Layla-Roxanne Hill was invited by NUJ Scotland to write an article about women and the media as part of the Stronger Voice for Women in the Media project. The aim of the project is to improve representation of women working in the media and how women are represented by the media.
She is a campaigner, writer and speaker with a focus on race, gender and the Black Scottish experience. In addition, she sits on the STUC Black Workers’ Committee, the National Union of Journalists’ Black Members’ Council and Scottish Executive Council as Black Members’ Representative. She is also a co-founder of @YonAfro, a collective of women of colour aiming to enhance representation, improve visibility and provide support of women of colour in Scotland.
Despite the work seemingly being done to address the (mis)representation of Black British women, we are still being treated unfairly throughout the media landscape. Our stories, experiences and issues are continuously being told through a white lens which often fails to provide an accurate representation, or lend its focus to race.
One look at how black entertainers, victims or alleged criminals are covered by the majority of media outlets, makes it clear we are still seen and discussed as foreign entities; and that is if we make it into the pages at all. Positive role models are often depicted by the media as ‘black music’ stars, actors in ‘black roles’ or sportspeople and therefore implies limited life choices. Where are the 55 black female University professors who teach in the UK?
Stories like those of Doniele, a black woman from St Vincent and the Grenadines – a Commonwealth country – who was detained in Yarl’s Wood Centre after living in the UK for 18 years, failed to make the headlines or receive any column inches, despite winning an award after it appeared online.
Perhaps there would be better balance in media story telling if there were black people in those offices? Recent research suggests that won’t be happening in a meaningful way anytime soon. Research undertaken by City University London had 700 responses from a sample that is broadly representative of the total population of UK working across broadcast, print and digital in local, regional and national news organisations in the UK. It discovered that British journalism is 94% white and 55% male.
Talented black female writers exist in the UK, who can write about more than just race. In light of those statistics, Samantha Asumadu created Media Diversified, with the aim to highlight the lack of representation in the media and provide a space for writers of colour to publish their work. The writers for Media Diversified do not focus solely on race, book reviews, economic analyses and political commentary provide much of the content, as well as support to others already working in the industry. More recently, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff was presented with the Georgina Henry Award at the Press Awards on 15 March for gal-dem, a publication which covers the experiences of black and minority ethnic women in Britain.
Within current mainstream media structures, it is more important to go viral than tell impactful stories that truly reflect our society. Most media companies have made their money by helping advertisers, which are mostly white owned businesses, reach the typically white mainstream audience. This is why you are more likely to see content about cats than honest depictions of Black British women. Race related issues are often relegated to opinion pieces.
Chasing headlines and clicks is the result of a system that encourages media companies to prioritise going viral over telling stories of substance; a system that undervalues black women everywhere.
Rather than only being able to write about race in the mainstream media and often on a freelance basis, black women journalists, writers, podcasters, photo and videographers are being forced to seek alternatives and create spaces where they can do what they love with the satisfaction of black British women as their only goal – and get paid what they actually deserve.
We are seeing an increase of online spaces such as Empower, galdem and Media Diversified, all of which are online media created through a desire to have an authentic experience of black women.
In Scotland, where the population of black and minority ethnic people in the media is significantly lower than the rest of the UK, these spaces often provide an opportunity to have the Black Scottish experience seen and heard. However, as with offline spaces, online spaces come with a fear of safety, as a number of serious and concerning cases disclosed in part of a collaborative pilot by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the University of Strathclyde in May 2015 demonstrated. This particular study identified much of the abuse as political but there were also cases of sectarian, sexist, racist and homophobic abuse and more than 80% of those who responded stated they had not reported the abuse to police.
As black women, we are likely to receive abuse based on our ethnicity and gender. In February, Claire Heuchan, a PhD student at Stirling University, wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian in which she supported Sadiq Khan’s claims that there were parallels between Scottish nationalism and racist movements elsewhere in the world. Although Heuchan received considerable praise for her piece, this was overshadowed by many who disputed she was in fact Scottish and a comment on her blog calling her an African who had no right to discuss ethnic white Scottish affairs. Fearing over her physical safety, Heuchan deleted her Twitter account.
More needs to be done to protect women who voice an opinion online. Systematic racism, sexism and harassment online has a huge impact on women’s wellbeing and ability to do their job. Many freelancers use an online presence to gain employment, whilst most people in employment are expected to have some form of online presence. Let us not allow online spaces to become as unsafe, discriminatory and exclusionary as our offline spaces have become.
If you work in the media in Scotland, you can complete our survey here.