This morning Paul Hyu, Daniel York and myself as representative of The British East Asian Artists group attended the Ed Vaizey ongoing round table discussions about diversity (or the lack thereof) in the British media at BAFTA
I didn’t stand up and speak, I wasn’t quick enough on raising my hand. Also the points I wanted to raise had already been put to the floor. One of the more important points having been raised by Paul, about the meaning of British Asian Minority Ethnic. And could we please be assured that Asia did not just refer to the cricket playing Asian countries! That Asian would extend beyond the sub-continent.
But as is usual with me I started to re-think on this mornings proceedings as I rode the tube back towards London’s East End the very epitome and in some ways one of the cradles of British diversity throughout history.
The discussion touched on multiple factors, but my focus turned to something that Adrian Lester said. The truth of our history and that is where my focus has remained.
Yes monitoring is incredibly important and it’s a foundation to collecting robust factual data. Of course that’s only as good as the monitoring specificity and protocols set to ensure that the data collected is accurate and robust.
There is a disjunct between the reality of diverse modern Britain and the assumed idea or concept that some people have, of what diversity actually is. I don’t think that anyone in that room would have refuted or denied that diversity is real. Britain is a diverse nation. It is multicultural, poly ethnic, populated by people who have dual and multiple heritages.
But the diversity that is offered via poplar media is something else entirely. It isn’t one that truly reflects the reality of Britain today. It’s an assumed understanding that comes from a position of privilege. It is trying to be inclusive and diverse but without understanding the broad politics and historical context of diversity. I feel we’re being shown the diversity that they think, we the viewing public want to see. We’re being given the programs, the central characters, that it’s assumed we want to see. Diversity is being interpreted by people who have no real reference to the BAME world. Many of the commissioners, producers, top media influencers, casting directors and gatekeepers don’t need a racial or ethnic moniker to fit into society, to be given context or value. If Adrian Lester can stand up and feel dis-included, given the progress that British Black African and Caribbean artists have achieved, then spare a thought for us, the British East Asians.
We don’t even figure in the term BAME unless we remind people that Asia covers a huge continent, not just a sub-continent. I too would like to stand up and say it’s about truthful historical representation as well as the here and now.
We’re a century on since the Great War. We hearing about the Black-British during first world war. What of the Chinese and the Chinese Labour Corps? In Noyelles-sur-Mer, thirteen kilometres from Abbeville there is a cemetery. It houses 41 unknown graves of members of the Chinese Labours Corps who died on land and at sea for this country.
NOYELLES-SUR-MER CHINESE CEMETERY
The base camp for the Chinese Labours Corps was at Noyelles-Sur-Mer. By the time the Armistice came the corps numbers had reached 96,000. About 2,000 perished during the war. In Chinese inscribed around the entrance is the following (in rough translation) ‘This site commemorates the sacrifice paid by 1900 Chinese workers who lost their lives during the 1914-1918 war, these are my friends and colleagues whose merits are incomparable.’ The inscription was chosen by Shi Zhaoji, the then Chinese Ambassador to Great Britain at the time of The Great War.
Just one piece of British history that we don’t hear much about, if at all.
We need to redefine what is British. Only then will monitoring actually mean anything especially to us, The British East Asians. Otherwise in terms of fulfilling and aiding diversity, production company A could go off to the US and cast an Asian American in a British drama and still think that they are being diversity conscious and responsible. Surely any measures have to encourage, nurture and support British talent front and back of camera, on stage and off and not just the young and “emerging” but the mature and seasoned as well. Lets see real variety and diversity on our screens and stage. Otherwise, for the British East Asians, nothing will change and we’ll still be stuck seeing representations of ourselves as the perennial outsiders.
Don’t get me wrong what’s happening now is great, it’s also long overdue. But if we’re taking diversity then let’s ALL have the same understanding of what diversity is and who this includes. The British East Asians have for far too long been the poor country cousins left out in the cold. This time we need to be included we are after all part of modern British society.