Written by Shivani Ved
There is no doubt that 2020 was one of the strangest, heaviest, and most eye-opening years that most of us have ever faced. Aside from the worldwide pandemic, many political, social and cultural issues also rose to the surface. One of the most significant global events to occur was the Black Lives Matter Movement’s revival following George Floyd’s death on May 25th, 2020.
In June and July 2020, social media became flooded with awareness posts and resources that highlighted not only the realities and impacts of racism across the world but ways in which people could get involved in the fight against it. Whether it was through protesting, signing petitions, donating to charities, or simply raising awareness, #BlackLivesMatter was gaining more recognition than it had ever done before, and there was almost a sense of hope in the air. Racism was being discussed publicly on the mainstream news. Issues regarding colourism and systematic racial oppression were openly acknowledged for the first time, and it truly felt like a huge turning point in history.
Although the movement saw a revival in America, it quickly gained momentum across the globe, with action taking place in over 60 countries and across all seven continents. However, almost as quickly as the revival of #BlackLivesMatter came about, it also seemed to fade at least in the UK. By August 2020, a lot of the discussion surrounding #BlackLivesMatter had started to slow down in the news and online. In particular, people on social media started to raise questions of whether people had only expressed their support for #BlackLivesMatter because it was a ‘trend’ that was ‘relevant’ at the time.
This was quite disheartening to try to comprehend, because racism is not a ‘trend’ and not something that should be undermined in this way. Racism is real, and throughout the year it became apparent that just because the revival of #BlackLivesMatter did not originate in the UK, it doesn’t mean that the UK doesn’t need it.
Despite the increased awareness of #BlackLivesMatter, there were still incidents of racial discrimination in the UK following George Floyd’s death. One of the most publicised was the backlash that Sainsbury’s faced after releasing their Christmas Advertisement ‘Gravy Song,’ which included an all-black cast.
Christmas Advertisements have become somewhat of a tradition that Brits look forward to every year. Major UK stores and supermarkets, including John Lewis, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose etc., participate and publish a Christmas-themed advertisement, which often has a sentimental message or story running through it. In terms of representation, Sainsbury’s has arguably had the most racial diversity within its Christmas advertisements over the last few years, having included black representation in each one it has released since 2016. In 2020, Sainsbury’s released three Christmas Advertisements, one of which, (‘Gravy Song,)’ centred around a black family. This was the first Christmas Advert made by Sainsbury’s that included an all-black cast, and, unfortunately, it received a lot of criticism for it;
From the Instagram account @thevoiceofcolour, these screenshots represent not only what quite a few people had to say about the advertisement but also the extent of prejudice that still exists in this country towards the black community today. Unfortunately, this was not the only time in 2020 where an advertisement received criticism for similar reasons. After publishing an advert that also included an all-black cast in August 2020, Argos came under fire on social media for being ‘unrepresentative of Britain.’ Argos’ advertisement also centred around a black family, and the responses on Twitter included:
Despite the progress made in terms of an increase in black representation on television, for such degrading and ignorant comments to still be made in response to these advertisements emphasises that in the UK, we still have a long way to go until racial equality. The fact that companies are receiving criticism of being ‘unrepresentative of Britain’ by publishing an advert with a non-white cast is baffling. There is a community of black people in Britain, so why is producing an advertisement that represents them seen as being unrepresentative of Britain?
2020 may be over, but the fight against racism isn’t. Awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement should not die with 2020, and now, more than ever, it is vital that we continue to talk about it and spread awareness of the realities of racism in the US, UK and across the world.
Shivani is a final year Media and Communications student. She is interested in Social and Cultural Issues.