People of Colour and the Creative Industries in Scotland: A Post-2020 Reflection


Since August 2020 Arusa Qureshi has been a Commissioning Editor for Bella Caledonia, you can read all of her articles here. As she explored the experiences of underrepresented voices in Scottish arts and culture she published a weekly playlist of new tracks by artists of colour [listen to them all here]. The full archive is on Spotify here.  Here she reflects on her own research, the prospects for post-covid recovery in the arts, and the challenges for representation, “diversity” and power relations in Scottish cultural institutions and forums. Her project ran for six months and followed a series of interviews with people across different arts genres. Each of the interviewees was asked the following question: What can be done to get more creatives of colour involved in the arts in Scotland in a way that is genuine and not tokenistic, with attention also given to sustained support?

For artists, performers and practitioners, 2020 will forever be remembered as a year of forced suspension; where the cultural landscape as we once knew it temporarily dissipated and where our creativity was challenged like never before. 2020 was the year of COVID, but for many, it was also a year for unprecedented global action and activism, largely in response to the murder of George Floyd and subsequent events surrounding Black Lives Matter. Discussions around diversity, anti-racism and equality in the arts have existed for decades and though there have been improvements in the areas of representation and inclusion, the conversations and the calls for advancement remain fervent and louder than ever. There is, however, a general feeling that something shifted in 2020, with both the huge impact of COVID and the power of the Black Lives Matter movement forcing those in the arts to truly contend with the extent of their often insular and exclusionary practices.

Organisations have made public statements and promises of better access and opportunities for people of colour en masse, but the large-scale redundancies and budget cuts in the arts and media that have come with the pandemic have only proven how fragile our cultural ecosystem really is. How can we work on and progress diversity in arts and culture if only the privileged few remain? Organisations and key players may be open to discussions relating to funding, access and inclusivity as a result of our collective action and pressure but where is their action? If we all finally recognise that there is space for analysis and scrutiny on whose stories are being told and why, what are the genuine next steps?

These are some of the questions that have remained at the core of my thinking during the course of my Many Voices project for Bella Caledonia. My initial intention was to explore and evaluate where we as people of colour in Scotland want to be in the future with regards to fostering underrepresented voices in our creative sector and in our media. But as the pandemic has raged on and the effects continue to scar the industry, it has become clear that we will need to work twice as hard to ensure that those voices aren’t lost forever and also, that when we finally can build back and restart, extra attention is given to those many pledges and commitments made by gatekeepers. It is predominantly the gatekeepers that need to be held to account so that those words do finally translate into real, quantifiable action.

In this report, I’ll delve a little into the importance of representation in the media, with reference to literature and theory, explore recent calls for diversity in the arts and identify recommendations through discussions that have been undertaken with people of colour leading the way in Scotland’s creative industries. The interviewees, Claricia Parinussa, Ica Headlam, Dijeet Kaur Bhachu, Joe McCann, Sekai Machache, Nyla Ahmad and Aarti Joshi, were asked about their experiences, struggles and overall feelings of the industry in which they operate. From this, a number of themes were distinguished which provide a useful insight into current positions and next steps.

Whose world? Whose reality? Whose truth?

Foucault labelled the relationship between power and knowledge as one of great importance. In his examination of human beings, the two cannot be separated as when one has power, one has knowledge and vice versa (1978). For Foucault, power and knowledge are connected to the process of ‘othering’ because when one group is classified as the Other, their weaknesses are accentuated for the benefit of the majority. This signifies a hierarchy, ensuring that the power remains where initially intended. Robert Ferguson, in his analysis of Foucault, argues that his theories of power and knowledge have been essential in the field of media and cultural studies, particularly in discussions of race (1998). As Ferguson asserts, “When one considers the numerous ways in which issues of ‘race’ have been defined, redefined, excluded, eliminated, exaggerated, underplayed or ignored in the media, it is very easy to hypothesise that the operation of power is a central feature of these phenomena” (1998, p.61).

Minority ethnic groups have a long history of under-representation by the media, as observed by numerous scholars (Ferguson, 1998; Ross, 2001; Fleras and Kunz, 2001; Bollinger and O’Neill, 2008; Hall, 2015). Ross, for example, hypothesises what exactly it means for minority ethnic communities to be consistently characterised by white professional elite operating from a position of domination, noting that “When we see a representation of ‘blackness’, it does not describe the actuality of being black but rather references a particular way of thinking about blackness” (2001, xi). The way in which minority ethnic communities are often depicted or described in the media can often be based on both inferential and overt racist premises which have real world consequences: “Work that I have undertaken with minority ethnic viewers makes very clear that many people believe that the portrayal of minority ethnic individuals and groups has an impact on the way in which white people deal with minority ethnic communities in real life” (Ross, 2001, xiii).

Organisations like Media Diversified, which operated until 2019, have actively attempted to diversify the UK’s media landscape by promoting the skills of writers of colour and challenging the “homogeneity of voices in UK news media, through addressing the under-representation of BAME communities.” Nevertheless, though progress has been made, many of the problems that exist with misrepresentation and racism in the media arise from the fact that there are still too few people of colour working within the industry that could fundamentally have the power to reduce harmful stereotypes. As Ross effectively summarises, “If the media…think of themselves as presenting a window on the world and reflecting reality, we have to ask, whose world? Whose reality? Whose truth?” (2001, p.14).

