I’m a 23 year old black woman who works in an industry that’s overwhelmingly comprised of white males. Still, they’re my peers, drinking buddies, best friends, dates and mistakes. For us, being broke and earning a regular wage are two sides of a coin, we talk each other out of adding up all the rent we paid since moving to London, we share thrills and help ease heartbreaks that come with living and working in music in the Big Smoke. But, some experiences we don’t share, namely how music’s continued disregard for true diversity affects us all.
The biggest lie they’ll tell you is that music is the liberal oasis in a desert of blood sucking, coke sniffing bankers. It’s as lazy and disaffected as the people it claims it hates, and the people that are affected the most are minority women. The pearly gates of post-race and -sex society are beyond an arm stretch away and the nascent stages of diversity that ushered in incredibly talented women A&Rs, marketeers, PRs and digital executives has become incredibly static. If it continues, the industry will just become a microcosm of society in general, not trailblazing or forward thinking.
Have you ever been to Cornwall? Cornwall’s pretty white, and Music Week’s 30 under 30 for 2016 will have you thinking that Cornwall is a lot like the music industry. Faces devoid of melanin and the glossed over stares remind me of when we took a family trip there when I was 13 and some residents thought my dad and uncles were American. 93% of the list are white and are apparently the future of music and they should be commended for their successes. It’s great that for the the first time there’s a 50/50 man/woman split but it reminds me of one lesson my mum taught me about working in a white world: “You’re black and you’re a woman. You’ll have to push through the doors your peers walk straight through, but they’ll deny that that even happens”. It wasn’t meant to be discouraging, but a call to arms – like her, I’ve learned to use negative environments as a fuel to become better, but why should I have to, and why should other black women? At best, it’s tiring, at worst it discourages participation and engagement from young, potential leaders in this industry.
“It’s not my fault that I’m white man”, “how can we hire black women if they don’t apply for roles”; if I had a penny for every time someone said that, I’d be able to afford a one bed in Hackney for a month, which is a long fucking time. What these questions are indicative of is that the first issue is to change mentalities. Showing white men that, sure, they didn’t choose their race and gender, but if they’re aware of their power and their privilege, that they can be a great force for change. Aiding and enabling diversity is more than putting an ad up on CMU, eating a Chinese take-away on a Friday, lamenting about the ills of gentrification in Dalston and reciting Corbyn Quotables at Wetherspoons. It’s about helping create an environment that says ‘we care and we want you to be here’. Do the work now, you can move to Cornwall later.