THE BLOG

Diversity Isn't a Dirty Word

06/02/2014 17:29 GMT | Updated 08/04/2014 10:59 BST

Earlier this week, on a school night at around 11pm, I was seriously close to waking up my eight-year-old son, getting him out of bed and plonking him in front of the telly. No BBC2 weren't screening an unscheduled episode of Woolfblood or Ben 10 Omniverse, I barely let him watch those shows as it is. The reason for my barely contained glee was that there was a black person on Newsnight. Let me be more precise. There was a young, articulate black man on, NOT talking about guns, gangs or prisons. Instead musician FUSE ODG was on to talk about Afrobeats, Azonto, a Ghanaian dance craze that has gone mainstream and "New Africa" - a continent bursting with pride, promise and potential not just extreme poverty and malnourished babies surround by a cloud of flies.

My excitement was shared by other black media folk across social-media. Broadcaster Henry Bonsu tweeted: "Cannot believe @FuseODG broke down the New Africa to Paxo on @BBCNewsnight." Many are still smarting from the grilling Paxo gave to rapper Dizzie Rascal in 2008 when Barack Obama was first elected president. It was deemed to be a bit of a car crash. Columnist and TV producer Jasmine Dotiwala summed up her relief saying: "Wow, can this be happening? Fuse lays to rest ghost of Jeremy Paxman making Dizzee look a fool years ago."

The next morning however my mood changed. My feeling of excitement was replaced by a feeling of acute embarrassment - with myself. How pathetic was I to feel so excited by seeing a young black man, whom I don't even know, on a high brow news programme? How depressing that in 2014 it's still a big deal; that we take to twitter to scream "there's a black person on", something our parents were doing 30 or 40 years ago. Why are we still doing it today?

I don't believe programme makers, producers, newspaper and magazine editors go out of their way to exclude black stories. Rather there is collective notion that Black British is simply the same as British and therefore black consumers don't need to be treated any differently or have any specific needs that have to be catered for. As a result the only time our black otherness is referenced is when there is a negative story - usually about drugs, crime or gangs. Call it #everydayracism.

The inconvenient truth is British culture is not the same as black British culture. Black British doesn't mean the same as British. My son describes himself as "Ghanish" reflecting the fact he feels Ghanaian because of his parents and English because of where he was born - and what's wrong with that?

We have a culture that is a unique, call it niche if you like, but as licence fee payers and media consumers, we deserve, we have a right, to see more of it reflected back at us.

We know there is lack diversity across television, print media, film and the arts. Between 2006 and 2012 there was a 31% decline in the reported number of black and ethnic minorities working in the UK television industry, and Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has called on senior industry figures to explain why this is so. Comedian Lenny Henry has called for "structural change" while Trevor Phillips, former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, complained there is "no accountability". There are simply not enough senior black people to do anything about this situation or to actually say: what are we doing about this? Our best black actors flee to America to get plum roles.

The underlying problem is that the lack of diversity just isn't part of the conversation in the same way gender inequality is. The chorus of voices fighting for women's rights and fairer representation across media is making a difference. The voices of those fighting the same battle over racial equality are still whispers.

I'm addicted to a new TV show. It's not Borgen, The Bridge or the latest Scandinavian drama on BBC 4. No. I've set my Sky Plus to series link Being Mary Jane an American drama on BET. It's been dubbed The Newsroom meets Sex And The City...I would add, with black people. Okay some of the plot lines are a little far-fetched, but underneath her designer clothes, a flash apartment and turbo charged Porche, the lead character played by Gabrielle Union is someone I can relate to. It's a thrill to watch a programme that has a confident, sexy, successful black woman in a lead role. Wouldn't it be great if part of the licence fee went to acquiring shows like these rather than more niche imports with subtitles?

The recently-appointed Newsnight Editor Ian Katz tweeted that he was "keen to more" on topics such as New Africa and black topics generally. I hope he and others do. Wouldn't it be great to not have to tweet a klaxon alert when we see one of our own on the box. Diversity doesn't have to be a dirty word.