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Women of Colour, the Media and (Mis)Representation

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The challenges and opportunities facing women of colour in the media was discussed at a panel event hosted by the National Union of Journalists Scottish office recently as part of Black History Month.

Panellists explored the gender disparities commonly inhibiting the visibility of black women in the British media as well as discussed ways to address them.

Chaired by Scottish Executive Council member Layla-Roxanne Hill, it was noteworthy that the panel was composed entirely of black women. Participants included Samantha Asumadu, director of Media Diversified, Briana Pegado, Founder and Director of the Edinburgh Student Arts Festival, and Francesca Sobande, a PhD student at the University of Dundee.

Asumadu set out the difficulties of finding black women on our screens by highlighting research carried out on their absence. She quoted London MP David Lammy who bemoaned that: “Black women have appeared [on BBCs Question Time] just 16 times in five years, and 12 of those appearances have been made by Diane Abbott. Another two appearances were by South African black female politicians during the Question Time South Africa special in 2013. Bonnie Greer has appeared twice. There are about 1 million black women in Britain.”

Sobande explained how the dearth of black women in the British media encouraged her to explore the topic within her own academic career. Her research explores the dynamic between mass-media institutions and identity construction and is built on her interests in interrelated cultural discourses concerning beauty, Blackness, femininity, fashion and fame.

Sobande explained how consumer culture theory, celebrity studies and intersectional Black feminist work all come together to determine society’s construction of black women.

She went on to decry the absence of black women not just on screen but also as a part of the production process. ‘Black women on British television are portrayed as throwaway characters,’ she said.

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Panellists (L-R): Francesca Sobande, Briana Pegado, Samantha Asumadu, Layla-Roxanne Hill

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Pegado was the first black women president of Edinburgh University Students Association and in her first year of university, she set up the University of Edinburgh’s first ever Black History Month as Vice Ethnic Minority Action Group Convener. She told the audience of the difficulties she faced in the role as a black American woman, highlighting a number of personal experiences where her actions were scrutinised to a level unknown to white male compatriots.

The event was attended by members of the public who embraced the opportunity to discuss the topic in a non -judgemental environment and welcomed the NUJs continued support and investment in Black History Month in Scotland. Special thanks were given to the NUJ Glasgow branch for supporting the event.

The Scottish office of the NUJ has hosted events for Black History Month for the past 5 years in collaboration with the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights.

 

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