In recent weeks, we’ve seen a huge amount of apologies and pledges for the way that people of colour have been treated in the past. As I’ve heard more of these over time, I’ve started to question whether the person or company apologising actually knows what they’re apologising for, and if anything, I have more questions than answers.
As I was writing this blog post I had to go back and edit it as this new article was released by the BBC explaining exactly what this topic is about, and I’d encourage you to take a read here:
There are so many examples of a people or companies in this situation, and I won’t personally believe any of them until they take real action.
Each one of us regardless of our backgrounds will interact with companies that have past links to immoral actions towards people of colour, it’s just a fact of life. Companies should recognise it and act upon it instead of pretending to be sorry. ‘Actions speak louder than words’ comes to mind, and apologising does nothing and it feels like they’re jumping on the band-wagon to remain relevant in the press.
I don’t need to tell you which companies are apologising without action, they’re easy to find on the internet. I thought I’d share with you two examples of companies taking real action that mean something to me.
First off we start with Greene King. Now I don’t personally care which pub I go to in town as long as I can have a nice cold pint, including Greene King pubs which I never even knew had links to slavery in the past. In all honesty, for me there is absolutely no emotion tied to this revelation whatsoever – some may think I’m wrong.
What’s great about Greene King is that even though their links weren’t as well known as others, they’ve apologised and shown how they’re taking action immediately. They’re updating all literature that highlights their history to accurately reflect their slavery links rather than just sharing the ‘good’ parts, and they’re actively working on projects that support people of colour as well as donating to existing charities.
Some of you reading may have the opinion that this is too little too late, and that you’ll never drink in a Greene King pub again, but for me I never knew this past and I appreciate what they’re doing to own their mistakes.
We have no choice but to forgive and never forget, but we have a choice in how we handle this.
Let’s take the example of large companies turning their products rainbow coloured (or colourless if you’re Skittles!) for Pride for one month. No more, no less. I personally think it’s become a massive marketing event in recent years, and I expect something similar will happen relating to people of colour.
If companies were really interested in tackling these issues, they would give people from various communities a platform to express themselves, however, with Pride it feels like every company involved uses it as a way to make more sales because the rainbow themed products have the ‘exclusive’ appeal. Just look at the Skittles packaging below that has the words ‘Limited Edition’ on it.
I personally feel that the real meaning behind Pride month is losing its message as a result which is a real shame. Ask yourself this – if those within the LGBTQ+ community are really considered normal by these large companies, why not just sell these products alongside each other all year round? They could even go one step further and donate all profits from the rainbow themed versions to LGBTQ+ causes.
Anyway, back to people of colour and we have another good example of using power for good. I might be bias as I live & breathe Microsoft and it’s platform, but Microsoft are an outstanding example of what companies can do today to tackle issues within our communities without any money involved whatsoever.
Almost everyone on the planet knows of Microsoft, they have 8.9 million followers on this Twitter account alone. Throughout Black Lives Matter protests and Pride month Microsoft are allowing their employees to air their personal thoughts on corporate property, and strategically retweeting the original post on the majority of their accounts (well into the 100s) to flood social media with powerful statements.
They’ve also replaced ‘master-slavery’ as a technical term used in GitHub. This was done to simply remove any unease for black users of GitHub.
This is real action.
It doesn’t involve empty pledges, incomprehensible sums of money to charities, or self-promotion of how great Microsoft are, but it allows real people to address real issues in an unfiltered way where it can have the most impact.
We need more of this.
People & Blackface
I am a lover of British comedy in all its forms and I wanted to share my thoughts specifically in this space as my conclusions may not be what you expect them to be.
I personally wish that Leigh Francis didn’t apologise for Bo’ Selecta!, and I wish Channel 4 didn’t remove all episodes from All 4. This shows a complete lack of understanding and I genuinely feel sorry for those involved with this for being so naive as it makes all parties look foolish.
Are we now saying that black people can only be in comedy sketches if the actor is black? Have we accidentally un-done all of the hard work to show more characters of colour on all TV? Given that comedy pretty much offends everybody, is comedy over?
People may be offended by my thoughts on this, but I don’t feel that ‘blacking up’ is racist if done carefully. Using Bo’ Selecta! as an example, I would say that Trisha was the only black character that was portrayed in a racist way. In the show she had a Caribbean accent and said very little other than ‘rice & pea’, it’s just wrong for this to be humour. She also had bigger lips than many of the other characters. I’m undecided on whether this was intentional, as some of the other masks had this for lip movement when wearing the mask – who knows but you can make up your own mind.
Craig David and Mel B however, were played in extremely funny ways. It would have been better for Leigh Francis to personally apologise to Trisha, address his stereotypical portrayal of a lady with Caribbean culture, and remove the scenes including Trisha and keep the show on air.
You can judge me on thinking that Bo’ Selecta! is funny because most people think it was exactly the opposite, but I would argue strongly that portraying Craig David and Mel B in the way they were remains valid today.
I am also disappointed to see Little Britain and Come Fly With Me removed from streaming services. Little Britain had a great place in society, it showcased the worst of all of us without portraying anyone real, just their roles. Little Britain showed that micro-aggressions and unconscious bias still exist in every day life, no matter whether you’re gay, black, disabled, or otherwise. Come Fly With Me went too far in some places especially in its portrayal of Japanese people, but can’t we just remove these scenes?
I am well aware that some white readers may be surprised by my opinions, or that some people of colour reading this will be offended that I’m not offended, and that’s ok. This is something I’m learning about myself too!
These opinions have mostly been shaped by my unique experience of having parts of white & black cultures embedded within me, and I often question why I’m offended at some aspects and not others myself. I may never find the answers.
If anyone feels that they may have offended someone in the past and want to do something, learning and discussing is the best thing you can do. Even asking why those that may/may not have been offended feel that way. It can only end in a positive experience for both parties and it’ll hopefully make for a better place in the future where talking about the subject in hand doesn’t seem so controversial.