A Response to “Whitewashed TV”

After reading a particular article entitled “Whitewashed TV” on The Huffington Post, I felt compelled to provide a response to a troubled and agitated diatribe.

I sympathise with the points made in the article regarding the BBC (and British media in general) in conservative and often-traditional portrayals of ethnic and racial minorities. But who are the “people of colour” to whom you refer? Black? Brown? Purple? Can they never be white – or is that distinctly “non-colour?” A case in 2011 regarding Alan Hansen’s use of “coloured” led to former Tottenham football player, Rohan Ricketts, stating “we are black, Alan”. Can you really throw peoples of different origins into one category, parallel this group against white people (because that’s one category too, right?), and come close to accurately representing anyone?

If you are highlighting an action, you are certainly responding with an energetic reaction by highlighting the all-pervading race politics that you appear to see in British media. Certainly, there are examples of negative discrimination which should be condemned and avoided, but you encourage positive discrimination in its place. Can we not be treated as individuals, with personal backgrounds, ambitions and dreams, or must we always be separated in your dichotomy of “people of colour” and those who are not?

Surely meritocratic selection of actors is more important than a quota of these “people of colour” to whom you mention. Angel Coulby (a leading actress in Dancing on the Edge) also starred in Merlin; a series of mythical tales which almost certainly was not originally created with people of African descent in mind. However, she was cast for the part and she did a fantastic job. Would you have preferred more British ethnic minorities? How many more? Are you drawing lines on racial heritage, or expanding this to include LGBTQ, religion, age, and gender? Are there more black or Mexican actors currently working in drama – and should we prioritise them based on their number and background?

English: Angel Coulby and Katie McGrath's lect...

Angel Coulby – a fine actress. Nothing political about that.

The evocative language that you use, such as “the occasional blackface” and “the general public … are consequently taught to hate us”, is misleading and demonises the British public by suggesting racial propaganda and indoctrination. More so, it is also apparent that, while you speak for all those who are “people of colour” (whether they want to be included or not), there are only two mentions of non-black “people of colour” mentioned in your article, against thirty five uses of “black”. Likewise, you compare the media’s greater attention to a rape gang, consisting of “predominantly Pakistani and Somali” men, to that of another rape gang featuring “white men”. In the previous paragraph, you condemn coverage of the Woolwich incident for labelling the suspects as “Nigerian”. Personally, I had it reported that they were from London, but do you see the irony in your own statements? What colour were these “Pakistani and Somali” men? From ethnic diversity, I can take an educated guess from population statistics, but that’s it. The other gang – they are white, you report. From where are these men though? Inconsistently, you compare the two gangs, and you paint an arbitrary picture as a result. The sad thing is that if you reported that one gang was “British”, I wouldn’t have a clue about what “colour(s)” they could be.

While some people are racially motivated, I would hope that you will come to understand that for many people in Britain, ethnicity and racial background is not a political matter. In fact, if I remember correctly, one of the black actors in Dancing on the Edge (the band manager, I believe?) requires his passport to remain in Britain. Attempting to paraphrase his response, the character replies: “I was born in Cardiff. That makes me English. In fact, that makes me Welsh.” I thought that was a great scene – but no question of colour was involved. His retort was more than just humourous – it felt right.

If you read this, I can guarantee that you have tried to ascertain my ethnicity, just as you admit that you “actively search for shows that have a majority black or POC cast”. Personally, I don’t. I will appreciate Idris Elba’s portrayal of Thor as he plays it – but I will certainly not prejudice my opinion by his background. I agree that the BBC should engage all audiences with equal energy and motivation. I think there are under-representations in media, charged rhetoric, and selective attention in journalistic articles for shock value via stereotypes. You are right – these are all bad and any reader would agree with you. However, discrimination, whether positive or negative, is an issue that should only be overcome by production companies, casting agencies, and audiences, choosing the best actors and actresses, regardless of background.

P.S. Desmond’s and Porkpie are great series. You may like them.

Sources and further reading:

Extended original version of “Whitewashed TV”: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/damilola-odelola/whitewashed-tv_b_3391935.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003&ir=UK

http://damiiodelola.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/dancing-on-the-edge-of-blackness/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2077457/Alan-Hansen-coloured-race-gaffe-BBC-Match-Day-pundit-apologises.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22630303

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