“Complaints and insults” posted online in response to a new Sainsbury’s Christmas advert featuring a black family shows the country still has far to go in tackling racism, MSPs have been told.
During a parliamentary evidence session on Scotland’s new Hate Crime Bill, MSPs heard the backlash from the advert highlighted the lack of “significant progress” on tackling racism, compared to the strides made with respect to other protected characteristics.
Amy Allard-Dunbar, anti-racist and pro-black ambassador and educator at Intercultural Youth Scotland, said race is an area “not being dealt with robustly enough”.
The anti-racism campaigner pointed to a Christmas advert featuring a black family released by Sainsbury’s on Saturday that was targeted by trolls.
She said: “It might seem like a small thing but there was a Christmas advert that went out yesterday and it was showing a black family and it literally received so many complaints and insults and there was so much hatred and racism under the comments on it on social media.
“The tiniest thing such as a Christmas advert that features a black family received so much backlash and if something as tiny as that is such a problem for the Scottish population then clearly we have not got to a point where race is something that is talked about enough or understood.”
Just the thought of home-cooked gravy, poured over a piping hot Christmas lunch, is enough to get us excited 🍴🏠🌟
Food is Home. Home is Christmas.
— Sainsbury's (@sainsburys) November 14, 2020
The supermarket giant released the first of three festive adverts on Twitter, featuring a phone call between a black dad and daughter and shares their hopes they will be able to reunite amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Some social media trolls have accused Sainsbury’s of “virtue signalling” – despite the second advert featuring an all-white family.
However, the supermarket has said it strives to “represent a modern Britain” after it was criticised for not being ‘inclusive’.
Ms Allard-Dunbar said people are worried about “getting it wrong” around race but that the issue needs to be spoken about because those “suffering the most are black people and people of colour”.
More police training needed
MSPs were also told by witnesses to the committee that more additional investment is needed on training police officers on race as the current institutions are not “adequately prepared” to deal with race as hate crime in general.
A damning report released last week warned that black, Asian and minority ethnic officers are quitting Police Scotland because of the way they are treated.
The 488-page review by Dame Elish Angiolini said police and community attitudes had “not changed as much as they should have” since the 1999 publication of the Macpherson report into the Stephen Lawrence murder.
Currently in Scotland, the offence of ‘stirring up hatred’ only offers protection in respect to race but under the new legislation this would be expanded to include the characteristics of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variation in sex characteristics.
The bill would criminalise threatening or abusive comments intended to stir up hatred against protected groups.
During Tuesday’s parliamentary evidence session, MSPs also heard concerns that women who speak out on trans issues could find themselves accused of ‘stirring up hatred’.
Lucy Hunter Blackburn, a former senior civil servant and founding member of policy analysis collective Murray Blackburn Mackenzie (MBM), raised concerns over the inclusion of a ‘stirring up’ hatred offence on transgender identity.
She suggested the lack of “public consensus” around the issue makes it “very difficult to legislate”.
The academic recounted MBM’s experience of publishing an academic paper on women’s rights that was referred to Edinburgh University lawyers after a member of university staff complained that t was “discriminatory and insulting” towards trans women.
If the bill had existed, Ms Hunter Blackburn said it is “very likely” the publisher would worry they would fall foul of the new laws, adding that “nobody wants to be a test case”.
Earlier in her evidence, she shared that she had “much larger concerns” around the “long shadow the legislation will cast” on freedom of speech.
She said: “We are very concerned that the extension of stirring up is under scoped.
“There is too much work still to be done to make that work safely around freedom of expression.”