THE BLOG

We Need More Black Media Representation

06/01/2016 17:27 GMT | Updated 06/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Back in 2012, the New Statesman had an article exploring whether mainstream media was racist. It found that of the mainstream media, three newspapers had no non-white writers at all, and there were only five non-white writers with regular columns. Mainstream publications such as the Guardian have upped their game, but not enough has been done to change the status quo.

Class is a huge factor. The media industry is closed by and large, to anyone who doesn't have a wealthy family who can support them through extended periods of unpaid work. Given the demographics of the country - the lack of ethnic minority representation in the middle classes being key- it is no surprise that there is such a dearth of black journalists. Just as there will be a dearth of working class journalists.

Not that it was always this way: It is more recently that being a journalist has required so many impossible hoops. Being a talented writer could have been enough thirty years ago. It isn't any more. You need to do unpaid internships, gain an NCTJ, and have a portfolio of work that is done largely for free- and that's all before learning how to network with people who may have opportunities, which is also a middle-class skill, if for nothing more than your ability to 'speak their language'.

There is also a split within black communities that is rarely addressed. We are bound together as a homogeneous group by society, but social class issues rear their heads in the internal wrangling of the black diaspora. Black people of African descent are represented more in the professions, because they often come from higher social classes. Black people from Caribbean countries remain colossally under-represented in any profession deemed 'middle-class', more so than Africans. Not that the problem isn't something that affects all black people. But it must be said.

Media and politics affects us all, yet we only see black people in political discourse when something has happened that is deemed 'black'. So, unless the topic pertains to race, the likes of Newsnight remains a sea of white faces. Apparently, black people can't or don't have varied opinions on world and current affairs. We get wheeled out in droves when there is a riot, which tells us something about how the media elite subconsciously think about black people and crime.

The riots were a result of many things- economic turmoil, educational failings on the part of authorities, anger and resentment due to police brutality. Not able to see a future worth being good for, it is no wonder that society 'cracked'.

But it wasn't a race issue. It just got painted that way. Then inevitably, patronisingly, the same old black faces, who 'speak for our community' were given their platforms to speak, subliminally cementing the notion that the riots were a race issue. Merely by dint of being called to speak. Still, it was actually nice to tune in and see a black face for once. See what we are reduced to?

Television is still another black hinterland. Western ideals of beauty negatively affect black representation in the media too. When was the last time you saw someone with an afro on television? Caveats being you can't include people you see on entertainment shows, music shows or sports shows? Black people feel they have to 'sell out' and 'tame' their natural appearances, because how we look naturally is too scary for people to deal with. Afro hair gets called 'wild', or 'unprofessional'. If a culture is created where our natural looks are demeaned, it's no wonder that lots of black people won't want to engage in the first place.

The media, even without discussing the racial element, has serious problems with age and beauty discrimination. If it is deemed that 'black is not beautiful', why are we surprised at there being so few of us on TV?

It is important that the media reflects the diversity of the country. We aren't just complaining because we want jobs. We aren't just angry at being ignored. The point of media is to bridge the gap between 'happenings' and societal understand of those 'happenings'. That requires a breadth of opinion and experience that we simply can't get by being racially homogeneous at the top.

Black people have opinions. We might, you know, have an opinion on Israel/Palestine. We might have opinions on the relationship between trans people and radical feminists. We might, as people who have been historically oppressed, surprise you with levels of empathy you didn't know we had, because we've had to be strong for so long. Let 2016 be the year black people take mainstream media by storm.