Interviewing Media Diversity

Article @ Anticapitalist Initiative, published 2 September 2013

I meet Samantha Asumadu briefly after a demonstration. She apologises for not being able to meet me earlier, but she had articles to edit and publish. She’s a lively, extremely articulate woman, who has an impressive curriculum in film-making and reporting, having corresponded for CNN on Congo as well as East Africa. She is black. Had you heard of her before? Probably not.

In frustration over the blatant absence (and low visibility) of non-white people in the media industry Sam launched Media Diversity UK. The response has been phenomenal. The site, which features articles by non-white journalists, writers and academics, in its initial two weeks had over fifty-thousand (that’s 50,000) views. The topics are varied, with many focusing on questions relating to the lack of representation and the misrepresentation of black and other ethnic groups in the media.

As we sit in a bar just off the Strand, Sam talks enthusiastically about ‘her’ writers – ranging from seasoned journalists to talented young bloggers – and her hunger for ever more articles.

“I don’t care, I want everything! As long as it’s a bit cool, a bit edgy, whatever, then I want it because something that does happen is that people of colour get pigeonholed talking about race”,

she says and I can’t help noticing that her drive and the power of her will is the great beating heart behind this venture.

The website also runs the campaign #AllWhiteFrontPages raising awareness on the need for ethnic diversity, and promotes a series of events on the same subject. Importantly it draws a lot of its energy from its Twitter account @WritersofColour – a platform that gave Sam the courage to start the whole project in the first place.

Sam takes a sip of her drink and declares: “There was a Media Diversity shaped hole, for us, for the writers, to get read”.

And so, through the many conversations she had held with random people through the medium of 140 characters a time, she built a powerful network of helpers, advisors and supporters for what came to become Media Diversity UK. She chatted to Joseph Harker from the Guardian on his article Race Against the Tide and how their visions were incredibly similar. She brought in Usayd Younis from Ceasefire magazine and Marcus Ryder, editor of current affairs at BBC Scotland, as advisors on the project. She exchanged ideas with Gary Younge before the launch.

Sam tells me how she wants the project to be so much more than just a platform for non-white writers. There is so much to be done for all those kids who want to get into the entertainment and media industries but just don’t get the same chances as white middle-class kids would

“I’ll ask anybody who can give people advice about how to crack this bloody thing [structural racism], because it’s just too difficult!”

she says excitedly.

And she is set on the case. She knows how it feels to be racially profiled first hand as she tells me how fellow journalists covering African affairs often mistook her for a local prostitute when seeing her with her white partner. His white maleness erased her identity and it is this preconceived judgment of people of colour that she wants to readdress. As a child she was never encouraged to follow a creative, let alone a journalistic, career. She tried her hand at acting but gave up upon realizing there were barely any non-white role-models – and as a black woman she felt she didn’t fit the patriarchally-imposed standards of beauty either. Two phenomena Sam hopes Media Diversity will bring to rights.

There is indeed hope to all of those growing up in ‘multicultural Britain’. If Media Diversity does what it is set to do we could see the ‘normalisation’ of ethnic diversity on our screens. We could see people of colour taking roles in the media and entertainment industries that would not be the tokenistic example, but the norm. Black actors would not be type-cast for Top Boy, Krishnan Guru-Murthy would not be the exception to the rule of newsreaders whiteness. Sam’s initiative could mean the start of a revolutionary process that would transcend the liberal approach to institutional racism, which encourages further institutionalisation (and bureaucratisation) through the imposition of racial quotas. It would put the question of race and privilege back in the news, whilst bringing with it the attention to intersectionality. After all, this quest is as much about race as it is about being of colour and female, non-white and working class.

It might not yet be clear where the project is going to go next and whether it will achieve all of its (and Sam’s) goals. However, one thing is sure: in an industry where the great majority of its most recognisable faces doesn’t represent the realities of the society it is meaning to portray, Media Diversity is capturing people’s attention. It is shedding light over the problem and it is putting the newsroom back in the news.