In Scotland, the Pass the Mic project, founded by Talat Yaqoob, looks to address this imbalance of voices in the media. Starting life as a directory of women of colour experts in Scotland, the project was awarded funding which has enabled training and development opportunities for women of colour, alongside paid commissions. In a relatively short space of time and through a series of partnerships, the project has showcased a range of writing and commentary from women of colour experts, some of which have never been given such a platform before. It’s an example of an initiative that has worked in its primary goal of diversifying the media landscape and continues to work, increasing the visibility of such voices in the media while also challenging the status quo.

COVID and the Creative Industries Today

Throughout 2020, calls for diversity in the creative industries arguably amped up as job losses and cuts loomed large due to the ongoing pandemic. Recent press, in fact, underlines both the vulnerabilities in different sectors in terms of retaining diverse voices and how little tolerance there is for the inadequacies of major organisations in this area. The Edinburgh International Festival, for example, was “ordered to ensure greater diversity in its programming by the Scottish Government in the wake of claims that women, disabled acts and artists of colour were overlooked in [the 2020] online programme.” With issues of access, travel and in many cases, time, no longer a hurdle in the curation of online programmes, festivals have little excuse when it comes to their efforts in the inclusion of voices of varying perspectives and backgrounds. As Kerel Cooper, Chief Marketing Officer at marketing platform LiveIntent and co-founder of Minority Report, says in an article published by FIPP: “Everyone is now faced with a true test to stop the talking and take action when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion…At this point diversity, equity and inclusion shouldn’t be this thing that is off in the corner of an organisation, it should be part of the very fabric and that all starts with leadership.”

The question of leadership is significant and one that will be discussed in greater detail further in this report. But it’s worth spotlighting the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Creative Diversity (APPG), co-chaired by former Royal Ballet principal dancer and peer Deborah Bull and Labour MP Chi Onwurah, who have undertaken a year-long research project studying how best to boost diversity and inclusion in the creative sector, especially in light of the pandemic. In an interview with Marie Claire, Bull noted “The creative industries have become a UK success story, contributing significantly to the UK economy and to our reputation around the world. Arts and culture are playing a crucial role in bringing communities together in these challenging times and will play a part in our nation’s recovery.”

Though the potential role the creative industries will play in terms of recovery post-COVID has been highlighted by many, the question of where vital funding has gone or is going remains pertinent. In The National, Cat Dunn writes: “Overall, funding seems to be targeted at those businesses that are deemed to have staff who might be losing a living, which is, of course, vitally important. However, in this rush to support, we should not and cannot forget the smaller, community-based venues which have supported artists, particularly those early in their careers.”

Abdul Shayek, the new leader of one of the UK’s leading British Asian arts organisations Tara Arts, echoed this in August 2020 when he told the Guardian: “We are a forest, and in a forest you have a variety of different-sized trees and we need to save as many of them as possible. You can’t just save the tallest trees and think that the rest of the forest will live on…I’d love to know what the ‘crown jewels’, whoever they are, feel about the issues. There is a fear that we could end up back where we were.”

This is further reinforced by Nathalie Olah in a Guardian comment piece from July 2020, in which she quotes Nicholas Okwulu of PemPeople and the Livesey Exchange as he discusses the government’s bailout: “We hear people saying BAME this, BAME that, but it’s a gesture to attract funding and support, while organisations like mine, that are really embedded in the community and a network of young people, are struggling to survive.” Olah continues, “As long as market imperatives prevent the arts and cultural sectors from reflecting the interests of the public in their commissioning and hiring practices, it can make no claim to be representing reality. To protect Britain’s cultural landscape, we need to reconsider what and who culture is for – and challenge the notion that it’s only valuable if it generates a profit.”

Olah’s arguments reiterate the question of who the creative industries fundamentally belong to and who can benefit, especially against the backdrop of the pandemic. Matt Griffiths, CEO of Youth Music, writes in the Independent about the need for those in the arts to try harder in the fight against systemic inequalities. He says; “The industry has a responsibility to regularly review and, where needed, overhaul recruitment policies to promote diversity and inclusion, reform entry-level roles to ensure meaningful experiences, end unpaid internships, become Living Wage Employers, and build long-term relationships with the music education sector and grassroots projects.”

In analysing some recent commentary on COVID and the creative industries, the general consensus seems to be one of caution; that without intervention, we risk losing some of our most promising voices alongside the work that has already been done to improve inclusivity and representation. Naresh Ramchandani, co-founder of Do The Green Thing and the current president of the creative educational charity, D&AD argues in the Independent that while job prospects may be limited right now because of both the pandemic and Brexit, the key for 2021 is for the creative industries to invest in the next generation. He says, “If jobs are hard to come by, then we can offer meaningful apprenticeships and internships; but we must make sure we openly recruit candidates so they don’t favour those with similar perspectives. We must also compensate people fairly so they don’t advantage those who can afford to be underpaid. Crucially, we must invest by creating pathways into the industry for young creative people of all identities.”

The Many Voices Q&As

“COVID has given us the chance for re-evaluation. A need for activism combined with a pandemic has meant a lot more people paying attention to what’s going on in the world and taking the time to do the research, do the homework, do the learning, and then come back out and put it to use.” DKB

For many of the people interviewed for this project, their involvement in the creative industries in Scotland not only contributes to the tackling of stereotypes, it also accentuates the potential that exists in a diversified industry in which a variety of voices are included and heard. Though diversity has become a buzzword of sorts in the wider industry, the efforts that have been made to overcome the mono-culture thus far have not been sufficient in provoking adequate change, which has been even more stark since the many pledges, promises and statements began to flood in.

