THE Christmas advert season has begun, with supermarkets and stores unveiling this year’s offerings as they try to match the mood of a nation preparing to celebrate Christmas in an ongoing pandemic.

Earlier this week, Sainsbury’s released a one minute advert entitled “Gravy Song” featuring a father and daughter on the phone as they share their excitement for Christmas, and their hopes of spending the day together amid the coronavirus crisis. As they discuss the dad’s famous gravy, which he makes every year for Christmas, a montage of Christmas memories is shown on screen, prompting the father to start singing his gravy song in the most cringe-worthy yet lovable dad-like manner possible.

It’s the kind of Christmassy heart warming cheesiness as one might expect.

But for some, the advert has not so much warmed their heart as raised their blood pressure. Some on social media have branded the advert “disgraceful disgusting shocking” while others have called for a boycott of Sainsbury’s.

What on earth, you might ask, is so offensive in this schmaltzy offering of Christmas consumerism?

The answer is that the family in the advert are black and it is this fact alone that for some renders the entire advert wholly unacceptable. Those staffing Sainsbury’s social media accounts have found themselves in the remarkable position of having to defend the company for its decision to portray a black family in one of its three Christmas adverts.

The advert was released three days after the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) published its report on Black People, Racism and Human Rights. The report focused on four areas: health, criminal justice, nationality and immigration, and democracy. The report’s findings included that the death rate in childbirth for black women is five times higher than the rate for white women in the UK and that while the NHS acknowledges and regrets this disparity, it has no target to end it.

The impact on the black community of Covid-19 has been disproportionately severe with black males between two and three times more likely to die from COVID than white males.

More than 25 years after the McPherson Inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence, which identified institutional racism at work within the Metropolitan Police, the report found that 85 per cent of black people are not confident that they would be treated the same as a white person by the police.

We have of course been here before. Repeated reviews and reports have been written but as the latest JCHR report notes: “The lack of progress in implementing the findings of those reviews has become a source of intense frustration and concern. Where actions have been taken, they have often been superficial and not had lasting effect.”

The Sainsbury’s advert and the Parliamentary report both point to the continuing need to talk about, learn about and protest about the racism that both lurks and is systemised in our institutions, society and shared life together.

The Reverend Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas’ Church in Durham