There's no denying it: race issues within the music industry have been well documented over the years. The common story is that the labels are the bad guys, but only recently have we seen how pervasive racism is throughout the industry. Of late, there's been growing conversation about the documentation of music genres and who can claim a stake in such. Particularly in the journalism arena: writers who are often far removed from genres, such as grime and hip-hop, are called upon to document, often with little-to-no prior research or any deeper attachment. For many black writers, being able to tell their own stories about cultures they grow up in is about ownership—and telling those stories with authenticity is an art within itself. For the writer, it's a special moment when an artist one has documented is seen accepting an award, but when your Skeptas, Jmes and Stormzys aren't at the UK's biggest award show, it leaves you questioning whether your voice carries any weight at all.
For many black writers, being able to tell their own stories about cultures they grow up in is about ownership—and telling those stories with authenticity is an art within itself.
Recently, the conversation around diversity in the entertainment industry has been re-ignited, following the lack of ethnic minority artists and actors nominated at both this year's BRITs and Oscars. The annual celebrations of the contributions to culture allow us to assess and appreciate the art we create, however for the diverse society we live in, there are far too few black and Asian people giving acceptances speeches. There's a common belief that Britain is 'post-racial', however the lived experiences of black and Asian minorities reveal that it is quite the opposite. According to the 2011 Census, Asian minorities make up just 6.92% of Britain's population, whilst black people account for just 3.01% of the 55 million people recorded at the time.
An argument would be that representation within the media reflects the country's population, but this would be failing to take into context the history of race within the UK. The cultural contributions by black and Asian people are so vast and ingrained into our daily lives, that we often take them for granted. At the time of writing, “Sorry” by Justin Bieber, “Lush Life” by Zara Larsson and Jonas Blue's “Fast Car” all feature in the top ten singles chart, and whilst they may be classified as “pop music”, it's evident that they derive from sounds that were once pioneered by black people.
Whilst the USA and UK are somewhat culturally close, the dynamics regarding race are so nuanced and complex, that we cannot afford to have the same conversations. More often than not, America gets it wrong when it comes to race discussions (Fox News being an example) and the willingness to address issues rather than sweep things under the rug means that all parties know where they stand. Kendrick Lamar's recent performance at The Grammys occurred because Americans have understood that the reverberations of history still affect ethnic minorities to this day. Would Wretch 32 be able to the address race in such a poignant and striking manner without the public complaining to OFCOM moments later?
Britons have a habit of condemning the racism that occurs across the pond, but we seldom take the time to acknowledge the microaggressions and institutional racism that occur on a daily basis. To this day, there are still complaints that The MOBOs exist and many are unsure as to why they still do, given the success of black artists in the mainstream. The MOBOs don't exist because of a self-segregation agenda, they exist because people of colour rarely find themselves represented within the mainstream media. It's a space that was created to celebrate the diverse and rich musical history that black cultures have created. When occurrences like this year's BRITs shun come around, the response is often to “create your own.” This suggests that not only do Brits not want to address race issues head-on, but rather sidestep and acknowledge it when it disrupts routine.
The MOBOs don't exist because of a self-segregation agenda, they exist because people of colour rarely find themselves represented within the mainstream media.
The death of Mark Duggan and the riots that followed should've been the catalyst Britain needed to address issues pertaining to race, but instead gentrification is the solution that authorities have conjured. Crime and poverty isn't being eradicated—it has merely been relocated. In recent years, and partly due to the explosion of Black Twitter, conversations on race have been thrust to the forefront of people's minds. We've also seen publications, that are widely known for their insights on music and pop culture, are publishing more and more think-pieces on race. The positives are that the conversations online have begun for 20-somethings, but in order for it to affect the gatekeepers, further conversations must be had offline.
Some would call it “race-baiting”, highlighting race where it need not be mentioned. However, for a society whose ideals are based on the premise of diversity and multiculturalism, Britain still has much work to do. Diversity isn't about the token black, gay, woman or Asian, it's about acknowledging where faults have previously been made and working with minorities and understanding the contributions they make to society. The exclusion of minority nominees at this year's award shows isn't accidental—nor is it an error in the system. To repeatedly ignore calls for diversity is in itself racism, and the entertainment industry needs to hold up its hands, especially if much of the content created is by the hands of ethnic minorities.