As the interviews and research show, there are business and potential financial benefits to the diversification of the employment marketplace but people of colour need to feel supported and wanted by the industry before they can contribute to any real growth. The general viewpoint from the interviews was that while the effects of COVID have perhaps changed the willingness to have conversations in the wider creative industries, in Scotland there is more direct action needed, be that from the organisations or the individual creative practitioners themselves. Below are some points to consider, using comments and suggestions from the interviewees (identified by their initials).

[click on each image to go to each interview]

Interview with Ica Headlam


Many Voices Q&A with Dr Diljeet Kaur Bhachu


Many Voices Q&A: Joe McCann


Many Voices Q&A with Sekai Machache


Many Voices Q&A: Aarti Joshi

Acknowledging the people that came first

“We have to acknowledge those artists who are speaking out all the time and really challenging things like they are, not just speaking out on what happens so often and just chiming in online. But speaking to the ones at the top of hierarchies; holding those spaces, inviting people to hold themselves accountable, and taking time to support their peers, whilst making incredible work.” CP

It’s important to acknowledge the people that are and have been doing this work for some time. Diversity and representation are not new issues and should not be treated as such. There are people of colour in the creative industries in Scotland, for example, that have been speaking on this for decades and have been either ignored or silenced. And for this reason, it is understandable if they’re reluctant to keep having the same conversation, with no real promise of progress. It is not up to them to keep fighting, nor is it up to the new generation coming up to continue their fight. It requires a continual confrontation of the general sense of cultural amnesia in the industry from those at the top, who will let slip the work already undertaken unless properly held accountable. These voices have existed long before the buzzword that is diversity made its mark so when changes are made in whatever format, be it ideological or financial, those of us that benefit cannot forget the people that originated these conversations and pushed them ahead.

The importance of family influence

“I think that one of the reasons that people from diverse backgrounds face challenges in the arts is because there are ultimately cultural differences in their upbringing. Whilst my parents are super proud, they grew up in Kenya, they didn’t go to festivals. They didn’t go to gigs and it was the same with his parents, they never went to the theatre. That wasn’t a part of their cultural experience. So even though they’re really proud, they don’t really understand what we do and there’s a bit of a roadblock there.” AJ

A number of the individuals interviewed for this project discussed how their chosen careers were not necessarily what their families would have considered the standard path and even now, what they do in the creative industries remains a mystery. Family, culture and upbringing can play a massive role not only in what career path a young person might pursue, but also in whether they feel supported enough to actually investigate all the options available to them. If working in the music industry, for example, is not seen as the norm in a family environment or naturally given bad connotations, it’s up to the industry itself to not only reach out to the young people in question but also to their schools, parents and guardians to inform them about the range of opportunities out there and break down any taboos that may exist around certain roles. As one of the interviewees commented; “I think there can be a lack of acknowledgement and an understanding by higher education, by the music industry, creative industries, of that.” Simply put, if media or creative jobs are not even seen as a potential for young people of colour because of the lack of people like them that they see in those types of jobs, perhaps it’s up to the industry to work with schools and higher education to emphasise the importance of their inclusion, and to further emphasise that to parents as well. For many families, this can be new territory so support is needed much earlier than at college or university level, when it may be too late.

Undoing prior thinking

“Another thing I’ve found is that a black person in the industry can be quickly tagged as a troublemaker, especially if you’re not willing to sit at the back of the room and be quiet. You can’t get away with a lot of things that a white creative could. I’ve had a white director tell me there was nothing wrong with black face and minstrel shows. There had to be some kind of reckoning and now I feel that things are slowly getting better.” JM

While there has been a drive from some organisations to look back into their history and interrogate decisions made, a large part of moving forward in a positive way links back to this need to totally undo prior thinking. Having open discussions is one thing, but perhaps what is more significant is accepting and confronting the fact that certain decisions or actions may have their roots in conscious or unconscious bias. As one of the interviewees noted; “The action has to start from literally sitting with the fact that most people don’t understand how white supremacist thinking is ingrained in themselves and their actions until they undo it.” There will undoubtedly be some uncomfortable conversations to be had and some uneasy feelings around how we both individually and collectively self-examine our anti-racist practice but this is the pivotal first step. Looking at the opening quote as an example, there has to be a mutual effort to call out such thinking without fear, but also understand where it comes from in the first place and how best to erase it from within the industry.

Scotland’s understanding of its colonial history

“There are lots out there and people are speaking out but if we weren’t in a pandemic, I don’t know how much people would be listening. Before, I think people would be apprehensive, nervous and avoid discussing anything that’s related to inequalities in Scotland’s creative industries. There’s this thing I think with Scotland and the UK in general, of just not confronting the relationship with racism and all the atrocities and horrors of it as well in terms of transatlantic slavery. Scotland hasn’t fully come to terms with addressing its role in slavery, although work is being done by institutions like Glasgow University, who recognise that the fruits of their labour as a university came about on the back of slavery.” IH

Linked to the previous point, the creative industries in Scotland cannot ignore the legacy of colonialism in the very make-up of its institutions and structures. There remains a reluctance to acknowledge Scotland’s place within the slave trade and in doing so, there is an idealism when it comes to Scotland’s relationship with anti-racism. In her own Many Voices project, Anahit Behrooz notes; “There are traces of Scotland’s colonial legacy rooted throughout the country’s cultural landscape; any sincere attempt at decolonisation needs to recognise its capillary nature, and commit to an equally exhaustive appraisal of the structures this landscape is built on.” While there has been a move towards recognising the link between Scotland’s colonial history and the form that power structures take within our cultural landscape, there is still much to be done, as Anahit argues, to decolonise our institutions and engage meaningfully with our history as a nation.

