Blog Archive

Monday, 16 March 2015

A FUTURE WHERE ART AND CULTURE IS FOR EVERYONE; WRITTEN BY ZITA HOLBOURNE







Artwork by Zita Holbourne


Last year my organisation BARAC UK, was part of a campaign to Boycott the Human Zoo.  The Barbican, an internationally acclaimed arts institution in London were hosting an art exhibition  by Brett Bailey which re-enacted the human zoos of the Victorian age, where black people were placed in cages on display for visitors like animals in a zoo.  Brett Bailey’s exhibits used real black people in different states of undress, chained and caged.   The campaign to boycott the human zoo was joined by hundreds of thousands; we were anti-racist organisations, black arts organisations, community organisations, trade unions and a broad range of creatives including artists, writers, musicians, rappers, poets, graphic designers. 



The Barbican refused to engage with us, we had to lobby and send an open letter to the City of London Corporation who own the Barbican before they would meet with us.  They told us that Exhibit B was important work but could not or would not answer who it was important for; they arrogantly told us it was not racist, but completely rejected our view that it was, disregarding our lived experience of racism and of the legacy of historic racism.

The aim of the exhibition we were told was to confront white people and make them feel guilty about racism, but there was nothing about the resistance historic or current to racist atrocities by black people, nothing about our achievements and the black actors in the exhibits were not allowed to speak.

March to the Barbican; Boycott the Human Zoo

The Barbican confirmed that they had not carried out an equality impact assessment of the exhibition or considered the impact on black communities – let alone consulted them, that they had only one single black member of their Board and senior management team and that none of them had any equality expertise.  They told us that they did not know who the black community was and when they took the decision to close Exhibit B on the opening night after we protested outside they branded us extremist and threatening.   News reports described  us as ‘dreadlocked, placard and drum brandishing ‘ who were ‘censoring’ art.  Our protest was loud but peaceful, there were no arrests, no injuries and no damage and suddenly the very arts that the Barbican as a major arts organisation should be promoting – musical instruments, songs, home-made placards and art work were deemed threatening by them.



Our campaign was anti-racist, not anti-art.  Many of those involved in the campaign were involved in the arts and culture sector.  We found the human zoo to be racist, a horrific insult, offensive and shocking. However we never called on the artist to stop producing his art, but on the Barbican to not host it, to take into consideration those who were negatively impacted by the exhibition.  



 They kept telling us we should go and see it but we had already watched still images and a video walk through of all the exhibits and that was horrific enough for us. The £20 entry fee would prohibit the majority of poor black (and working class white) families from visiting the exhibition even if they wanted to.  There was no education programme and no voice for black people in the exhibition.



The Barbican is situated in the city of London surrounded by a multi-cultural social housing estate including black and minority ethnic communities yet they claimed to not know who the black communities were.  There lies the problem.  Many of the productions involving black artists put on by The Barbican are featuring International artists.



Young black artists trying to build a career are barred from such arts institutions because of the institutional racism that exists which is now amplified by austerity measures.   If their art is focused on race, culture and identity they are told to go away and do something more mainstream on one hand but then are expected to fulfil narrow, stereotypical roles on the other hand.  Black actors for example are cast either as unsavoury characters, criminals, drug dealers etc. or all singing and dancing, not as doctors or lawyers or other professionals.  It’s because of this that many British based actors and musicians have been forced to pursue their careers in the USA. 

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Idris Elba, Actor



As austerity bites deeper, black people are amongst the hardest hit, when you are struggling to make ends meet - as poverty deepens even working families are forced to go to food banks - there is no money left over to spend on tickets to go to the theatre, music concerts or exhibitions.



