So here we go again. A big corporation has commissioned an advert which tries to trade on the value of “diversity”, and it instantly starts a conversation about representation. This time the brand is Nike with “Nothing Beats a Londoner”, featuring some of our faves – Skepta, Giggs and Mo Farah. But this time things are a little different: the advert is actually good. IKR?
As we zoom through the familiar streets of London we come across young talented kids highlighting the struggles of growing up in this concrete abyss. The ad lacks the usual clichés and gimmicks, instead serving us a genuinely entertaining three minutes of a London that hasn’t been whitewashed or gentrified in order to be palatable to an audience unused to not being front and centre. And many people love it.
Still, many people have noticed something missing. Or someone. South Asians make up a considerable amount of London (over 1.5 million), yet their appearance in the video was negligible. Glimpses here and there, with no one in the spotlight. It was hard to ignore for some. And thus began the tide of hot takes.
Let me say straight up that I’m sympathetic to the accusations of anti-blackness which were at the forefront of this Twitterstorm. It’s hardly unwarranted considering the insidious racism that can exist in South Asian culture. Perhaps, we might say, the South Asian community should be asking itself some tough questions. Where are all of our aspiring sportspeople? Are we doing enough to encourage our own on this playing field?
South Asian culture can also be tricky when it comes to breaking out of our acceptable moulds, and that’s a conversation we need to address amongst ourselves. It isn’t acceptable to kick off only when we see other minorities being appreciated. Still, it is understandable to feel slighted at being overlooked. Surprise! Race and representation is complicated.
Of course the idea of being seen in popular culture is alluring. We want to be considered more than our stereotypes too.
The idea that black people and Asian people struggle in the same way is a misconception. The dynamics of each community are different, which is why black people are often right to draw a line in the sand when South Asians want to profit from black culture without tackling anti blackness in their own backyard. And let me just say it if you’re one of the few British South Asians that was crying because you thought black people didn’t deserve the screen time then you can fuck all the way off. You’re the reason we can’t have nice things.
Nevertheless, South Asians as a whole have contributed massively to London and to England in general. But we are often denied credit or acknowledgment, receiving in its place abuse and disrespect. We’re suicide-bombing, job-stealing, corner-shop Apus. So of course the idea of being seen in popular culture is alluring. We want to be considered more than our stereotypes too. And South Asian sports people definitely exist, albeit perhaps not in the same numbers – is that reason enough to bench an entire demographic? This was an advert that went out of its way to represent diversity, pointedly including posh white people as well as working class black ones. So it’s not hard to understand why some people were left wondering: what about us?
One response to these complaints has been to point to a Nike advert about Indian women, filmed in India. Isn’t that South Asian representation, they say? But it’s disingenuous to compare the two adverts. One is about India and the other is about London. It’s not the same thing and the South Asian diaspora isn’t exactly represented in either. That’s the issue at the heart of the matter.
I’m not even from London, but having lived here for almost six years I felt proud of my adopted city. I loved seeing what I see every day, living in London, reflected on my screen. It warmed my heart and I grinned all the way through. But I can’t say that I didn’t wonder myself why there was no one that looked like me prominently featured, when London is full of us. It didn’t ruin the video for me by any means, but it did cross my mind.
Then I remembered that at the end of the day, Nike is conglomerate. It is a business that wants to make money, even at the expense of minorities. So really what are we all fighting about? The ad is undeniably excellent viewing, but maybe its greatest accomplishment was the speed at which it had us turning against each other.