14 Aug 2020
Who is Black in the UK? And who are the beneficiaries of Black Programmes and Funding?
Following on from George Floyd’s Afriphobic murder, and the #BlackOutTuesday, #TheShowMustBePaused and #BlackLivesMatter/#AfricanLivesMatter campaigns, there’s been a number Black-focused programmes and funding.
This article calls for the clarification of who Black refers to, as it has an ambiguous meaning in the UK.
May 25 2020, which ironically was Africa Day, was the day much of the world witnessed the slow death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Floyd was an African man, and what played out in plain sight was the ultimate form of Afriphobia – racism or discrimination against an African person.
Following Floyd’s death, African communities in and outside the US demonstrated their anger and disapproval of this wanton killing of an African by a police officer.
And like never before, non-Africans, particularly European youths and corporate America, demonstrated their solidarity and allyship with a tragic African experience. The former marched, demonstrated, and some carried Black Lives Matter placards. The latter, particularly music companies that supported the June 2 #BlackOutTuesday and #TheShowMustBePaused initiatives, talked about career progression programmes for African American executives, and funding for anti-racism and Black community projects.
The same sort of thing is being replicated in Britain. However, the point of this article is to raise the issue of how imprecise language is bound to potentially disadvantage the people that these current Black programmes and funding are supposedly aimed at.
That’s why one has to ask: “Who is black in UK? And who are the beneficiaries of Black programmes and funding?”
It must be noted that our use of African refers to all people of African heritage, irrespective of whether they come from the African continent, the US, the Caribbean, or are born in the UK.
In the US, when they talk about Black, it unequivocally refers to African people. However in the UK, it isn’t necessarily the case. From my experience, apart from the reference to so-called ‘Black on Black crime’, where it unambiguously refers to African people, Black in other circumstances, particularly were funding is involved, can sometimes mean the political Black. That’s akin to BAME, which we eschew, preferring to use AAME (African, Asian, Minority Ethnic) umbrella term.
Here in the UK, we’ve seen in the last few weeks music organisations make pledges to Black and BAME communities. Although we don’t like it, we understand BAME is an umbrella term for essentially non-European and other racially discriminated groups, as is BME (Black, Minority Ethnic). But when Black is used in isolation, it’s very difficult to understand who it specifically refers to. That’s why in our soon to be published ‘RE: IMI Black Out Tuesday UK Music Industry Race Diversity Report’, we were upfront in trying to talk in terms of Africans and AAME.
There is a presumption that Black refers to African people. This is not always correct. Therefore the use of Black by music industry organisations must be interrogated for clarity. Or better still, these organisations ought to take it upon themselves to offer such clarifications within their literature. The exception might be the Musicians’ Union, whose use of Black can be assumed to be the political Black, which most unions use as an expression of solidarity with racialised people.
Hence, in the case of the newly formed Black Music Coalition, which aims to work for the betterment of UK Black executives, we asked who the Black referred to. The answer was that the Black referred to African people. We got the same answer from Women In CTRL, which recently published a gender-facing music industry diversity report which includes analyses of Black women representation on executive teams or boards, or who are chairs or CEOs.
There have been two recently closed funding streams, which it is easy to assume are for African people. It might be understandable if one thought that way about funding by MOBO, on account of the organisation being about promoting black music. But the MOBO Help Musicians Fund clearly states that it is open to any creative “working within any genres of music of black origin”. So race/ethnicity was irrelevant. However race/ethnicity was relevant in the case of the PRS Foundation’s Sustaining Creativity Fund, as it was targeted at “Black music creators, working in any genre”. Except there was no clarity as to who the Black referred to.
Take the BBC’s Creative Diversity Commitment, for example. It talks of its response to the George Floyd murder, then mentions Black people in one breath and BAME communities in another, and trumpets a £100m commitment over the next 3 years for diverse programming. There’s no guarantee what percentage will benefit people of African heritage.
There’s a whole raft of programmes and funding that’s come on stream or are in the works, as a consequence of George Floyd’s Afriphobic murder. If the raison d’etre is to redress the decades, if not centuries of discrimination and marginalisation of African people, then there should be no obfuscation – be overt in mentioning and talking about African people! And if one must use Black, then clarify who it refers to.
There should be no apology batting for the African cause, if those who express solidarity and allyship with the African experience and #BlackLivesMatter/#AfricanLivesMatter sloganisation, recognise that the African is usually at the wrong end of the social indices, from employment, career progression, prison sentences, to deaths in custody, to mention a few. It ain’t going to change, if African-focused remedial programmes aren’t put into place.
It is worth pointing out that this race-facing discourse and changes are taking place in the middle of the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent (IDPAD) 2015-24.
In essence, this UN initiative recognises the pervasive discrimination and disadvantage faced by African people globally. It urges member states and organisations that are so minded to, among other things, to promote a greater knowledge and respect for the diverse heritage, history, culture and contribution of African people to the development of societies. This can only be achieved by a willingness to combat systemic and structural racism within organisations, and the wider society.
We believe any George Floyd/#TheShowMustBePaused inspired initiatives should be focused essentially on redressing the endemic disadvantage experienced by African employees, consumers and communities. And as stated before, this can only come about if there’s a genuine effort to combat systemic and structural racism within organisations and the wider society.
Just as organisations have recently had a reawakening of their race/ethnicity-facing diversity responsibilities – and there’s been some frank talk on the matter in the RE:IMI Report – we believe we need clarity as to the language used in diversity and anti-racism programmes.
Without unambiguous language, there’s the potential that once again African pain, will be someone else’s gain. Beneficiaries have to be overtly identified. If it’s African people, state it. If it’s for AAME communities or subsets within that, be clear about it.
There’s also a need to start using Afriphobia within anti-racism discourse, when speaking specifically about racism against African people. Not to mention there’s a tendency among anti-racists to omit Afriphobia, when other forms of racism are listed. For example, although BBM/BMC and RE:IMI support the #NoSilenceInMusic letter, we nevertheless had to point out to the organisers that they were remiss in not including Afriphobia, when mentioning other forms of racism, such as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
Hopefully the awareness will grow, as there are presently discussion forums on identity terminologies. Some aim to advocate for councils, statutory, voluntary and political organisations to adopt Afriphobia, whilst others are aiming for the eventual ban on the use of BAME. Incidentally, last month Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre dropped the use of BAME.
Indeed, we’d hope in the interest of getting a clearer handle on appropriate language, especially anti-racism activists and EDI (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion) professionals, would join our associated Zoom meeting: African History Reflection Day 2020: Interrogating Language Of Identity on Aug. 31, which is focused on identity politics and language.
Written by: Kwaku
Read more bout the ‘Marcus Garvey Annual Pan African 2020 Presentation’, and book your tickets here
Register your interest in the ‘African History Reflection day 2020: Interrogating Language of Identity’ here
Illustration By: Soofiya