Sunday 14 April 2019

Pond-err-ing the #Waitrose #Ducks

I’m still pondering – pond – erring? The Waitrose racist duck incident. My first reaction was how absurd, it’s a bird – a duck even. The other ducks are plain brown (named Crispy, presumably for its crispy centre?). The white one, is Fluffy for reasons, I imagine, that have gone before. The ‘racist’ duck is dark chocolate with pink splashes. This is the dodgy duck, according to members of the public that took to Twitter, tried Waitrose, found them quacking, I mean lacking, and had them punished: Waitrose had to take down the labelling and apologise – cue the stocks and the rotten tomatoes and the thought police. But is Waitrose racist? What were there intentions? Do they have an agenda to infect the minds of the public or were their intentions innocent – in which case, should they be tried by a sector of the public, found to be guilty and punished? This ‘reds under the beds’ mentality worries me. The road watched over by big brother is littered with innocents.

Given I could only find one response on Twitter from a person of colour, I contacted two of my African friends – a business woman from Sierra Leone and a friend from Zimbabwe. My SL friend said she saw both sides of the argument and my Zim friend pointed out that if you have walked around in skin that is not white, you will be alert to these issues: generations of non-whites have been made to feel ugly due to their difference. She and another friend on Facebook pointed out that there is no context to suggest homage to Hans Christian Andersen and that we should be alert to what is sewn into the fabric of society. Yes, but should we be policing the innocent for the sake of the sensitive? I am a victim of abuse by men, many times over. Sometimes, when I walk alone at night, and a man walks behind me, I feel the fear that I try to rationalise and overcome. Should men be banned from advertising (labelled 'dangerous') due to my fear? Though I met plenty growing up in Zimbabwe and when I spent 5 years in South-Africa (where, to be fair, plenty weren't as well) I honestly do not know any racists in London or in Wales, which isn't to say racism does not abound 'out there,' it resides in darkness. My view is it should be educated (rather than sought out with a microscope and 'punished' 'there or not?' - this never drives a thing away, it just gets peoples backs up if they don't see it, so that they might not see or hear it when it actually presents itself) out of people and all hued human beings need to be honest with themselves about the many-headed monster of hatred in all its ghastly guises.

I must, we must, take these points made by my friend who has suffered from racism seriously, but where do we draw the line in policing culture to make sure diverse groups are not offended? Those of us that do not see that the ugly duck incident was racist, should not be made to feel that we are racist given we don’t, though I think we should all have a heart check up when these kinds of things are flagged up. How on earth is that going to help mend bridges if any need to be mended if we unthinkingly shout each other down from our various high places? - though I understand emotion where there has been pain. My friend also made the salient point that it says more to her about the lack of diversity in key decision making departments, as this would not have passed a multiracial marketing board. Equal opportunity for all needs to continue to be addressed honestly in society – why? Why not? What can we do about it?

We all pick up subjective signifiers according to background and individual experience. My context was immediately Hans Christian Andersen in terms of the duck. I read ‘ugly’ in an ironic way, as, to me, the dark duck with pink splashes (don’t forget the splashes: as an artist, I read: ‘arty’, ‘creative’ = attractive as well as yummy; I prefer dark chocolate). The white fluffy one was dull - I can’t stand white chocolate. As for the crispy one, it didn’t register. Another friend of colour brought up subtext, but we cannot assume subtext, sometimes we get that wrong too. My main concern with the policing of public signifiers is that we are all coming at this from our varied directions and backgrounds. I don’t think this was a racist incident, though I wasn’t present at the marketing meeting when the decision was made. We need to hear from all sides though, no? If we police culture, we will drive extremists, on both sides underground where darkness proliferates. I prefer to be able to see people’s views and to test and sharpen my own views – and be open to changing them – alongside diverse opinions. I’ve noticed that invariably people like to react and attack – on both sides of the debate. Few respond reasonably and thoughtfully. I think, when we act from emotion, rather than reason we tread a dangerous path. It’s good to talk, not shout.

Should we be able to laugh at the duck debacle? Should we give 2 ****s about the Waitrose ducks? Some comments on my page made me squirm, some of the jokes were funny, meant to be ironic, though possibly not seen that way by all. I don’t police my author Facebook pages, so I have left them there as a comment on where people (on Facebook are coming from). This is not to say I agree with all of it but I do think humour should be allowed to walk the line and hover over the hairy edge as it were; but of course we do not want to deliberately hurt people and sensitivity to people and context are important. It’s a tricky business, but let’s keep the business open for all sorts of reasons.