Funding cuts for the arts mean that free or subsidised events that may have been available before have drastically reduced. A government commissioned report last year suggested that by 2015 local authorities would have zero budgets for arts and culture.  This means that opportunities to hone talents for young creatives as well as opportunities to attend art events are not there for the poorest.  It also means that work through the arts to promote equality and diversity, celebrate multiculturalism and mark religious and cultural events has been cut. London mayor Boris Johnson cut funding for Black History Month from £132,000 to £10,000 in 2010, funding for Jewish events were halved and funding for St Patrick’s Day was also cut. There has also been a cut in central government funding of £80 million resulting in 58 arts organisations losing their funding.  Black history month has been reduced in many boroughs to a tokenistic acknowledgment and in one of London’s most multi-cultural boroughs it has been reduced to one week and been renamed as Newham Heritage Week – completing disregarding the aim and purpose of Black History Month when it was first established.  In 2012 a concerned citizen served a freedom of information request on Newham Council to ask them what events they had held to mark black history month.  Their response was that for the week allocated for their ‘Heritage Week’ they had a one page article in their journal and that libraries had posters and displays of books about black history.   No public events, no storytelling, performances, speakers, exhibitions.  You would be forgiven for missing black history month all together if you were a Newham resident. Unfortunately this is not an isolated example.


Black Women in Focus art exhibition


Workers at London’s iconic museums and galleries are so poorly paid that they cannot even afford to purchase lunch in the prestigious areas they work and struggle to meet transport costs to and from work. Members of the PCS union at the National Gallery have taken three sets of strike action with more planned this month to oppose planned privatisation.

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Rally and Strike by PCS at the National Gallery



Last weekend I spoke at a conference on the future of arts and culture organised by trade unions and arts organisations and two young black artists Antonietta Torsiello and Samia Malik spoke in workshops about their experiences challenging racism in the arts industry. The conference was aimed at exploring the impact of budget cuts on and calling for public investment in art and culture. For every £1 invested in arts and culture up to £6 is generated for the economy.  2.5 people are employed in the creative industries. So it’s good for the economy but it’s also good for the soul.  Art promotes well-being and builds links and understanding. It is a powerful tool in education and therapies for development and healing.  Yet it is vulnerable and marginalised communities that have the least access. 

Speakers at the Future of Arts and Culture Conference



We should be celebrating the multi talents we have across all communities, faiths, ages, races and classes. Art should not be a privilege for the wealthy.  The UK has benefitted socially and economically from the arts brought to the UK by migrants over many decades and the sons, daughters and grandchildren of those migrants should not now be prohibited from participating in and enjoying the arts because of institutional racism in the sector or cuts and austerity.  Economic recovery needs growth but the government have disregarded the economic benefit of the sector.

Front left: Samia Malik, Speaker, Front Right, Antonietta Torsiello, Speaker



There’s an urgent need for an alternative vision for arts and culture which is inclusive not exclusive, that is publicly funded and accessible for all. Art and culture is for everyone.  #showculturesomelove.

Video of artist, designer & activist Samia Malik speaking in a workshop at the Future of Arts and Culture conference.



Wednesday, 11 March 2015

A WHOLE GENERATION OF YOUNG BLACK PEOPLE REJECTED & FAILED



A WHOLE GENERATION OF YOUNG BLACK PEOPLE REJECTED IN THE LABOUR MARKET  & FAILED BY GOVERNMENT. 


By Zita Holbourne, National Co-Chair BARAC UK 












When Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK was formed in 2010 a primary focus for our campaign was the expected impact on young black and minority ethnic (BME) workers of austerity and cuts amplifying the discrimination towards them in the labour market that already existed.



Over the past five years the disproportionate impact of cuts on this group has been largely ignored or disregarded by government, politicians and media alongside the double impact on black and minority ethnic women and black workers generally.



When young black people are featured it is to demonise them and blame them rather than to look seriously at the crisis they face, which has included the scrapping of EMA, tripling of university fees, lack of work opportunities,  discrimination in the labour market and the increase in zero hour contracts and casual work as the only option when they do get a foot in the door, as well as the knock on impact of their families being  hit by poverty because of job cuts, increased pension contributions for public sector workers, pay freezes, low pay and discrimination at work.  There are over a million young people unemployed but one in two young BME people are without work.  But in addition to this, the failure to adhere to the McPherson recommendations arising out of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, means that institutional racism in the police forces still impacts on young black people.  They are racially profiled and targeted disproportionately in stop and searches, up to 33 times more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts.  They face racial and religious stereotyping and harassment in education, the workplace and wider society. 




Today the Labour Party has released a report based on official figures from the House of Commons, revealing that there are now 41000 16 to 24 year olds from black and minority ethnic communities long term unemployed – a 49% rise since 2010, with the number unemployed for more than a year having risen by 50% since the con-dem coalition.  A Labour Party spokesperson has declared his astonishment at the figures but the question is what is Labour doing and what commitment are they giving to address this horrendous situation? 


