Thank you speech @ Campaign for Broadcasting Equality
My relationship with the media started, like most of us, with my relationship with the world.
I always knew deep down; that I was proud of my heritage, that it was a part of the building blocks that gave me strength. We all stand on the shoulders of our mothers and fathers. But was I quick to tell people that my paternal grandfather was a refugee?
When Jewish people fled hitler to come to this country in the 1930s – finding a refuge of which British people are now so proud – the good old tabloid media said at the time that Britain was becoming a Dumping ground for Nazi exiles. The Daily Mail said they were getting in through the back door”.
Was I quick to tell people my mother was an African immigrant? The media was largely responsible when I growing up for my miseducation about the African continent – Land of dictators and famines. I was well into my twenties before I realised that industrialisation two world wars, post war reconstruction, the building of the welfare state, could not have been achieved without countries like Ghana.
The media was capable of making me ashamed of my heritage, making me hate my body, want to change my hair, and even my name. My parents will tell you, I genuinely tried to change it to Caroline.
The media still lies to us every day. They tell us that the anti-immigration sentiment that that has been normalised, has nothing to do with race. It always has. Take the arrival of fewer than 500 Jamaican British citizens on the Windrush in 1948 – an event STILL prompting as much soul searching as it is causing heartache. About immigration, not race? Who really noticed the arrival of 200,000 white immigrants from Eastern Europe and Ireland the very same year? Where is the allegation that our culture was forever changed that year?
We are sold this false equivalence between racism and anti-racism. The BBC needs balance, so alongside an anti racist on Question Time, it’s acceptable to give a gigantic platform to a former candidate for the national front.
The BBC needs balance, so when a woman of colour talks about her LIVED experience of experiencing racist abuse, she is told that breaches impartiality. Racism is NOT an opinion! Racism is an ideology that stands counter to every single one of our values as a democratic society.
“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason,” said Abraham Joshua Heschel
Some of the most powerful words about racism – by the way – come from people who are not black.
Heschel is right. Racism is the greatest threat to humanity.
Am I complacent about climate change? How could there be climate change without racism. If the great polluters of the earth had not committed genocide and colonial subjugation against indigenous people who knew how to tend, manage and protect the land as the custodians of great continents and nations like the America’s, Africa, Australia, would the mindless destruction we see today even be possible?
I’m here for everybody who is antiracist. I am here BECAUSE of everybody who is anti racist. From my own parents who first showed me what anti racism looked like. To my cousin Kes and my sister Ama who were my first allies. To each and every member of my black broadcasters group. To every single person who signed our letter to the BBC. To every single person who wanted to, voiced support and demanded change. We are a movement. We will not be silenced! I accept this award on behalf of us ALL!
It’s easy to feel down at the moment.
I feel like we are being recognised for battles we should never have had to fight
But that would be to allow ourselves to have our work co-opted by those who oppress us. That would be to fail to realise that, when our leaders fail us – and they are, I look forward by the way to our Prime Minister’s party no longer lecturing us about how “broken families” explain the poverty and exclusion facing so many black people, now that we have a serial babyfather in Number 10 – when we are faced with such poor excuses for leadership, it gives us an opportunity to step up. We have no choice but to do so, and for this, we should be grateful. We are taking advantage, making things happen, and becoming leaders ourselves.
Our media institutions, like the country we call home, set us up from the start. It set us up to have less power, and to work for less pay, and then stacked the narrative against us. But we are not asking anymore, we are demanding. And – this is important too – we are bypassing those organisations altogether. We are voting with our feet.
Sometimes I think the establishment will long for the day when we asked for this conversation. Because we still believe in it enough to ask. My message to the media organisations that have failed us all so many times is Heed us. Or you will find out the hard way that you need us more than we need you.
Sometimes people ask me how I cope m tv on hostile spaces. It’s because I know, as one of my favours media multihyphenates said – I know when I walks into a space alone, really I come as 10,000.
And that’s because of my allies, who number so many times more than that. So this is for you all. THANK YOU!!! X