Blackface & London, England

When I landed in London, I took the Southern train from Gatwick Airport to the closest tube station. Naturally, as a commuter, the first few things I noticed were: mind the gap is more valid than it is in Toronto because the trains are NEVER levelled with the platform; the tube is AN ENTIRE world lower than the street level; and the tube’s advertising actually features people who look like me.

While Toronto is a city that prides itself on being the most multicultural in city in the world blah, blah, blah… and this utopian neo-liberal paradise, blah, blah, blah..it’s rare to find that multiculturalism in our subway system. Yes, every now and then an ad will feature the dynamic trio: someone East Asian, someone black, and someone white–but ads rarely feature a single person of colour without a white character playing a supporting role.

The first time I travelled to London, I immediately noticed the inclusion of people of colour in adverts in the tube and on television. From interracial couples to mixed race kids to Tesco’s commercial featuring a Jamaican heroine cooking jerk chicken for her former foster children— There was a warmth in me the moment I noticed these differences, which made the phrase representation matters more valid than before. Losing those black faces, black characters, and black smiles when I took the subway, the day I flew home, was gutting.

Black people have been present in Britain since the 11th and 12th centuries. So, perhaps, after 1000 years they thought it was time they represented their history. Toronto can learn a thing or two from London’s millions of subway lines and inclusive advertising. If our city is so #multicultural why is it so difficult to see someone that looks like me in an ad at Bathurst, Runnymede or Eglinton Station? On the contrary, I met two London-based creatives of colour who said England’s racism is more passive-aggressive than out right. So could England simply treat inclusion as something on a checklist to keep the black masses quiet? Or do they truly stand behind and believe in the importance of representation in their adverts?

I’m not sure because again, this essay is solely based on my first impression. But if the answer to the former question is yes, than I have follow-up questions: How much noise did these black masses make? Can I fly these black masses to Toronto to assist us in effectively making that noise?? And how much noise is needed for change???

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