Bectu must be moral backbone of creative industries in fight against racism

Philippa Childs · 10 June 2020

George Floyd was his name and he was murdered on 25 May at the hands of the police. Those policemen had no idea their actions would lead to worldwide mourning, disgust and protest about what it means for a black man’s life to be extinguished so carelessly.

What I know is that these protests are more heartfelt and urgent than ever and that years of campaigning and discussions have not resulted in the change that is needed in the US and UK to fully challenge racism in all its forms.

Some of the placards held by protestors in recent weeks  have read: “I may not understand, but I stand with you.”

Those are my feelings. I can never profess to understand what it feels to have to fight a system that rejects or subverts me because of the colour my skin.

However, I know that is the reality for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the UK as well as the US. The statistics demonstrate that within every structure in our society racism is pervasive. That’s why people are protesting in the UK.

They’re protesting because black people are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, they are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, despite being as educated as their white peers they are paid less in equivalent jobs.

Black Lives Matter that is why this endless list can’t just be parroted out any more. Asians and other minorities have similar challenges but, by almost every indices of measurement, black people are at the bottom of the pile. That is no coincidence – that is structural racism.

The movement is calling, as it always has, for white people in positions of power to use their privilege to deliver change. As head of Bectu I am in that privileged position and I know that the creative industries have huge issues to address.

Bectu and our members have to be part of the solution. There is no room for complacency here. Our industries: film, TV, theatre, live events, the arts, they tell the stories of our culture and society and we know from years of experience that BAME people are hugely underrepresented.

I all too often say that our members are the backbone of the industry, which they are. But they now have to be moral backbone of the industry and go out and educate themselves. Posting support on social media is not enough, we must all become activists and recognise racism in all its forms. Read books such as: The Good Immigrant and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race. Watch documentaries and TV programmes such as: 13th, When They See Us and The Hard Stop.

The onus is not on our black colleagues to tell us about their experiences any longer – the onus is on the white majority to educate itself and speak up on behalf of their BAME colleagues.

And the reality is that white people are in positions of power throughout our industries and despite plans and schemes to ensure that BAME workers are working across the creative industries rather than clustered in particular roles or low level jobs – it hasn’t happened.

The figures are so stark it is embarrassing. Research carried out by Arts Council England in 2015 found that the BAME workforce was as low as 5% in some London theatres, compared to the London population where 41% of people are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

In television which is largely based in London there is slightly greater representation and roughly sits at 13%, which is similar to the overall BAME population in the UK, but far below the equivalent figure in London.

Bectu campaigned for years for Ofcom to require broadcasters to report workforce diversity.  In film there is no obligation to report diversity in the workforce yet and the patchy work that has been done estimates that only 3% of the film production workforce is BAME.

What these statistics demonstrate is that there are huge barriers to entry to these industries. But, they don’t delve into the challenges and experiences that BAME workers have once they have entered.

Last weekend experiences started to emerge of racism that many, mostly freelancers, have experienced. One man explained because of the freelance nature of work people are scared to speak out against blatant casual racism; drama students shared horrendous experiences at drama schools, there are allegations about racism on Hollyoaks, an Instagram account of Black in TV has been set up  – I’m about to write another endless list.

The question is: why have I even put pen to paper when it’s all just a list of problems? The answer: because we have an opportunity to bring about change. I have to take a stand and so do all the businesses and organisations in the creative industries.

I know Bectu isn’t perfect and our work has been helpful in highlighting problems, but it still hasn’t achieved what it set out to. Partly that is because we need to focus more time and energy on these challenges. We at Bectu must become more agile and outward facing when discussing racism. But, that also relies on the wider industry engaging with us and these huge systemic problems.

Bectu is in listening and planning mode now. I wish I could say that we have solution for these problems, but we don’t, however we are steadfast in our belief that change can happen and now is the time to push for it. What I do know is that we must strengthen our BAME networks internally and continue to work with our industry partners to deliver the positive change that is so deeply needed and so long overdue.



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