People of colour in senior positions

“If you want to make lasting structural change in the industry, you need to make sure that those people in those superior positions are not only coming from one perspective…But recently, I’ve realised it’s not my job to fix the whole industry. It’s the industry’s job to fix itself and make itself more welcoming for people like me. We can’t just talk about representation, we need to talk about power, who has power in this industry and who makes the decisions.” NA

The notion of power is something that was discussed at great length during the Q&As and this is largely because of the recognition that real, tangible change starts with people that possess such power. It’s not as simple as providing a one-off opportunity to diversify a project or team, but rather ensuring that people of colour are in a position to rise through the ranks to be able to lead and make vital decisions when the time comes. One interviewee spoke of their manager who is able to make change because it’s supported and enabled by their seniority in that particular organisation. But without this individual such change might not have been as straightforward; “This is why change so often can’t happen because it’s blocked elsewhere, further up the hierarchy.”

All of the interviewees spoke of the need to query this idea of hierarchy in their industries, because doing so will reveal how futile such power structures can be. Undoing prior thinking, confronting decolonisation and being open to understanding the different paths that can be taken to reach a position will all contribute to shifting the way that certain power structures become ingrained. Because ultimately, people of colour can and should exist more visibly in senior positions in the creative industries, first of all to lead the change and action that is being promised by said institutions; secondly, to inspire and encourage others to follow suit; and finally, to reinforce the need for representation in a diverse and multicultural society.

What organisations should be focusing on

“I think representation is a massive, massive problem, in all areas of organisations. I always feel that the solutions are quite simple though. All they need to do is actively engage the communities that are under-represented, offer training, mentorship and opportunities to enter the sector and not just once. They need to make it a priority to change the demographics until a real shift happens. There needs to be consistency and dedication to changing the status quo.” SM

While more diversity is crucially needed at the top of organisations, there is also a great deal of work required to explore how individuals are placed at all levels of the industry. And this can only happen when larger organisations and institutions are willing to look at their own demographics, to do detailed analysis so that concrete data exists and can be used to push for change. There is much discussion relating to EDI in the creative industries and future goals in this area. But for many organisations, this will often take the form of an outward approach instead of looking within at their own history and stats on the inclusion of underrepresented groups. As one interviewee remarked, “I always wonder how they expect things to change within the wider sector if they haven’t even resolved the issue within their own working environment.”


The primary purpose of this report was to analyse the current position of underrepresented voices in our creative sector and in our media, and to look at how this could be improved upon post-pandemic. Each of the interviewees was asked the following question:

What can be done to get more creatives of colour involved in the arts in Scotland in a way that is genuine and not tokenistic, with attention also given to sustained support?

Below are some answers of note that highlight the central points of action that are needed in this area, also showing that there is a general sense of hope amongst creative practitioners for a more positive and inclusive future. I propose that the eight points listed below should be considered of utmost importance to both institutions and individuals when planning, organising or envisaging any real and significant change in our arts and media landscape.

1.    Education

“I think that education is key and school is the point where it starts. I don’t think that our careers are talked about as viable choices. So that’s number one. Number two, I think for a lot of Indian and Asian kids at least, the parents are a huge part of the process. So for example, if you’re trying to sell a ticket to a kid, you sell it to their parents. So in the same way, you need to get them on board first.” AJ

“On a local level, we can be doing a lot more to demystify what a career in music actually looks like across the board, whether it’s performance or behind the scenes or business or management. Not only for young people, but also for their families, parents and communities to understand what it is we actually do. I still have people calling my music a hobby. I think there’s a lot of education that needs to be done there.” DKB

Education on the variety of careers available in the arts and media should start as early as school, and should be highlighted as viable options for people of diverse backgrounds to explore. If such information is not readily available at school, the industry itself should invest in outreach, particularly to more disadvantaged groups and locations outwith major cities. Most large organisations and institutions will already host programmes or work with school groups but if that is the case, extra effort should be made to reach those individuals who may not naturally gravitate towards the creative industries. Remote work experience is accepted now more than ever before so any organisations that have pledged to improve their diversity and inclusion practices should consider approaching schools, colleges and universities to see what may be possible, both physically and virtually. Because in the end, a week of working closely with an organisation or a creative practitioner can be enough to cement the possibility of such a career for any young person.

2.    Mentorship

“I think having mentors or people who have more industry power than you, who want to see you succeed, is a real gift in this industry. I wish there were more mentoring opportunities for people from marginalised backgrounds, so they can have advocates who will vouch for them in rooms they may not have access to.” NA

Though early careers education can be crucial, mentorship is a tried and tested way for those with more experience to lift up others at the start of their career or those looking for new ways to progress. Mentorship can be useful at any age, but having someone to speak to and confide in that either shares your experiences or can understand your concerns and is willing to offer advice is invaluable. There are various ‘official’ mentoring programmes in the creative industries, but perhaps these could be amplified, with extra attention given to matching underrepresented voices with mentors that have a shared experience. In more unofficial channels, seeking out a mentor should be encouraged and recommended from the very start of someone’s career, especially from organisations and institutions, big and small, who may be in a position to make an introduction that could help facilitate this.

