The White Creative’s Privilege: Misconceptions of BAME opportunities.
Before the horrible murder of George Floyd and the BLM protests, many white actors expressed a certain exasperation with the amount of castings advertised specifically to BAME artists. They claimed to feel excluded from jobs for being white and argued that minorities were being given first choice in the theatre industry. Many people would dispute this, but it is a common occurrence that white actors tend to lean towards racist language when discussing topics such as BAME casting calls. It is true that there has been a rise in BAME castings as the western world have expressed a willingness to open the discussion on topics of race, gender and identity politics within the arts. However, criticising the decision of actively promoting BAME productions is a racist endeavour. This article will examine the actual inequalities present within the Arts and indicate what all creatives should be doing to promote BAME work. It is a positive step to see creatives become more aware of the disgusting elements of racism that lives in our society, but it is important to recognise our own perceptions of racism when discussing the problems within the artistic industry.
In a report published by the Arts Council of England in 2018, entitled Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case, it was stated that only 8% of BAME staff work in the highest-funded theatres in London. Although there had been significant increases of the amount of BAME focused job applications, the issue of non-diverse casting had yet to receive the necessary attention by these theatres. The foreword of this report said “aspirations [around diversity] are not always translating into meaningful actions or significant appointments”. Theatres and creative industries are lacking in diversity, and the action to be taken needs to be more substantial than advertise BAME specific casting: we should actually focus on developing work in BAME communities and producing work that engages ethnic minorities. Theatre has a problem with elitism. Its soaring ticket prices and lack of connection with BAME communities have placed the poorest sections of society off the cultural landscape. Theatre should speak to communities, rather than producing work for its predominantly white member audiences or private sponsors. Both the subsidised sector and the commercialised sector gravely suffer from this. Solutions to diversify programmes must be adopt so that all communities can be inspired by our cultural landscape and can contribute in modernising our heritage. In the article entitled: Why you don’t see many black and ethnic minority faces in cultural spaces – and what happens if you call out the system, it is reported how many BAME people do not see the Arts as their home. Actor Janet Suzman called the theatre “a white convention” which led to indignation from the right-wing press and other media establishments. Yet, when attending the theatre, how many of the people reading this article can say that it is not the case? It is a well-known and disheartening fact that the cultural industry is sorely lacking BAME representation in its audiences and is not doing enough to innovate or diversify itself or include ethnic minorities.
A sociological report published by Create London and Arts Emergency in 2018, entitled Panic! Social Class, Taste, and Inequalities in the Creative Industries, outlines the problems of working-class and BAME representation within the arts, by showing the extremely low participation of this group of people in this field. In the United Kingdom, working class people in the performing arts adds up to a mere 18.2%. This is unfortunately much higher than the percentage of BAME workers, who add up to a disastrously 4.8%. These percentages contradict the suggestion white creatives are making of not being hired for the colour of their skin: their claim, not backed up by facts and statistics, is quite frankly racist, even though many creative workers would not want to admit this. This trend is also present drama schools, whose institutionalised racism have recently been revealed and called out. When these institutions promoted the Black Lives Matter movement, the waves of social media calling out their hypocrisy was endless, and it shows that the industry has done little to tackle racism in any of its forms.
So why do white creatives blame BAME communities for stealing their work? The answer truthfully is that there is no work out there. Theatre was on the brink of collapse before COVID-19. Theatres were sending out warning signs way before the pandemic started and that is due to the crisis of capitalism that littered the arts. It is now necessary for white artists to self-reflect, investigate how they approach BAME calls for work and start focusing on the real issues at hand. Why are there no jobs for everyone? The answer to that is simple: little funding from the brutalism of austerity, the industry becoming more narrowed due to the commercialised sector becoming dominant and the current COVID-19 pandemic. It is imperative to call out the blatant racism of white creatives and, simultaneously, look at the exclusion of BAME communities in the theatre industry, recognising that by working together and promoting equality, we can create work that is not segregating BAME groups. We should also be setting up artistic events for groups like the BLM and other anti-racist campaigns to bring artistic influence into communities who are deprived of this work. Otherwise, you are no better than the systemic racism that has festered in western society.
Art should always, and forever be, inclusive.