It’s not anti-woke; it’s just racist

Is it a bit early for getting in the mood for Christmas? Well, maybe. But I understand why the shops are beginning to gear up for it now. Only about 6 weeks to flog you all their wares. It’s no good waiting to release their Christmas advert a week before Christmas Day if the goal is to sell you as much stuff as possible. We can despise early adverts all we like, but if you will camp out on capitalism, this is what you get. You’ve only got yourselves to blame.

Given that early Christmas adverts are here to stay, here is a nice one from Sainsburys. Now, I don’t particularly care if you shop at Sainsbury’s or not. Clearly their advert is doing very clever things because they’ve got me to blog about it, haven’t they! But I wonder what you make of it?

That was nice, wasn’t it! Just a nice depiction of a family enjoying their Christmas – presumably all thanks to Sainsburys. Let’s rush out and order our turkey right now!

Except, apparently, some people didn’t think it was lovely. I mean, I find the early adverts a bit irritating, I grant you. I also find the rampant materialism of Christmas a touch off-putting. But, again, welcome to capitalism 101: greed is good – now here are a slew of adverts that we will assault you with to get you to buy more stuff you probably don’t need. I can understand people finding that thoroughly distasteful (though, I must admit, I do like getting stuff!)

But a quick glance at Twitter and I discover that isn’t what is making people mad. Apparently they’re fine with Sainsbury’s making adverts early and they’ve bought in – hook, line and sinker – to the materialism. No problem on either front apparently. No, what really seems to have upset some people is that the advert depicts a black family enjoying Christmas.

I know. The mind boggles.

Apparently, it turns out, some people object to a black family enjoying Christmas. In fact, it has particularly irritated some that Sainsbury’s of all people would dare to represent a black family in an advert at all (the nerve)! Apparently, some people are a little annoyed that this black family don’t represent them.

It’s probably worth pointing out at this juncture that Sainsbury’s do, in fact, have another advert with a white family enjoying their Christmas. You can see that here. Perhaps East Asian heritage folks are the only ones with grounds to feel a bit miffed that they don’t yet have any depiction of their family Christmas yet? Though, let’s not discount, maybe Sainsbury’s have got one in the bag lined up. But that sort of thing misses the point altogether. What if Sainsbury’s didn’t make a similar advert of white people? I don’t think that provides any more grounds to be annoyed about this than their having made (at least) two adverts depicting two different families.

Some have tried to argue that they didn’t feel ‘represented’. Apparently watching a black family enjoy Christmas didn’t represent them. A few things seem worth saying in response.

First, why should you be represented in everything you watch? I see lots of things in which I am not represented at all. I can understand why it would rankle if you were never represented in anything, but to not be represented in everything is hardly an issue. I do not expect to see myself reflected in everything because the world is not one long, extended version of my life!

Second, it seems to escape the notice of those complaining they are not represented by a black family celebrating Christmas that a black family watching white people eating Christmas dinner might not represent them so much either. Either representation is important, in which case it’s important for everyone; or, it is not important, in which case it’s not important for anyone. Either representation matters so black people should be represented on TV too; or, representation doesn’t matter at all, in which case white people shouldn’t really care that they aren’t represented by a black family. What you cannot do is argue that representation matters but, significantly, only your representation matters.

Third, last time I checked, a black family were human beings. This is significant because people have no problem – there were no howls of ‘I’m not represented’ – when the following Christmas adverts were released:

If our not being represented in a thing is a problem to us, we should have equal concern with the lack of representation in adverts centred around carrots and aliens. I’d have thought a black family of human beings is somewhat closer representation for all of us than these things. Which, in part, leads on to the next point.

Those arguments about representation aren’t really the heart of the issue. Some are using the language of representation – thinking themselves very clever in turning what they perceive to be other people’s language and logic back on them to hoist them by their own petard – as the thinnest of veils for their own racism. They, frankly, do not like the fact that black people are on their TV. If you doubt it, look at some of the comments on Twitter. It’s not merely lack of representation they are bothered about – given white families are represented all the time – it is specifically this representation many don’t like. Some choose not to veil it at all and gladly throw around terms like ‘disgusting’. For many, the issue isn’t their lack of representation at all. Their representation in a different advert full of people who look like them isn’t actually good enough. It is their specific distaste for those who do not look like them that is at issue.