3.    Paying it forward

“I’m always a big believer in paying it forward. It’s about volunteering the time so for me, I’d contact local schools or community groups to say these are my skills, I’d like to volunteer a couple of hours each week and you don’t know what that can do. It could influence someone else to say I might want to go to college and actually study art or photography or something.” IH

It’s not always possible for individuals to lend their time, especially when they have little free time to begin with, but where the opportunity arises, it can be massively beneficial. People of colour working in the arts and media no doubt already volunteer their time to diversity panels, events and initiatives but where this could be even more useful is on a more local level and within communities. The notion of ‘paying it forward’ is something that absolutely everyone should take on board but perhaps more so when considering underrepresented voices and when looking at more rural or remote communities.

4.    Flexibility

“But a lot of opportunities aren’t so flexible. Sometimes it’s either full time or nothing. So it’s about people who are offering opportunities being a bit more flexible with working. We’ve just spent most of the year working from home, whereas people before would say that would be an issue. And now it’s not. So if we can do that, then what else are you able to work with?” CP

“Opportunities that did not exist even six or seven months ago are now out there and available. The question that needs to be asked is will those opportunities still be there a year from now, two years from now, in a decade’s time? I like to think they will be. I do not feel that this is just a box ticking exercise. The industry appears committed to change.” JM

Every industry in the world has been forced to add some level of flexibility to their working life over the past year, but in many instances, this was formerly always seen as an impossible adjustment. But after working from home for almost a year, completely limiting travel and many companies even looking at restricting time in the office overall, we now know what can be done with technology as an aid. This was always doable but the pandemic has just underlined that it is far more accepted, for example, to not travel hours for a meeting or to live in a different part of the country to your colleagues. We should firmly hold on to this flexibility with working life and opportunities because it opens the door to a whole range of new voices that perhaps couldn’t apply or get involved due to issues relating to access. If all organisations were able to provide an option for remote working with occasional face-to-face contact in the majority of new roles, the applicant pool would naturally expand beyond the predicted candidates. Arts and media jobs would not be restricted to only city-based applicants or those with the financial means to travel everyday. If we are already in a position of concern regarding who will be left in the creative industries post-COVID, flexibility should remain at the top of the agenda for recovery.

5.    Anti-racism and care

“If the infrastructures are really improved in terms of independence and sustained support, then step one is cultivating anti-racist practice. And I mean invest in time, resources, effort, commitment, energy. Consider really carefully the power structures at play in every invitation that’s made, in every opportunity that’s created.” CP

“There needs to be scaffolding, there needs to be a ladder for these people to go up…I want people to be happy in this industry. I want people to embed equalities practice but I also want them to embed joy into what they’re offering people. Let people do things that they love. Let people do the things that they care about, and they’ll keep coming back and enjoy it.” NA

For anyone looking to seriously cultivate anti-racist practice in their industry or organisation, attention needs to be given to holistic care as part of that practice. It’s not good enough to bring someone into the fold if their physical, emotional and social care is not seen as a priority, and this is especially true for individuals of underrepresented backgrounds, who may have to deal with being the only person of colour in a room at any given time. These spaces have to be safe, but also non-intimidating or exclusionary, which they so often are, resulting in an understandable lack of trust and desire to return. One way that organisations can approach holistic care is by ensuring that there is genuine freedom, first of all, to discuss anti-racism without any kind of consequence. And secondly, that unconscious bias, discrimination and hostile environments are both called out and dealt with swiftly, without victim-blaming or any problematic discourse.

6.    Stepping aside and making commitments

“But there’s got to be a bit of stepping aside and actually recognising that and it’s going to take a lot emotionally and mentally to say, hey, my presence here is probably a part of the problem.” IH

“From a writer’s perspective, theatres should introduce a bi-yearly submissions window exclusively for artists of colour. They should commit to stage at least three to five of these submissions every year. Hopefully we will then get to the point where a “black” play is not seen as such an anomaly but an everyday part of Scottish theatre.” JM

“For organisations, if you don’t have the reach and if you’re working with a practitioner, curator, who’s Black or POC, let them do their thing. Just support them to do what they need to do. Do what they tell you they need, and notice if your instinct is to hover around, step in, micromanage or any of those behaviours which indicate that the exchange is not meaningful.” CP

As previously stated, there have been numerous commitments made by organisations and institutions in Scotland over the past year, some of which relate directly to anti-racist practice or initiatives designed to encourage inclusivity in the industry. But what has largely been missing from this discourse is the acknowledgment that structures can and should change, with those in positions of power being open about their willingness to give up some or all of their space for the benefit of underrepresented voices. This is not a case of asking someone to quit their role or give up their hard work in an industry, rather it’s about finding ways to spread the elements of power beyond the select few. In an organisation, it could be looking at board succession and how best to diversify board positions or taking a chance on a less well-known curator for a festival or even commissioning for a project with underrepresented artists specifically in mind. For those organisations that haven’t ever done this, it may seem forced at first but the point is to normalise looking beyond your immediate circle and to normalise what we consider ‘different’ or unorthodox in the arts to the point that making decisions without any of this in mind is seen as a deviation.

