The MacTaggart Lecture is used by David Olusoga to tell us all how racist British society is. Apparently he fund it very difficult to become a rich and famous TV historian.
To describe how 30 years of failed diversity and missed opportunities have impacted on the careers and wellbeing of people of colour in television required me to reveal my own difficult journey through the industry. Frankness demanded I talk publicly of how, for much of my career, I was sidelined, dismissed and desperately unhappy. Candour meant admitting that I began my other career, writing history books, not to satisfy some burning literary ambition but in a desperate attempt to convince the gatekeepers of TV that I was worthy of their attention. Naively, as it turned out, I imagined that becoming an author would enable me to break into the charmed circle of producers who got the big jobs on the big history series that I longed to work on.
To get to the top of any career structure or path is a desperately difficult thing to do. So it was difficult for someone both British and black? It’s difficult for everyone.
To be colour-blind is to be blind to reality, to the fact that in our society skin colour can dictate life chances and limit opportunities. It is also to refuse to acknowledge that people of colour have different experiences to their white colleagues, and that those experiences equip us with different perspectives and mean we have different stories to tell – stories that are valuable, if listened to.
How cool. And to be Papist in a largely Protestant country is a different perspective. To be less than Marxist in one’s view of society. Even, to actually know that resources aren’t about to run out. Any and all of those perspectives having more adherents than the 1.5% or so of the population that are jointly British and Black African. That last viewpoint should be privileged in the production of history programmes why?
In fact, how many people do get to present those big history programmes? Are there 20 in the entire country? 50 maybe? With that 1.5% or so of the population statistical variation would mean that we could be the least racist society ever and still have no Black Africans doing it.
And do note what the insistence now is. That if we don’t note his declared racial background then we are being racist – colour blindness is no longer good enough.
When black people who work in television speak publicly about the industry’s diversity shortfall, the classic response on social media is to dismiss them by posting lists of black actors, presenters and journalists. But the diversity we can see on screen is simply not reflected behind the camera. According to 2016 figures, only 2.2% of programmes were produced by black, Asian or minority-ethnic producers or directors. In London, where much of the industry is still based, the workforce is 36% BAME.
And yet we’re never told this the other way around, are we? That perhaps a national broadcaster should reflect the national preponderances? Or even, that proportions should reflect local realities? Take, for example, the casting of Vera which is set in an area of the country perhaps 2% BAME but of which the cast is rather more than that.
But the real ire here must be reserved for Olusoga’s personal claim. It was difficult climbing the greasy pole to grasp that brass ring?
Well, diddums, eh? When ever was it not?