London is locking the door to "BAME" creatives, but we're taking matters into our own hands
“Fuck the government, Fuck Boris” the crowd screamed back at Stormzy during his epic and iconic performance at Glastonbury this weekend. The set provoked two different threads to trend on Twitter, one with the hashtag #stormzy – and the other with #stormsy. “Guess which one is full of shook Tory voters” noted one Twitter user.
Stormzy’s performance, embodying some of the best of grime, was major – not just because of the Union Jack stab vest or the recognition of other black British artists paving the way, but because it was inherently, outwardly and unashamedly political.
The strong political voice all of his act gave, highlighted once again, the sticky, locked door which so many black creatives in the UK have been pushing against – the one which is illustrated all the more worryingly by a new report showing disappointingly, once again, that the creative industries in London are excluding “BAME people”.
This report may come as a surprise to some, but for those from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds, having the door to the paid creative sector slammed in our faces is old hat. (And that’s not even diving into to the continued problematic and homogenous framing of “BAME” by the powers that be – which has been highlighted to undermine experiences of black communities whilst also not refining the vastly differing challenges a Muslim, for example, might face in the industry compared to someone of Chinese descent.)
By not allowing us to tell our stories and create with our own experiences in mind, you are again erasing the contribution of black and other ethnic minority creatives from the fabric of British life.
And when you keep the door locked you not only create something that only applies to and shapes one segment of society, you also really have a tendency to f**k stuff up. Par example: constant faux pas in the fashion industry, not employing a black copywriter to review this shocking piece of literature from Extinction Rebellion, ripping off originality like Slay in Your Lane to appeal to a wider audience which your current staff clearly do not represent.
But as that door continues to be locked, and as it seems, history continues to repeat itself, those underrepresented communities are taking things into their own hands.
The powerhouse that is gal-dem, the art created by Nuff Said, the platforms created by The Other Box, Burnt Roti, GUAP, Sour Lemons and Colourfull highlight how non-white communities are turning away from the locked door to that locked building and once again building their own movement.
Our own new scheme Do That Thing, supported strongly by our partnership with The Unmistakables, looks to take the energy from this movement and tool it up – pairing black and ethnic minority Leaders and Creators in London, Manchester and Bradford, to empower one another, and break down some of the regional barriers between these cities grossly underrepresented creative scenes.
The creative sector has long been the playground of the elite. But, it turns out, so has everywhere else. By not enabling voices from non-white backgrounds, you speak to a wider pattern of shutting out of society, institutions and parliament. Increasingly, our ability to write a story, design a graphic, create a film become inherently political and deeply loaded. Especially (imagine this!) when we want to create something that isn’t linked to our race or identity.
This weekend, Stormzy exhibited just one slice of black British creative talent, and exposed how the current structure of both UK politics and its creative scene aren’t allowing those from underrepresented backgrounds to be seen, heard, or experienced. The call to the creative industry in London rings loud and clear: as if you don’t want to see more.
By Heather Iqbal, Founder of Do That Thing