Wealth, and the creation of it, is the hallmark of a successful nation. Income, and a sizeable one, is a reliable pointer to a thriving household, whether counted in shekels, goods or cattle. Opportunities, and access, whether personal or social, are the essential stepping stones to advancement. To be denied opportunity is to be denied the oxygen of life itself which makes the advantage of having a golden chance, and access to it, a most powerful combination in the struggle to succeed and grow.
There has been a plethora of period dramas on television, especially the BBC, the national broadcasting station which is accountable to the general public (currently there is the serial Garrow and not a black face in sight). The fact that the producers of these dramas aim for 'creative authenticity', reflecting the period they depict, a time when few black people were around in the UK, means that every actor will be white. The consequences of that virtually segregated casting system, in a diverse country that has to pick up the tabs for this exclusive preference, are enormous.
It means that only white actors will qualify for any artistic nominations and accolades, only white actors will get the oxygen of publicity needed to further their careers, only white actors will have their CVs expanded with such good parts and only white actors will repeatedly get the money accruing from their involvement which will never be available to black actors simply, and purely, because of their colour. In a vicious cycle, without all those significant roles and the money to match, they cannot compete like their white peers for future acting jobs, so they are likely to be found wanting as this form of exclusion affects them in other ways.
Seemingly, the BBC, for which every household of any race, colour or creed has to pay to watch, openly discriminates, in turn, with whom it pays to act, happily excluding one section of the very community that pays its wages purely on its colour. Period dramas attract a lot of attention from the public and the media, especially when characters are outstanding. Being the jewels in the crown of the British television schedules, they make the open discrimination in casting quite remarkable, an unacceptable situation which has been quietly reinforced for years because of the implied inferiority of minority actors and their ghettoising in predictable roles (note the current 'Death in Paradise').
Recruiting in own image and likeness
There are also many ongoing documentaries about ordinary people, their lives and achievement and seldom have I seen anything relating to minority communities in order to inform and educate the wider community: no minority promoting their book, on chat shows talking about their lives, or any promotion of those sections of our society, just like the majority group. For example, I have never seen a business, family or individual relating to African Caribbeans featured in such documentaries as principal participants. They are usually forming the inevitable backdrop to the unfolding events of white peers, or the token bystander to the success of others. They remain invisible beneath a sea of whiteness for which they should be grateful.
Yet, with the BBC, this is a public licence fee, collected from every household in the UK, being used to enhance, promote and advance selected sections of our community. The decision for how such support is used appears to be left mainly to the producers and directors who recruit in their own image and likeness, never mind a diverse public who is paying for the privilege, or the presence of their own diversity department which seems unable to ensure a greater spread.
Persistent exclusion of visible minorities from such exposure serves primarily to emphasise their impotence, keep them invisible and, above all, reinforce negative stereotypes about their abilities, implied lack of ability or genuine appeal. Nothing is fair in life, and we all have to accept the rough with the smooth, but why should one section of the community be given only the rough while another section makes off with the smooth? In a mixed society, when it comes to life changing programmes, which depend primarily on a person’s brain power and ability to excel under pressure, everyone should be given an equal chance to participate through a genuine diverse approach in the selection process.
Otherwise, the net effect is that the lives of just one section - or one gender - within our diverse community will continue to change for the better, while those left out of the loop will worsen and become demoralised. The irony of that reflects itself in the fact that those successful ones, by virtue of their colour, benefiting from white privilege, are likely to be judging the unsuccessful ones in a negative manner, as most undeserving too, and in a continuous repeating vicious loop.
Role models reinforce our sense of identity, our very existence and individual or group potential. What messages are minority viewers receiving if they continually see only white participants in every period drama, reinforcing the gross inequality among actors, while maintaining an artificial form of deliberate discrimination?
Most important, what chance have they got to get the recognition they deserve or to ever succeed fairly and squarely against their white peers?
©Elaine Sihera (Ms CYPRAH) 2011
Emotional Health and People Management Consultant
"Respect and love begin with the self. If we have none, how can we give away any?"