Equality Impact Assessments are treated largely as a tick box exercise.  When a  Judicial Review was taken by a union because redundancies impacted disproportionately on black (and disabled) staff a  judge ruled that a made up retrospective diversity impact assessment was suffice to demonstrate due  regard indicating that the courts have no real understanding or training on EIAs and the equality duties. When black workers or applicants do wish to pursue legal action the fees for Employment Tribunal prohibit austerity stricken would be claimants from lodging cases.



In 2010 BARAC served a Freedom of Information request on the Treasury asking them for an Equality Impact Assessment to demonstrate what consideration they had given to the impact on race of their proposed cuts.  Their response was to cite public interest immunity as a reason for not making the EIA public.



The cuts to the EHRC have meant that work on enforcement has reduced despite a damning report produced by the CRE just before they ceased to exist which demonstrated that the majority of public sector organisations were failing to comply with the equality duty.




In a speech to the CBI in November 2012 David Cameron said he was ‘calling time’ on equality impact assessments describing them as ‘bureaucratic nonsense’ and ‘tick box stuff’. He said they were unnecessary because there were enough ‘smart people in Whitehall’ who would think about equality when developing policy.



As a mother of a young black man I have witnessed first-hand the soul destroying attitude of employers towards young black people in the labour market and had to advise, campaign and represent some of those young black people in cases against educational institutions and workplaces / industries.



My son is in his final year of university but when he approaches employers in the industry he wants a career in and has studied for the past three years to work in he is largely ignored. Letters seeking not just paid work but internships, work experience, shadowing etc. are ignored and he does not even receive a response the vast majority of the time.  When he does it is to inform him that he must have experience in order to be successful in securing opportunities to gain experience. The whole point is that he needs the opportunities to gain experience to apply for jobs. One employer for a part time job he applied for working in a coffee shop told him that he wasn’t suitable even though he had recent experience in the catering industry, because he wasn’t experienced in making coffee. What happened to training people to do a job? How long would it take to train someone to make coffee?  The truth is that it has nothing to do with experience but an excuse to reject young black people by employers, many of whom have no regard for equality legislation or policies. 

 

 The experience of many young BME people trying to enter the labour market is that employers are not interested in giving them opportunities or investing in them for the future. Many public and voluntary sector employers are still cutting jobs as part of the con-dem coalition’s austerity measures and when young black people do get jobs they often experience a climate where institutional racism and harassment and bullying are allowed to thrive. Every day is a battle for survival; job satisfaction and security are alien concepts.  The jobs available are minimum wage, casual and temporary posts and mostly zero hour contracts.  This means that they can’t plan for the future, save, rent a home – let along think about buying one - and they don’t know if they will earn enough to survive from one week to the next. 






Cuts to the public and voluntary sector mean that the opportunities are no longer there for a new generation of black workers. There were over 37,000 less BME public sector workers in 2012 than 2010 with the biggest losses in the South East with 12,702 less BME workers. Of the 17,000 voluntary and community organizations working with minority ethnic communities in the UK, 53% had received funding from statutory sources and many of these organisations have been forced to close their doors because of funding cuts.  Forcing public sector workers to work longer in order to receive their pensions mean that young people will be practically middle aged before they event get a foot on the career ladder in the public sector.


 


Instead of blaming each other for this crisis political parties ought to be seriously looking at an urgent and robust action plan to address this horrendous discrimination and not just talking about it but putting their words into action.  Young black people don’t have a whole lifetime to waste in poverty and misery waiting for government to address this and should not have to live like third class citizens in the meantime – a whole generation being failed and rejected.


 


In the wake of a general election, black communities don’t need to hear from political candidates how terrible it all is – we know this – we are living and breathing it and as a parent it fills you with anger, dread and pain in equal measures to know that a worse future is being passed to your children than was passed to you by your parents who faced horrific racism.  What we need to hear and see is real and urgent commitment, effort and action to address this gross discrimination.  In the meantime we should consider boycotting those employers who discriminate against young BME people. 

 

 









Saturday, 14 February 2015

Wednesday, 11 February 2015