Six years ago TVC produced this film, were we asked people from Black and Asian backgrounds working in tv, to send us quotes that colleagues or bosses have said to them. In the hope this will give a powerful insight into attitudes in the industry and what it is like to be a person of colour working in TV.
It would seem half a decade on things have hardly changed….
Yesterday, a TV Exec asked me to write a few sentences about “what it’s like being black and working in TV” for a project they’re working on. It was difficult to sum this up in just a few sentences. Below is what I wrote. If you can relate, feel free to comment or share:
Being black and working in the TV industry means towing the line. Period.
It means being silent when you hear somebody making a racially insensitive joke for fear of being labelled the “angry black man or woman” or “difficult to work with” and missing out on further job opportunities.
It means being one of the only black people (if not the only black person) in a largely white office.
It means seeing a job advertisement you absolutely love and, before applying, checking the ‘Team’ or ‘About Us’ section of the production company website and deciding whether or not it’s worth applying because they have a staff of 20+ people and not a single one is BAME (…unless they work in finance.)
It means not having your CV considered if you have a traditionally “ethnic” sounding name. And if, by chance, you do get the job; it means people consistently mispronouncing your name, making fun of your name, demanding that they call you by a different name, nickname or the first letter of your name. (This also goes for many Asian colleagues. FYI: If you can pronounce Daenerys Targaryen, you can pronounce a traditionally African or Asian sounding name.)
It means being continuously referred to by the name of the only other black person in the office, regardless of how long you have been working at that company.
It means hearing something in the office that you know is racist, looking across the room at the only other black person in the office, staring each other in the eye and silently acknowledging that you both heard the same thing, that you both know it’s wrong but that you both feel like you can’t say anything and that you’re both fucking tired.
It means feeling an instant, intrinsic bond with other black people in the office because there are so few of you and you all have, to some degree, the same lived experiences when it comes to racism in the TV industry.
It means having to listen to people discuss diversity in hiring and diversity in casting as if it is a chore.
It means being called a “black bastard” or a “n***er” or whatever other offensive words you can think of, behind your back or to your face, and having others in the office or at the studio say nothing to defend you.
It means sitting in a start-up compliance meeting with approximately 70 staff (65 of whom are white) for a very well-known reality series and having the white compliance officer say the N-word over a dozen times in the space of an hour, as an “example” of what is unacceptable for the contributors to say.
It means watching this compliance officer’s actions embolden the white staffers in the room to, then, also say the N-word. It means being the minority in that room and feeling unimportant, uncomfortable, and unsafe. It means wanting to quit that job, even though it is your first production in a senior role. It means being afraid to report the incident for fear of losing your job before you’ve even begun.
It means being fortunate enough to work from home during a pandemic, while so many other people are out of work, and being distracted by the onslaught of online imagery of police brutality against black people and the opinions of non-black people who disregard your valid feelings/opinions about it.
It means being asked to write a few sentences to describe what it means to be black and working in the TV industry and being wholly unable to keep it brief. It means knowing I could give dozens of other examples of the negative aspects of working in TV as a black person.
It means knowing that non-black people will read this and that those who aren’t black but are BAME will be able to relate to a lot of it. It means knowing that most white people reading this will either be shocked that this is our lived reality, ashamed that they contributed to it or simply will not care because it does not affect them.
I’ve worked in TV for nearly 10 years and I’ve risen the ranks. Five years ago, hell, even two years ago – I may not have written this and posted it online. But I’m confident in my ability to do my job well and I’m confident that the bosses I’ve had over the past few years would hire me again. Therefore, I’m happy to use my privilege in this situation to share this for the black junior freelancers who feel they can’t speak about their experiences without repercussions.
By Richie West
Others are their experiences working in TV in the UK you can read their experiences here.
Let’s hope the renewed energy brings with it long overdue change!