceptance of LGBTQ+ people — we still see those convulsions with transphobic narratives all over the place, especially here in the UK, where transphobia is endemic even in the left-wing media. Comparing tabloid headlines from my childhood with seeing Nicola Adams dancing with Katya Jones on primetime BBC light entertainment they seem whole worlds apart.

Those reactions from places of privilege — even those places where the privilege is not obvious to those with it, such as whiter parts of the country that have been left behind economically, relative to some of our more diverse, more cosmopolitan cities — are understandable, but they still come from a place of being ill-informed. And not necessarily through any fault of the people believing those things.

But those reactions are still rooted in racism. Someone who thinks people shouldn’t be upset at seeing slavers honoured with statues and that “it’s all gone too far” when they question that is being racist.

And it’s our job, in creative industries, to help them realise the world is a better place once they understand that.

The image from the advert “Gravy Song” is used without permission for the purpose of criticism and review under section 30(1) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the author’s belief that this constitutes fair use by way of criticism and comment in the meanings of 17 USC §107.

This article’s text is dedicated to the public domain under the terms of the Creative Commons Zero licence. Please feel free to translate, copy, excerpt, share, disseminate and otherwise spread it far and wide. You don’t need to ask me, you don’t need to tell me. Just do it!

 by the author.

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Owen Blacker

Owen Blacker

🇪🇺🏳️‍🌈🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿♿⧖ Mainly-gay, mainly-Welsh political geek; proud social justice warrior+trans ally. @WikiLGBT, @OpenRightsGroup, ex- @mySociety. he/him