For others, there is a genuine frustration with all things woke. They perceive, behind every advert, is an agenda pushing a particular view of the world. It’s not that they particularly dislike black people (though, I suspect, some do), it’s that they object to being told that they ought to feel ashamed of who they are, to apologise for the way they look, to apologise for being what they are. In their mind, everyone is allowed to be proud of themselves and their heritage except for white British people, especially those who are heterosexual and male.

In reality, there is some warrant to that view. As Trevor Phillips rightly noted here in The Times (paywall), relaying a question he received that began with the apology, ‘I am a man of white privilege…’:

Personally I find the appeal of this brand of ethno-masochism hard to fathom, but then I’m not white. Yet increasingly, such “woke” thinking is flooding our workplaces, schools and universities.

He later points out:

Bari Weiss, the New York Times writer who quit in July over its wokeism, says that “the beating heart of this new ideology is critical race theory”. This theory holds that whites are uniquely insulated from poverty and injustice, and that even poor whites would be worse off if they happened to be another ethnicity — confronted constantly by police brutality, discrimination and the legacy of transatlantic slavery. This view ignores the inconvenient truth that people of Indian origin in this country (and in the US) outsmart the white majority educationally, outshine them professionally and outearn them by more than 15 per cent. The notion of white privilege would be baffling to the families of white boys who have fallen to the bottom of education attainment league tables, and who are staring at a lifetime of sweeping the streets occupied by their affluent Indian-heritage classmates. But critical race theory is the ultimate guilt trip; it works on the liberal elite because it’s true of enough people, enough of the time.

He goes on to argue that those who often hold to CRT and what he calls ‘wokeism’ do not actually care about practical solutions. He states:

I couldn’t care less if middle-class white men stopped saying sorry for having all the money, power and luck, as long as they did a little to redistribute their privilege to people who do not share their sex and race. But practical remedies don’t seem to be on the woke agenda. To a woke activist, victory is getting a white man to admit to his intrinsic awfulness. Sadly, it seems that an increasing number of them are willing to genuflect.

The whole article is well worth reading if you are able. But the point that is relevant here is that Trevor Phillips rightly recognises the tendency of many a woke-adherent to insist on symbolic exercises and humiliating those whom they deem to be oppressors without really giving themselves to practical solutions nor to listening to many of the voices they claim to be speaking for. He points out:

In Bristol the statue of the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was brought down without consulting the city’s mayor, the only black elected boss of a big British city. Marvin Rees wryly reflected last week that the woke protesters had a very different set of priorities to those of black Bristolians: “We can get caught up in events . . . but no one turned up to my office the next day with a memo telling me anything had changed on [the topic of] school exclusions, criminal justice, poverty, mental health, educational outcomes, unemployment levels — nothing.”

Why is this relevant to a Sainsbury’s advert? Some are responding to what they perceive to be yet another example of wokeism. Behind the Christmas advert, they assume, is a woke agenda. In fact, they think, it is woke capitalism – the apparent adopting of woke attitudes merely in a bid to get people to buy more stuff. The moment the view is no longer popular, it will be dropped and changed for whatever else will help them flog their Christmas turkey.

As Trevor Phillips’ article excellently demonstrates, this mode of thinking is real and in many places it is being pushed in unhelpful and damaging ways. But those who insist the Sainsbury’s advert is one such example miss that it merely depicts a black family eating Christmas dinner. No more, no less. They miss equally the other advert depicting a white family eating their Christmas dinner too. Is it designed to get people to buy their Christmas stuff? Of course it is, it’s an advert! But is it part of some ‘woke agenda’? It’s hard to see how. It is merely a black family eating dinner at Christmas. If our definition of something being ‘woke’ is black people being depicted on anything, I think we have seriously misunderstood what drives the woke agenda and why thinking people who see issues with it (such as Phillips) are uncomfortable with it. I can assure you it is not because some black people appeared in an advert.

Just as there are those who are prone to see racism round every corner, so there are those who see some sort of woke agenda behind everything too. The fact is, if you object to the depiction of a black family on TV simply because they are on it, it is not a woke agenda you are objecting to, it is the black people themselves. That doesn’t make you anti-woke. It just makes you a racist.