By Laila Hodd
White privilege has been at the forefront of conversations about race since the killing of George Floyd in May. While many members of the white community have awoken to the realities of the privileges granted to them by the colour of their skin, there remains a frighteningly large amount of people who either refuse to accept or continue to deny the existence of racism and white privilege.
This is all too apparent in the British public’s reaction to Diversity’s tribute to George Floyd on Britain’s Got Talent. The powerful performance saw Ashley Banjo knelt on by a dancer dressed as a police officer, echoing the killing of George Floyd, and dancers perform with riot shields. The performance received 24,500 complaints, the second most in Ofcom history. The large majority of these complaints were not because the performance was triggering or difficult to watch, but rather because it portrayed the police in a negative light and brought politics ‘into our living rooms’. If this isn’t reflective of Britain’s current attitude towards racism, I don’t know what is. What it highlights is the fact that over 24,000 members of the British public are still prioritising their comfort over the need to start vital conversations about police brutality and racism.
Those that refuse to accept the existence of white privilege, I invite to ponder the fact that the loss of a Black man’s life is a human rights tragedy rather than a matter of politics. Why shouldn’t it be discussed? Because it compromises the British public’s Saturday night entertainment?
For the BAME community this is not a political, but rather a personal matter. While it may take a performance that directly confronts the issue for you to think about racism, members of the BAME community are inherently aware of race and racism in whatever they watch. You may be able to change channels and forget about racism, but this is our lived experience, something that we face every day. In this, the reality of white privilege is made clear – it is a privilege to remain ignorant to racism, both in the media and in everyday life. It is a privilege to complain that addressing issues surrounding Black Lives Matter is ‘too political’ for your Saturday night viewing.
The fact that the performance was deemed inappropriate family viewing by many of those who complained indicates another issue. It may be easier for parents to not have difficult conversations about the realities of racism with their children, but what is easier is not always right. White children ought to be confronted with the idea of their own privilege and made aware of the issues surrounding racism, just as Black children are forced to be – bringing these conversations ‘into our living rooms’ is exactly what we need to happen in order to start bringing about change.
Since the performance Ofcom have released a report concluding that ‘the programme did not raise issues which warranted investigation under the Broadcasting Code’ instead stating that it ‘was a call for social cohesion and unity’ – which indeed it was. The tone of the dance was in fact hopeful, suggesting that the hardships of 2020, with the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, are a turning point that will bring with it change and a brighter future. Jim Waterson, media editor of the Guardian, summarised the report in a tweet, writing that ‘Ofcom has just told the 24500 people who complained about a Black Lives Matter tribute to ‘piss off because there’s nothing to complain about’.
ITV have also voiced their support of the performance stating that they ‘stand with Diversity’. In addition to this they issued a page in most major UK newspapers featuring a picture of Ashely Banjo kneeling in support of Black Lives Matter with the caption – ‘We are changed by what we see, Just as we are changed when we are seen’. In this there comes hope for wider representation of the BAME community in the media. While you may deem a dance supporting the Black Lives Matter movement ‘too political’ for your Saturday night viewing, for the BAME community the lack of representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic stories in our media is in itself political. Everyone should be able to see a reflection of themselves in their TV scenes.
The reactions to Diversity’s performance teach us that Britain still has a long way to go in terms of its understanding of white privilege. In order for change to come about people must have difficult conversations about the realities of police brutality and racism. For this to happen the subject cannot be deemed ‘too political’ simply because it makes people feel uncomfortable or guilty.
If you are able to think about the realities of racism only when it is convenient to you, then you are coming from a place of privilege – these topics are not something that the BAME community has the privilege of switching on and off when it suits them, but rather something we carry with us day to day.