Key moments from June’s TV Mindset debate on racism in television
The global television industry has been forced to confront systemic racism following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of American police officers earlier this year.
Money has been set aside to create more diverse content and commitments have been made to actively fight racism in the industry and beyond.
But the black and brown activists and workers in television campaigning for change were doing so long before the recent Black Lives Matter protests sparked by Floyd’s death.
A TV Mindset panel held last month platformed the voices of five of TV industry workers, allowing them to speak on experiences of racism and posit how meaningful change can occur.
Teeyana Aromi Freelancer and content creator
Nacheal Larelle Freelance producer
Elaine dela Cruz Co-founder, Project 23
Irshad Ashraf Producer / director
Chair: Adeel Amini – founder of the TV Mindset and freelance producer
Sign language interpretor: Sharan Thind
The state of diversity in television
Teeyana Armoi: I have reached a breaking point in this industry. I felt I was made to work ten times harder than everyone else, and nothing I did was ever good enough. At first, I tried not to take it personally and remain one step ahead, but that one step ahead started to become impossible in terms of my mental health.
When it came to promotions for roles that I was qualified to for, I felt like a lot of senior staff didn’t want to see me progress and when it came to guidance and mentorship, it wasn’t given.
Now with Covid-19, it feels like a never-ending struggle. Is this going to be the story of my life? Am I going to keep struggling? Am I going to have to face racism throughout my career?
Adeel Amini: Speaking from my experience as a brown-skinned, Muslim, gay man from the north of England, growing up meant waking up and thinking at some juncture that you don’t matter.
You wake up and you look at your phone and think, ‘Who hates me today; there’s Islamophobia and racism going on because of the colour of my skin or there is homophobia, even within my own community’.
Black and brown workers are walking into the industry with a lot of that trauma, even before we begin to deal with the systemic racism in the industry, we’re dealing with that and we’re tired.
What I said in my response to the Broadcast leader [from 5 June] is that being from an intersectional minority, falling into so many of those categories, our very existence is political. Just existing as a black or brown person is a political act.
Nachelle Larelle: I want to find a way to change the status quo in TV. That’s not because I feel obligated to or because I want to be the next Darcus Howe or MLK, but it’s because I genuinely believe that as a medium TV has the power to change.
Working in the TV industry as a black woman is pretty crap. I feel like I’m constantly hearing slurs, problematic accents and problematic ideas. There are many shows that I have worked on that I look back on and don’t understand how they got made.
I also feel like I am constantly under a microscope – I have to dress a certain way and not slip up. I don’t want to be the black girl who walks in late or wears a tracksuit.
The idea has been drilled into me that as a black person you have to work ten times harder. Straight away, you have this fear of failure. I understand why the likes of my parents felt like that was necessary – it was preparation for life in ‘racist Britain’.
In TV, people need to start with understanding and putting themselves in [other people’s] shoes. Don’t just denounce people’s experience and say that something didn’t happen.
Irshad Ashraf: I started in TV in the 90s – I’ve been directing and producing for years now. In that time I’ve seen diversity plummet and what I am finding now in the later stages of my career is that the people I am working with now are increasingly privileged, sheltered and narrow minded.
Personally, I think it comes from the changes at the third channel. When I started I didn’t need to leave my hometown to get started and the reason for that was because before the third channel became ITV, regions commissioned, produced and broadcasted their own stuff.
Regional voices and a level of diversity was normal and standard. So, when ITV was allowed to buy up the licences, those diverse voices were extinguished because of the rule changes. One voice – privileged home counties – started to dominate. I’m sick to death of hearing those voices. Not only do they tell their own stories, they tell everyone else’s stories on their behalf.
TA: I was once put into a meeting room with some very big figures. It was at the start of their show, and I realised I was only put into the room to show that they had a black girl working there. I had been really excited but realised that they didn’t want me to speak – they just made me transcribe.
“I’ve never ever felt valued by this industry. I’ve never wanted to say it was racism, but it is” – Teeyana Aromi
When one of the contributors later started talking to me, it made the producer really uncomfortable. He didn’t want my voice to be heard and told me that the only reason the contributor was talking to me was because he fancied me. It was unbelievable.
I could tell you 100 different stories where I was made to go to the toilet and cry. I’ve never ever felt valued by this industry. I’ve never wanted to say it was racism, but it is.
You treat me different because I don’t look like you, and you treat me different because I’m not from your background. There’s a lack of understanding, I feel like I’m always trying to adjust to white people and no one is every trying to understand me.