7.    Retention and room to move

“We need to create pathways and we need to change the infrastructure from the bottom up. Personally, I’d like to see every company have aims and objectives by 2022 in terms of how they are actually going to engage diverse talent. So for example with things like internships and initiatives that can demystify it, because I do think people have this view of the industry as unreachable. But really, it’s still just a bunch of people doing jobs. Anyone should be able to do it.” AJ

“If we’re going to do diversity schemes, where people are coming in at a low level, and they have no space to move in your organisation and once the contract is finished, that’s it, what organisational or structural change will that actually make? There needs to be a commitment from the industry, ensuring that the environments that they’re bringing these people into are pleasant and good environments, where they’re not going to experience daily microaggressions.” NA

Most people that are new to an industry or organisation will have certain goals in mind relating to their career progression, be it moving up the ladder or having more responsibility within a team. Many new funds that have opened for projects within the creative sector, such as Youth Music’s Incubator Fund, are now actively looking for applicants to detail how they’re approaching job retention and support beyond any initial opportunity. While this is heartening, it’s still fair to say that this is not a practice that is widely adopted across the creative industries. If people are being brought into a role or industry where they are the sole person of colour, for example, attention should be given to their care and safety, but also to whether they have space to grow in that organisation and if it’s a short-term opportunity, how they can continue to be supported. Bringing in diverse candidates is not a solution to the issue of representation if that support only lasts for a very limited amount of time, and organisations or institutions should not be in the mindset that their diversity and inclusion work is done just because they have taken someone on. They must be open and willing to seriously look at ways that person can progress, or if the opportunity is an internship, placement or short-term contract, how they can continue to navigate the industry once they have moved on. To give an example, a journalist that is hired by a media company who is specifically looking for diverse and underrepresented candidates for a two-month project should be hired on the basis that they will be given additional assistance beyond those two months. That company should not treat their hiring as a box ticking exercise, whereby they’ve shown that they’re meeting their EDI goals and thus don’t need to do anything further. Underrepresented voices and diverse candidates that are entering the creative industries need to be encouraged and backed by those bringing them in.

8.    Community and space

“A dream of mine would be to actually just create a space or multiple spaces for training and for mentorship that literally help to put people on their chosen path. Because in these institutions, like the art schools, these young people of colour are going in there and they’re being fed to the wolves. They don’t know necessarily what is going to happen to them once they walk into these spaces, whether it’s the art school or the conservatoire and they’re doing a hell of a great job of tackling that.” SM

A common hope that many creative practitioners in Scotland have for the sector beyond COVID relates to their desire for collaboration, more joined-up thinking and greater discourse. But this is only possible with the existence of safe spaces that allow for any of this to happen in the first place. Now, perhaps more than ever, is when we need to invest in more grassroots spaces in the arts, both physical and virtual, that have the primary purpose of providing training, mentorship, moral support and collaborative opportunities for people of colour. Of course, such spaces already exist and have done for many years but we should consider the importance and potential power of having spaces in every facet of the creative industries and how this could impact the overall inclusion of underrepresented voices. Seeing yourself represented in the workforce of an industry is essential, but so is being able to openly share concerns, doubts or advice with people that share or understand your experiences. In the words of one of the interviewees; “feeling part of a collective, a community, has never felt so important.”

These comments and suggestions may seen obvious to some or may have already been widely acknowledged in their practice by others, but until legitimate and palpable change is seen in the landscape of our arts, culture and media, they bear repeating. It is not solely the responsibility of people of colour to ask for and demand a seat at the table, but also that of the gatekeepers, leaders and decision-makers to make space, be vocal about wanting change and accept that much work is required post-pandemic to ensure that the creative industries recover in a healthy and beneficial manner for all involved.




Works Cited

Bollinger, L. and O’Neill, C. (2008). Women in Media Careers. Lanham: University Press of America.

Ferguson, R. (1998). Representing ‘Race’. London: Arnold.

Fleras, A. and Kunz, J. (2001). Media and Minorities. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.

Foucault, M. (1978). The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon Books.

Hall, S. (2015). The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media. In: G. Dines and J. Humez, ed., Gender, Race, and Class in Media, 4th ed. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, pp.104-108.

Ross, K. ed., (2001). Black Marks: Minority Ethnic Audiences and Media. 1st ed. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Comments (20)

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  1. Pub Bore says:

    Remember that art isn’t its social institutions! While you might find yourself excluded from or underrepresented within those institutions, this doesn’t preclude you from making art. To make art all you need is some material you can transform into some kind of expression of your present life-experience.

    Indeed, far from precluding it, exclusion can be a rich source of art. Where would art be without its ‘outliers’, those who aren’t constrained by the expectations and discipline of its institutions? All true creatives are outliers.

    If you’re excluded from or underrepresented within the arts sector or culture industry, it’s because your art is transgressive, it doesn’t conform to the standards or expectations of the institution. This non-standardisation is surely a good thing from a creative point of view; it makes your art less ‘commensurable’, more authentically yours.

  2. Axel P Kulit says:

    “Foucault labelled the relationship between power and knowledge as one of great importance. In his examination of human beings, the two cannot be separated as when one has power, one has knowledge and vice versa (1978).”

    Foucault was wrong here. In the UK those with power lack knowledge, sometimes wilfully (“tired of experts”), and those with knowledge almost exclusively lack power. When someone with knowledge also has power they tend to be called technocrats.

    1. Pub Bore says:

      Foucault was, like everyone else, undoubtedly wrong, but not for the reason you adduce. For Foucault, there’s no ‘relationship’ as such between power and knowledge; they’re identical.

      Outside of melodrama, power isn’t some special instrument of external coercion that’s wielded through ‘episodic’ or ‘sovereign’ acts of domination by evil individuals. Rather, it’s a dispersed and pervasive feature of society generally. It’s what Foucault calls ‘the regime of truth’ that colonises our discourse and pervades our relationships. It’s nothing other than our accepted forms of knowledge.

