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...because it's not always black & white
Oh look... The trolls are out before the elves this Christmas

I’ll be honest: I’m exhausted. Over the past few weeks, I’ve lacked the motivation to do much more than watch reruns of Schitt’s Creek. I’ve felt too fragile to watch Steve McQueen’s latest triumph, or engage with the latest wave of racism levelled at Meghan Markle. And, it’s taken me nearly two weeks to watch *that* Sainsbury’s advert.

Since it ran, there’s been a lot of content about the importance of diversity in modern advertising—particularly given the number of ads that have dehumanised the Black community over the years—and it’s important not to detract from that message. We *do* need to show a cross-section of genders, sexualities, ethnicities and religions in primary roles; not only for cultural impact, but for its commercial value. Today’s society values inclusion, and their purchasing power reflects that, particularly Gen Z, whose consumer influence is predicted to usurp that of baby boomers by 2025, according to Heat. And, quite frankly, anyone who feels triggered by a Black family looking and sounding happy on TV need to work out why for themselves.

But the visceral response to the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert got me thinking. For context, the ad in question was the first of three; the other two involved white families discussing their first Christmas after a bereavement and how to fashion Christmas Day leftovers into the perfect sandwich. But it was the ‘Gravy Song’ ad—with its all-Black cast—that caused a storm.

Social media went into overdrive, reposting xenophobic responses to the ad, comment pieces were published on how racist the UK is, and Sainsbury’s themselves issued a statement standing firm on their values and messaging. But how and why did it come to this?

For one thing, is it responsible for the media to amplify the voices of Twitter trolls and create a national and international uproar, if those people are not representative of the majority? The Advertising Standards Agency received five complaints about the advert. Five.

In comparison, a performance depicting the murder of George Floyd by dance group, Diversity, on Britain’s Got Talent, drew 24,500 complaints. Alesha Dixon wearing a ‘BLM’ necklace on the same programme drew 1,900. Planting a seed and creating a talking point—without the relevant supporting evidence—draws battle lines between Black people and their allies, and the rest; creating a mentality of ‘We’ll shop at Sainsbury’s and the racists won’t.’

By fanning the flames of xenophobia, we detract from important issues about systemic racism that block tangible opportunity. Where have the column inches and conversations been about the report into the UK government’s failure to uphold the Black community’s basic human rights, and its lack of intention to tackle that? In the same week, it emerged that Tesco actually cut a scene with a Black couple from its Christmas ad, highlighted by model and actor, Vanessa Vanderpuye, in a video she shared of her experience. Alas, we’ve tired ourselves out from bringing energy to commentary that has no place in society.

It’s reminiscent of the American media’s new reporting strategy for Donald Trump. Twitter has recently started flagging all tweets containing untruths about the recent US Presidential election and state legislature, meaning that most of Trump’s tweets are now categorised as Fake News (the irony is delicious, isn’t it?) Many US news networks have begun cutting off live streams of his administration’s speeches, choosing to provide factually-correct information to their viewers instead. Where would we all be if these processes had begun four years earlier, I wonder?

We should feel that same sense of duty and balance when running with sensationalist stories. Unpack those trending tweets from people who ‘can’t relate’, ask yourself why, consider how best to acknowledge it… then move forward. What is it about a family making gravy at Christmas that people feel they can’t relate to, yet have no such issues with Aldi’s advert depicting a family of, erm, carrots?

Distractions only serve to widen the gap, reinforce the battle lines and trigger people of colour—who know racism exists and feel the effects of it every day. By learning to separate trolling and sensationalism from fact, we help our audiences examine social issues and current events more objectively.

We’re also able to give our attention to the issues surrounding representation in advertising that need it—like asking why there’s no visible differentiation between how the various Caribbean cultures are portrayed, very few stories of non-binary people, or narratives describing how those of other faiths spend the Christmas break.

So, next time you catch wind of a Twitter storm, do some digging on the actual story behind it. It might be an under-reported issue that fully deserves space on your platform... or it might be a load of spin. During a time when our collective energy reserves are precious, we need due diligence more than ever.

Shivani and Meera


P.S. If you missed any of our past seven newsletters, you can read them all here.

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Writing Tip of the Day

Approaching editors or colleagues who have run white-washed pieces in the past, or haven’t edited your work sensitively, can feel like a minefield. The first thing to do is to treat them like a teammate, from as early as the pitch point. Explain clearly why you want to write the piece, and what you want from it; they’ll appreciate the clarity and it’ll become a common project, with an end result that you’re both invested in.

If it’s a sensitive subject, highlight passages in your copy on submission and draw their attention to non-negotiable words or phrasing. You can ask for a read-back on those sections or, if they’re happy, on the full piece (if someone else is to edit it). You’re less likely to run into trouble on publication, will be more inclined to promote your feature when you’re proud of it, and they may come to rely on you for your honesty and expertise. Win-win.