AA: It all comes down to mental health. I have gone through three suicide attempts, a drug addiction and a breakdown to get where I am today and that has been bloody difficult.
I am aware of my privilege in this situation as well, as I have been in TV for 11 years and I have essentially blended in as a white man. I’ve had to get people to accept me through being fucking great at my job, so that people don’t have any excuse.
I can’t afford to slip up and think that I’ve been hired to fill a quota, because that is how it feels sometimes, and you have to prove that to yourself and the world around you. It makes no sense because there are white people that are brought into jobs that have no qualifications whatsoever.
I’m aware that my voice is being heard right now because I have gamed that system. I’ve gone through the route of mental health – campaigning for it – because it is a ‘white’ issue and that’s why they engage with it.
“I can’t afford to slip up and think that I’ve been hired to fill a quota, because that is how it feels sometimes” - Adeel Amini
As a freelancer, I didn’t speak out about my mental health issues because you run the risk of losing a job or you have to be employable all the time.
Not only are you as a freelancer fighting those battles but on top of that you don’t want to get the reputation of being difficult and aggressive. I have worked with a black female producer that was just as talented as I was, was bringing up the same issues that I was, who got called aggressive.
Elaine de la Cruz: We can see people who are coming forward and telling our stories and there seems to be a lack of accountability. Accountability needs to come from the top. We are now living in a world where it is becoming hard not to accept that racism exists in our workplaces.
Unless you are shit hot on it already, you need to accept that racism exists. If you can accept that, you need to understand that the responsibility falls onto you – it doesn’t fall onto your black employees or people of colour that work for you.
To those in leadership roles, you need to educate yourself – it’s astounding that it needs to be said. Do not ask people of colour to educate and help you. You can pay other people to help you with that and you need to go out and read it yourself.
“Unless you are shit hot on it already, you need to accept that racism exists” – Elaine de la Cruz
Create safe spaces for people of colour, and if you’re invited to that space, listen. Support systems at work are important. The next thing to do after that is treat this like other strategy work. I’ve never worked on a strategy that hasn’t had KPIs and measures of success or a timeline.
What are your plans? Who is it for? When are you going to action it? How do you measure success? Those actions need to be published and shared with the people you work with. There is a lot more that you can do. You need to understand the truth around your business.
IA: Because of the dominance of privileged people, you’ve got to understand that when you were educated you were shown pictures of your own race. You’re bombarded with images of your own race as the fountain of everything good.
When it comes to commissioning you are brain washed; programmed not to see a person of colour on the same level as you. You’ve been taught to link capacity and talent to race.
Until you get [enough senior] black and Asian commissioners – anyone who is not privileged and from this ultra-niche section of society – that can only come from legislation. Trying to get television to regulate itself is like asking Parliament to self-regulate – it is never going to do it.
AA: There is no polite way of saying this but broadcasters and indies should be ashamed. Whenever a minority speaks up, whether it is about mental health or women’s issues or race, that is a failing on the part of someone with privilege who has failed to act.
You can’t just shake the top of the tree. It will take somebody with a lot of humility at the broadcasters to get down from the top and cut it down and realise that the tree is rotten at its core. Several new trees are needed, ones that offer equal opportunity to people.
“There is no polite way of saying this but broadcasters and indies should be ashamed” – Adeel Amini
However, right now because those issues don’t affect them, there is no empathy and there is no sign that this is an issue. Unfortunately, it is down to us to shake the tree. I want all broadcasters to come and talk to us and sit with us.
In terms of HR reporting, how can I explain to somebody that I have experienced a racist incident if they are all white, with no frame of reference.
The systems have failed, and broadcasters need to put their ego aside. There needs to be cross broadcaster co-operation and I am willing to facilitate that.
To watch the panel in full, click here
TV Mindset’s checklist for TV diversity allies
Staff and crew photo check
Imagine your staff and crew photo. In the current climate, would you be comfortable sharing it on social media? If not, why not? Look at the minorities in the picture. What level are they? If they’re mostly junior, why is that? If this troubles you, email the people involved.
The HR procedure check
Put yourself in the shoes of a minority making a HR complaint about racism and investigate your company’s HR procedures. What questions will they be asked? What questions will other parties be asked? What potentially demeaning stages will they have to go through in the hope someone will understand? Would you put yourself and your mental health through this? If not, email the person concerned.
Internal values check
Freelancers: do you feel threatened that more minorities may now be vying for jobs? Then ask yourself, do you only want equality if you stand to benefit from inequality first? Employers: talent entry is fine but what about talent retention? What is it about your values and culture that makes people leave?