      These ‘regimes of truth’ that constitute knowledge/power are reinforced and redefined constantly through the matrices of discipline and punishment that constitute our education systems, our peer groups, our political and economic ideologies, our scientific discourse, and our social institutions generally. In this sense, the ‘struggle for truth’ is not a struggle for some absolute truth that can be discovered, accepted, and applied to our behaviour (including our cognitive behaviour – i.e. our beliefs), but a struggle over the rules according to which the ‘true’ and the ‘false’ are to be distinguished in matters of behaviour and belief and to which our behaviour and beliefs ought to conform. It’s through our colonisation by a truth regime that we learn to discipline ourselves and behave truly (in ‘good’ ways) rather than deviantly (in ‘bad’ ways) as per that regime-cum-knowledge-cum-power.

      In shifting attention away from the ‘sovereign’ and ‘episodic’ exercise of power, Foucault enabled us to see how power and dependency operate autonomously and impersonally (that is, ‘structurally’) in systems of discipline and punishment such as our prisons, schools, mental hospitals, and other humane institutions of the welfare state. These systems don’t require force or violence, but only our complicity in the ‘regime of truth’ to which we discipline our own behaviour through self-monitoring and assessment. This is precisely what comprised power in both Jeremy Bentham’s model prison and Robert Owen’s model village: not the ‘might’ any person or persons, but the system itself; the ‘discursive practice’ or body of knowledge that defined what’s normal, acceptable, deviant, etc. in their respective societies.

      Foucault is one of the few writers on power who recognise that power (as knowledge) isn’t just a negative, coercive, or repressive thing that forces us to do things against our will; it’s also the thing that constructs our aspirations, our ‘selves’, and our will. In Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison, he writes:

      “We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals’. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production.”

      Perhaps the key point about Foucault’s approach to power is that ‘the struggle for truth’ transcends the old state-centric politics of modernity and has become in the postmodern era an everyday, socialised, and embodied struggle of rival truth regimes around matters of what constitutes ‘normality’ and ‘deviance’ in our behaviours and beliefs; that is, around matters of age, colour, disability, gender, religion, sexuality, etc.

      And perhaps another key point is that this is why state-centric political revolutions invariably fail: radical change in politics requires deeper structural changes that are blindly evolutionary rather than consciously engineerable.

      That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s little scope for practical action. It only means that the task of political activism in postmodern society is to unmask and challenge the socialised norms and constraints that constitute the prevailing truth regime or knowledge and to present alternative ‘framings’. This is the work of ‘decolonisation’.

      Revolution isn’t a matter of seeking some ‘absolute truth’ and then using the levers of government to impose that socially produced power on society as a whole; rather, it’s a matter “of detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony, social, economic, and cultural, within which it operates at the present time [through evading, subverting, or contesting those forms].” (Foucault, Power/Knowledge: selected interviews and other writings, 1972-77).

  3. MacNaughton says:

    Thanks for this great series of articles and interviews, Arusa, and for introducing us to these (for me) new voices from the BAME communities of Scotland. It’s been a real eye-opener and I really hope Bella, who deserves great credit for this initiative too of course, can build upon it.

    The vagaries of funding being an eternal issue in the arts – don’t hold your breath and bank on anything changing – all I would say is that I hope BAME artists make political art as much as possible.

    I hope they fight to make the voices of the historically oppressed heard in Scotland. I hope they do their bit to draw attention to the Scottish elite’s role in the slave trade, whose invariably anglicized descendants still hold vast swathes of land in Scotland in perpetual ownership no matter the unethical provenance of their wealth.

    I hope too that BAME artists speak up for the global South against the global North. It seems to me that the South – Africa, Latin America, parts of Asia – is most likely where the most interesting artists of our time are likely to come from. In Adam Curtis’ recent documentary series CAN’T GET YOU OUT OF MY HEAD, the global South is completely and entirely ignored over about 9 or 10 hours of film. Not one mention…The idea that some of the solutions to our problems in the North might lie in the South doesn’t even enter into consideration….

    You are right that racism in Scotland is too often brushed under the carpet. Scottish society is just as susceptible to racism as almost any other society. On the other hand, there is a feeling of being on the periphery for many white Scots, the feeling of being in some ways being a lesser part of some other country’s project..

    This leads to a feeling of alienation and estrangement from the dominant narrative which may be in some cases grounds for something like a shared feeling I suspect. Or at least I hope so. Then there are those of us who have Irish or Highland backgrounds and have always looked at the Union Jack with deep distrust (is a non racist country possible under that flag? I ask the question in all seriousness. I really don’t believe it is.)

    I would like to think that anti-racism, black lives matter, and the campaign to end the Union of 1707, which was the first and most essential cornerstone of the British Empire, its sin qua non, can see us moving forward together to build a new Scotland with racial equality at its heart…

    1. Thanks MacNaughton – while Arusa is the first of the cohort of Commissioning Editors – she isn’t the last. In fact one of her colleagues is just getting started (tomorrow). So we are hoping to build on Arusa’s great work and see her fellow editors deliver fresh perspectives in the coming months. It’s not been easy launching a project like this in the pandemic with all of the restrictions that has meant, but positive (or critical) feedback is greatly appreciated.

      1. MacNaughton says:

        Great to hear it and well done again, Bella. Much needed..

  4. John Learmonth says:

    The most ‘underepresented’ group in the ‘arts’ (whatever is meant by the term…what is ‘art’?)are people from white working class backgrounds. Not just the arts though, this ‘group’ (40% of the Scottish population) are more likely to be unemployed, die earlier, more likely to be drug/alcohol dependent, live in poor housing and pass on their ‘attributes’ to their children. But who cares the ‘progressive’ left long ago kept caring about these people. Why?
    In the meantime lets have more articles from well to do ‘BAME’ people telling us how ‘oppressed’ they are.

