Multiculturalism and equal opportunities are being ditched by the UK government. Marc Wadsworth tackled the issue in a lecture to Birbeck College, University of London, students this week. Here it is published. Has anybody heard of Mary Seacole? She was a Black woman who paid her own passage to the Crimea in modern day Ukraine and nursed wounded British soldiers there during the war of 1853-1856.
In a letter to The Times on Wednesday, top international Black figures, including Jesse Jackson, Zadie Smith and Andrea Levy, have challenged UK Education Secretary Michael Gove’s attempt to remove Seacole and Equiano from the school national curriculum.
They noted: “Eighty-thousand people – the capacity of our [London] Olympic stadium – came out to pay tribute to the extraordinary Seacole on her return from the Crimea War. As for Equiano, there is no doubt that the abolition of slavery would have endured many more years without his passionate Christian narrative which, at the time, shook the Establishment to the core.”
The authors of The Times letter rightly state: “It is not political correctness to keep them in, [the national curriculum] but it is historically and culturally incorrect to remove them from our rich tapestry of history, including the struggle for women’s rights.”
I draw this current controversy to your attention because I think it is a good illustration of two important aspects of "race, gender and representation in UK mainstream and minority newspapers" – the title of my talk. The two points I want to make are about “commission” and “omission”. Commission – active racism and sexism by news media – is much less common today, thanks to the struggles of women, Black people and their supporters for better journalism.
But the omission of women and Black people as news media decision-makers and in the stories that are reported continues apace. That is because, 12 years to the month after then Director General Greg Dyke described the BBC as “hideously white”, newsrooms are still largely white, male and middle class. Guardian journalist Kira Cochrane has written excellent, painstakingly researched articles about media sexism and I encourage you to read them.
Let me come back to Mary Seacole. Since Operation Black Vote launched a campaign to keep her in a national curriculum that Michael Gove wants restricted to the study of Kings and Queens, Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill, just two national newspapers have reported the story. They are the left-leaning broadsheets, The Guardian, in a report by the Black journalist Hugh Muir and The Independent. The Times carried the letter I have mentioned but not a story. Meanwhile, the right-wing, usually black people-averse Daily Mail ran a feature-length spread on New Year’s Eve knocking as politically correct the presence of Seacole in the National Curriculum. As an antidote to this bile, Lester Holloway, former editor of The New Nation, wrote a comment piece for The Guardian.
The Seacole affair is an example of the commission and omission I have talked about. I hope you will sign the online petition demanding that Gove reverses his plan.
Women and Black people are just not on the news radar unless, in the case of the latter, it is for a rubbishing by reporters and politicians of our young people running wild as rioters in Tottenham and elsewhere in the summer of 2011, without a care for the guilty journalists reporting the poverty, racism, unemployment and police brutality causes of such strife. News from a Black perspective is left to The Voice, hardcopy and online, the single remaining Black weekly newspaper.
Before, there used to be The Caribbean Times, Westindian World, African Times, New Nation and The Journal. Up until June last year I was Consulting Editor of The Voice and redesigned it. Take a look at it online. It’s great copy. Also, take a look at my online citizen journalism website, The-Latest.Com.
After more than two decades on local and national newspapers and in broadcasting, I set it up in 2006, precisely because I was cheesed off with what big media had to offer and decided to do something about getting alternative voices heard. I had campaigned for this as a member of the Black Media Workers Association, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and Chair of the National Union of Journalists Black Members Council.
The-Latest held a conference in 2011, titled Media and the Riots. It brought young people from riot-affected areas face to face with journalists and the exchange was frank, robust and very revealing.
Academic Dr Leah Bassel wrote a brilliant conference report that has attracted wide publicity. The Leveson inquiry into press standards accepted it as evidence. It provides a toolkit for both the community and journalists to work together for better reporting in the future. This year, in partnership with the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust, The-Latest is doing an essay competition for young people, a conference titled “After Leveson, is citizen journalism the answer?” and a Street Photographer of the Year competition. The-Latest is currently completing the youth-led Divided by race, united in war and peace film and photography project, about Black and white Second World War veterans, that will soon feature on this website
On a historical note, before we first got Black MPs in 1987 following a campaign by the Labour Party Black Sections, of which I was once the leader, the red top tabloids were routinely racist. Teacher and radical writer Chris Searle wrote a pamphlet at the time titled “Your Daily Dose: Racism and The Sun”.
Interestingly, a red top obsession of the time was the so-called “loony left”. This was the term the papers used for what they described as politically correct left-wingers who ran town halls – mainly in London. For example, The Sun accused Haringey Council of banning the use by its refuse collectors of black bin liners because, the paper claimed, Black people might consider them racist. But the story was made up. Completely untrue. Just like the Sun story of February 26 1987, Searle wrote about, headlined: “Freebie trip for blacks, but white kids must pay”. It was about a school trip abroad for Brent, north London, students.
Young people involved put a letter in the Caribbean Times to refute the report. Such stories, to my mind, have been an incitement to racial hatred and therefore a criminal offence under the 1986 public order Act. But, of course, the Attorney General, who is responsible for such matters, has done nothing about them. Women and Black people are neither on the positive agenda of the news media or our political rulers.
Two Black women, Linda Bellos and Merle Amory, leaders of Lambeth and Brent, respectively, bore the brunt of the hysterical “loony left” red top attacks, about which I have spoken. Migrants allegedly swamping the country, becoming social security scroungers and Black muggers made front page news in tabloids, including The Daily Star and Daily Express too. Now Eastern Europeans and Muslims are the targets.
For things to have really changed from the bad old days of the 1980s, women and Black people need a new settlement with the press. But this equal opportunities dimension is absent from Leveson’s recommendations, chiefly because the government did not put it within the good Lord’s remit. Prime minister David Cameron and his Coalition gang have rolled back multiculturalism and equal opportunities. Remember, one of Cameron’s first speeches was an Islamophobic attack on multiculturalism delivered in Munich, Germany, with his ally Chancellor Angela Merkel at his side.
And, more recently, the prime minister announced that government departments would no longer have to do equality impact assessments when proposing policies – allegedly to cut red tape and costs. No newspaper, not even The Guardian or Labour-supporting Daily Mirror, has taken up the cudgels on our behalf over this.
Women and Black people must fight for their rights themselves through the exciting new means that have opened up for them in the social media and citizen journalism that the Murdoch-type corporate media cannot control.
* Marc Wadsworth is the editor of The-Latest.Com and has a masters degree, with distinction, in Contemporary British History, from King's College, London.