Living in a multicultural society, it is so important to have racial diversity in jobs, and in high up positions within companies. The importance of this representation within the media is especially important, because the media tells the peoples’ stories. Tabloids, journalists, papers etc., all create a brand for whoever they report
on. These stories are so often told incorrectly, as they aren’t being told by people who necessarily understand what they are saying.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ‘what ifs’. What if we’d had more black journalists reporting on Meghan Markle? What if Edward Enninful had been next in a long line of chief editors of colour of British Vogue? How would the reporting of crimes be different? But it’s also important to ask how it will be different in the future?
We all know who Meghan Markle is: actress, princess…and a host of other things the media vilified her as. But to a lot of people, she was also a beacon of hope. Finally, a sister in the royal family! Until the press got involved. No one called her an outright racial slur. But there is a marked difference in the way the British press treated her, especially in comparison to Kate. They made out like she was rude and snobby, and loved to make it look like she had beef with the Queen; while Kate was always a perfect example of British progression. When the the two women have actually done some of the exact same things. The Express in particular, has gone in on everything from Meghan’s shoes, the way she cradled her pregnant belly… avocados were in there at one point. Even the flowers at the wedding! At Kate’s wedding, the flowers were as ‘elegant as the bride’. Kate wanted to spruce up the chapel with some nice scents. While when Meghan got married, she apparently she went mental, spraying the place with air freshener with all the force of a gunman, and endangering Princess Charlotte’s life with none other than… flowers! (shock, horror!)
Basically some of the flowers where poisonous if ingested. What are the bridesmaids doing, eating the headdresses while they hold Meghan’s dress up? How anyone can look at the contrast in reporting, and not see the blatant racism there, is beyond me. I guess my point is, would Meghan and Harry have felt like they were just ‘existing and not living’, if the reporters had looked different? We’re quite happy to call America anti-progressionist, but we’ve never had a black PM. In fact there’s currently no black MPs in the cabinet. We had our first black mixed race member of the royal family, and we essentially let the press push her out. And then as a society we blame her for that. When it was our actions that caused it. Kind of like how we blame blackness for racism, when the issue is how people treat blackness (just saying!).
There’s also this problem when it comes to journalism with the way the actions of people of colour or different religions are reported in the headlines - which is something Akala has talked a lot about. When crimes are reported in the headlines, it reads something like this: ‘Muslim man does ‘such and such a crime’’. Yet when people like Jimmy Cavil or notorious offenders like Robert Black are reported on, their whiteness isn’t the leading word for them committing a crime. (Try and name a time when the reports have read, ‘White man kills white woman’ - you can’t? I wonder why?…). But when Baghdad was the cultural centre for maths and science, and they brought algebra and mathematics to Europe, that wasn’t because they were Muslim.
So, if we tackle institutionalised racism within journalism, how different could things be? Media influences so much of what we do and how we think. So we wouldn’t have these stereotypes. Obviously these stereotypes have come about through history, but the media continues to reinforce them. That may also be through unconscious bias. Therefore, having reporters and researchers and writers of colour and of more religions, could be a big part of the answer in eradicating negative stereotypes society puts onto BAME communities.
Moving onto the whitewashing in magazines like Vogue, Edward Enninful is the first black editor in chief. Will this be a new era? Will dark skinned women finally get the spotlight they deserve? If a black editor had got there years ago, how different would the covers have looked? Lupita N’yongo is a brilliant actress and model, who vogue keeps reusing. It’s great that she’s there, but she’s arguably tokenised. Because there is so little effort to find more dark skinned women. The black women who are on there are light skinned, and often whitewashed. When you look at Rihanna’s covers, her skin tone changes massively over the years. It’s gotten twice as dark in some covers. And yes, part of that is lighting and angles, but also the fact that in 125 years of British Vogue’s running, there has only ever been one black photographer. If we had more black photographers for these high profile fashion magazines, the whitewashing could be a whole other story. And there’s the internet now, making it easier to find people and build careers, so there’s really no excuses anymore. The editors really do - obviously - have an impact. Which is something you can see from the last editor Alexandra Shulman, who upon leaving British Vogue, did an interview that was littered with microaggressions. Shulman said of model and activist Adwoa Aboah, “she’s the perfect mixture of mixed race, sort of posh Notting-hill royalty.” I wasn’t aware there was a perfect mixture of mixed race. Is there only a certain level that’s acceptable for Notting-hill? These people have power and it’s so often used wrongly.
Is there change though? Obviously there’s Edward Enninful, as well as an increasing representation in diversity on TV adverts. And according to ‘The Fashion Spot’, approximately every 2 in 5 castings of the 2019 Spring shows for New York, London, Milan and Paris, went to models of colour. There still needs to be wider representation though. And not just for black people. South Asian women - especially dark skinned - are barely represented. You don’t see many East Asian women in the media either. So there is definitely a way to go. But maybe, just maybe, change is coming…