    1. MacNaughton says:

      You’re a racist and of course a Brexiter…
      Why come on this page and make such an obnoxious comment? Why not go elsewhere?
      People of Colour are a minority in Scotland.
      Racial minorities are discriminated against in all kinds of ways in UK society, as the Covid unemployment just showed us yet again.
      The arts is just one of them.
      This is a direct legacy of British colonialism, as is Britain’s privileged position in the world as a former colonial power…
      Please, please, please go elsewhere…there are lots of racist websites where you will be welcomed, but not on Bella Caledonia.

      1. John Learmonth says:

        Class not ethnicity/race is the main determinant of anybodies life chances and its not ‘rascist’ to point this out….

        1. Pub Bore says:

          It’s true that, according to Weberian theory, Lebenschancen are positively correlated with one’s socioeconomic status (‘class’). What this theory doesn’t take into account, however, is the role that perceived identity (‘race’, ‘gender’, ‘sexuality’, ‘age’, etc.) plays in the ascription of socioeconomic status. By all accounts, the statistical evidence seems to indicate that people of colour, women, gay people, older people, disabled people, and young people generally enjoy lower socioeconomic status – and, therefore, poorer opportunities – than their white, middle-aged, heterosexual, male contemporaries generally do.

    2. MacNaughton says:

      In case of doubt, the TUC (Trades Union Congress) which represents working class people up and down the UK reported just last week that there is structural racism in the UK jobs market:

      So, as ever, you are talking total bollocks and are simply a reactionary old racist…

      1. florian albert says:

        It is very doubtful that the TUC can claim to represent the working class any longer. Fifty years ago, perhaps it could. The decline in membership – particularly among private sector workers – has marginalized it. Who could name the TUC leader today ?

        There is a real problem with class politics being relegated in importance in comparison with identity politics. The left in Scotland is less important than at any time in the last 80 years. Alienation from politics is greatest amongst the working class. So far, this has not led to a growth in support for what might be called the radical right. It would be a mistake to assume that Scotland is entirely different from the areas where the radical right has moved in on previously left wing territory.

        1. Pub Bore says:

          I’m still not sure to what ‘the working class’ now refers. The classical definition is that it refers to that class of people who rely exclusively for their means of subsistence upon earnings from wage labour, but does such a class still exist in the welfare state?

          I suspect it’s become a shibboleth term, which some traditionalists use to flag their identity as a distinct community that hearkens back to a bygone age of industrial capitalism and the role of its proletariat as an agent of progress, whether through revolution or reform.

          1. florian albert says:

            There is some truth in what you write. Yet I would conclude that those in low paid, low skill and (often) insecure employment constitute a class, albeit different from the industrial working class of 40 years ago and earlier. Not just different but even more fragmented, a fact which makes any attempt at political mobilization even more problematic.

          2. Pub Bore says:

            This whole project of classifying people… Wasn’t this a project of European imperialism, to impose order on a chaotic humanity for administrative purposes both at home and abroad? Aren’t status identifiers like ‘the working class’, ‘black’, ‘disabled’, etc. actually instruments of oppression?

            Colonisation runs deep; deeper than one might think.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    A thoughtful, critical and well-structured article, and the theme of hierarchy is important because it reflects the still-imperial structures and functions of official British arts (and their overlordship of royal patronage). The myth of Oriental Despotism has been employed throughout British history (perhaps as an imperial backlash against historical accounting of British crimes against Chinese people during the opium wars, and during the Cold War to divide, and undermine the Other). Yet this despotism and like hierarchies were created by British imperialism where could not find native variants in its colonies, copied from its own extreme examples. And today, its creations or fosterlings like the Royal House of Saud (bosom buddies of our own royals) are major investors in media corporations.

  6. florian albert says:

    Pub Bore 11.03 am March 3rd 2021

    ‘The whole project of classifying people Wasn’t this a project of European imperialism ?’

    Like so many people today, you credit the brief period of European imperialism with more importance than it deserves. My theory on this is that the progressive left has so little to say about the future, that it wallows in self righteously denouncing (some of) the many bad things in the past.

    What you refer to as ‘status identifiers’ – it is always nice to increase the amount of jargon I know – are, in themselves, neutral. They can be used for oppression but equally for liberation.

    1. Pub Bore says:

      My theory is that the identifiers ‘progressive left’ and ‘working class’ have become shibboleths; that is, their users use them to distinguish themselves as a communion and to announce their loyalty to that communion rather than scientifically as descriptors. They function, in other words, as flags or standards around which the righteous can mobilise and signal their allegiance. Basic anthropology!

      The irony is that, as a shibboleth, ‘the progressive left’ has a deeply conservative function. I love such ironies; they make my day, put a spring in my step.

  7. Tana Brannock says:

    Happiness. It was the place where passion, with all its dazzle and drumbeat, met something softer: homecoming and safety and pure sunbeam comfort. It was all those things, intertwined with the heat and the thrill, and it was as bright within her as a swallowed star. ― Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke & Bone

  8. Elizabeth Schweinsberg says:

    Do you ever connect with a ))) on such a personal level that it’s almost as if it’s an extension of yourself? It’s rare, but it can happen, and this ))) did exactly that for me in so many ways. Where do you even start a review of a ))) that is *this* good? I’m not sure, but I think I’ll start here. HONEY GIRL is the story of Dr. Grace Porter, who, after just completing her PhD in astronomy, goes on a trip to Vegas, where she ends up marrying a girl who smells like salt and herbs, and who leav

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