Picture the scene - it’s December 2015 and I’m at my local school’s Christmas Fair. Lights are twinkling, tinsel is glistening and there is an abundance of babies dressed as reindeer with cheeks red from cold. I’m not noticing all this as I’m hunched over my precious laptop creating with the children of year two a website depicting their perfect Christmas. As I begin little do I suspect that this Christmas website is going to be a white-out.
The first young girl to describe her perfect Christmas is Sara, who is also coincidentally my daughters best friend. ‘Having a snowball fight with my mum’ she says and I dutiful search online for the perfect picture typing ‘family snowball fight’. My heart sinks and my palms itch as every image I can see is of a white family and Sara is black. I showed her the selection of photos and she chose a photo which shows only the backs of the families heads.
As I looked at Sara I realised she was growing up in a world where she never ever saw people who looked like her. And at Christmas this seemed especially stark. I was faced with a #christmasSOwhite. This is not the fault of the search engine. There have consistently and systematically been more representations of white people in advertising, marketing since the internet was born 20 years ago - the search engine is simply reflecting this disturbing truth.
You may say, so what? There are still representations of men, women and children in advertising and marketing – so does it matter if they have a different skin colour. Yes it does. As myself, Nathalie Gordon and Wren Graham embarked on #christmasSOwhite we heard countless stories from mums whose children from as young as three asked ‘can I have white skin like the girls/boys in magazines and on TV?’. By only showing white people in advertising and marketing we are creating a world where BAME children are doubting themselves, their reason to belong, every day. Heart breaks.
This is also the experience of Selma Nicholls, CEO and founder of Looks Like Me. At age six her daughter asked exactly this question and on the spot Selma decided to change the picture. Looks Like Me is a modelling agency for children from under-represented groups and with 100 children on the books, and founded only 6 months ago, she has already shot three campaigns where BAME children aren’t in one photo, they are at the heart of the campaign. After all, and never forget this stat, 51% of inner London is BAME and this is also the case for Slough, Birmingham and will only increase. BAME families are Britain, not a sub-set to be white washed.
Today Selma, Nathalie, Wren and I launch #christmasSOwhite in an effort to raise awareness of the systemic lack of representation of BAME individuals in marketing and advertising. In partnership with photographer Helen Marsden we have shot a series of photos which show BAME families celebratingChristmas.
We are calling out for everyone to share with us, using #christmasSOwhite, their wonderfully diverse Christmases so we can create a gallery of images that reflects a true British Christmas on www.christmassowhite.com. We’re also in talks with major photography platforms so we can make these images available to the world and therefore hopefully redressing the imbalance search engines currently reflect.
What can you do? It’s simple – when you’re working with a client on a campaign don’t see diversity as tokenism, see it as real life. Make sure in everything you do you are representing, as Karen Blackett OBE so wonderfully puts it, “the wonderful fruit salad of people that makes up the UK.”.
If you do this then millions of little girls and boys around the world will grow up seeing themselves reflected in popular culture everyday. I can’t think of a better Christmas present to end 2016.
As Selma’s daughter puts it so poetically (and you can watch her sing this here):
Children like me all natural hair and free.
Children like me all curly hair and free.
What do you see when you look at me?
Beautiful children looking like me.