FINAL MAJOR PROJECT. WEEK 22.

Still from the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert. Image: Sainsbury’s 2020.

I’m responding here, in the context of my FMP work, to something that has occurred in the UK this week. Something that relates to the cultural power of food and racism. These things are obviously main threads in my project work.

So, the major supermarkets have released their Christmas adverts. In Sainsbury’s case they show a black British family celebrating past Christmases: having fun, cooking etc. With a phone-call voiceover between two family members discussing (mostly) the food they used to eat and want to eat, and the best ever gravy that one of them makes and can’t wait to taste again. It’s a lovely, authentic slice of multi-cultural British life, tinged with that added sense of nostalgia that we love in our seasonal adverts.

Sadly, it was met with a barrage of racist abuse. As if, somehow, Christmas is the privilege of white British people only. As Funmi Olutoye (2020) states: ‘The supermarket’s decision to feature a family who just so happen to be black embraces the plurality of 21st-century Britishness. Being both black and British hasn’t suddenly become incompatible. Rather, the discomfort many feel at being confronted with that reality is part of an issue that has been bubbling under the surface for decades: the myth that no racism exists in the UK’.

In connection to my project work, I also think there is something else going on: an attempt by racists to own the symbolic food rituals of Christmas. Food has an incredible emotive power, especially at this time of year. Contemporary Christmas is pretty much connected in minds and hearts to food and the sharing of it. There is evidently the latent belief in some that these powerful symbols, and the events we associate with them, are for the ownership of a particular skin colour only. The emotional power of Christmas lunch and it’s egalitarian association with joy and family is, it seems, not easy for some to share. Another trigger for white privilege to rear it’s head.

The more I understand about food (and increasingly, thanks to my family history, I realise I know a lot) and the more I research it’s evocative power, the more the idea of possession of it is counter to what it is. It’s difficult to ghettoize food. It wants to be shared. It is a gesture of hospitality. You can’t shut it off from others in the way racists short-sightedly believe they can. It’s purpose will always defeat attempts at separation because it illuminates and encourages our own need for connection and the pleasure it brings.

Thankfully, Sainsbury’s and the other high street supermarkets realise this. They all came out in support of each other by running their TV ads back-to-back in a powerful statement of anti-racism. The cynic might say that it’s a sales ploy, and I’m sure it helps. But these cultural statements married with the alongside the symbolic power of food are important. Even more so at a time when racism and distrust of the Other are still gaining traction.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES

Olutoye, F. 2020. ‘The outrage over Sainsbury’s Christmas ad with a black family proves it: racism in the UK never stopped’. The Independent, 18 November, Available at: <https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/sainsburys-christmas-advert-black-family-racism-b1724922.html> [Accessed 18 November 2020].

Skopeliti, C. 2020. ‘UK supermarkets unite after Sainsbury’s advert prompts racist backlash‘, The Guardian, 28 November, Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/28/uk-supermarkets-unite-after-sainsburys-advert-prompts-racist-backlash> [Accessed 28 November].