The Sense Check

“How do I challenge racist, sexist, homophobic or other discriminatory comments at a family dinner or in a professional capacity? I never feel comfortable addressing them, particularly when I feel the person is well-meaning but misguided.”

Meehika Barua

Bindya Solanki

Wife to a wife, mother to a daughter, and associate director at Alchemis. “Used to be an actress then I needed money.”

“Honestly, my instant response is to react. I'd like to have a well-thought-out, intellectual response at hand, but it's more emotive with me.

I have one family member who expressed a homophobic and hate-filled comment when I introduced my two-week old daughter to her. I walked away (in shock) and have never spoken to her since.

Should I have explained what she said to me was incorrect and got her to see another side? In the moment, no. Now, four and half years later, no.

She knows by my reaction and how I've never acknowledged her since, that what she said was wrong. Has this changed her opinion? Who knows, but I don't need that energy in my life and I don't think you need to educate people about love.

If they're genuinely well-meaning but misguided? Well, I try to put them in their shoes. I'd make a comment about them that was unfair and see how they would react. See if I can flip the bigoted comment on its head. Failing that, I'd tell them to go f*** themselves.”

Jamie-Lee Abtar

Eulanda Shead Osagiede
Award-winning content creator, DEI marketing consultant, and co-founder of HDYTI
(Hey! Dip your toes in).

"Research shows that a person's politics and social beliefs are largely influenced by family. Uncomfortable and awkward holiday dinner conversations can become spaces where we challenge polarising narratives and gain valuable insights into how to more effectively confront discriminatory comments in the future.

When faced with these conversations during holiday gatherings, avoid shaming, blaming, and stereotypes. Actively listen, and then challenge and call your friend or family member in, versus calling them out. Beware of resource-dropping. I know... you've read all of these incredible books that discuss privilege, and Trevor Noah may be your daily BFF, but listening before knowledge-dropping goes a long way.

If you find yourself being talked over, or the conversation continues to run around in circles, practise self-care and have a stopping point."

Want to ask a question (anonymously)? Send away! Please email us here and we'll try and tackle it in an upcoming newsletter. We also welcome any feedback or comments.

Did You Know?

It might be Thanksgiving for our American pals this weekend, but it’s actually a day of mourning for many. The lives and culture of Native Indians were changed forever, as colonialists embarked on land expansion and resource exploitation—with the by-products being wars, disease (‘Indian fever’, as the colonialists called it) and death.

What’s true is, the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, England in 1620, arriving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the Pilgrims formed a colony. The oft-told story says that, in 1621, the Pilgrim Fathers invited the native Wampanoag Americans to feast on turkey and celebrate a good harvest (the ‘first’ Thanksgiving)... except, there’s no mention of the tribe being invited in written or oral records. It also wasn’t called ‘Thanksgiving’ until the 19th century, and it wasn’t the first of its kind: for centuries, different cultures have been celebrating harvests. Some actually say it was 1637, when Massachusetts colony governor John Winthrop declared a day of thanksgiving to ‘celebrate’ the slaughter of 700 Pequot men, women and children by colonial soldiers (in the town now called Mystic, Connecticut).

Another misleading narrative revolves around the Pilgrims leaving Europe because of a lack of religious freedom. But as sociologist James W. Loewen and author of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, says, they did have religious freedom and instead, much like the settlers of Jamestown, Virginia (and immigrants the world over), they travelled to North America to make money. They also called themselves separatists, not Pilgrims.

Spotlight on...

Written in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, Whites: On Race and Other Falsehoods—a powerful and timeless essay by author, Otegha Uwagba—reflects on racism, whiteness, and the mental labour required of Black people to navigate the two.

The Independent, in committing to improve its coverage of racial issues, is hiring a ‘Race Correspondent.’ The role will include exposing stories of racial injustice across politics and social policy, as well as writing human features, interviews, investigations and data-led pieces. Apply here (closes 20 Dec).

Reading Room
BYLINE TIMES: Peter Byrne_PA Archive_PA Images BYLINE TIMES: Bias in UK government pandemic spending

Contracts worth £18bn given to private sector firms without following basic transparency rules, writes Sam Reid.

WASHINGTON POST: BARACK OBAMA GAL-DEM: For Xmas, Priti Patel is planning more deportations

The Home Office is planning to deport up to 50 Black Brits on 2nd December. Here’s where you come in.

THE GUARDIAN: RooM the Agency_Alamy GUARDIAN: Are western 'influencers' too close to Pakistan authorities?

Travel bloggers have been flocking to Pakistan, but are they too tangled up in politics? asks Samira Shackle.

THE CONVERSATION: Big World Cinema/Afrobubblegum THE CONVERSATION: The Kenyan film director telling positive stories

Wanuri Kahiu on 'Afrobubblegum' art: Going beyond the usual stories of war, famine and HIV.

"I've been to the Vatican and seen the gold ceilings. And then I hear the Pope saying that the Church was concerned about poor kids. So? Sell the ceilings, mate."

Diego Maradona, 1960-2020

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