All white at the BBC: South Africa would be proud of Newsnight

I’ve had the good fortune to be one of the few ethnics who have slipped through the cultural net and been able to make a few good programmes at the BBC, having a great face for the radio. But it’s shameful that there’s still so much unconscious racism as inadvertently exposed in a recent BBC recruitment film which neglects to mention their Black Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) audience and production staff (absence of). That’s how unaware they are in this age of diversity. After all, the Beeb is based in a city that’s 44 per cent non-white, so what is their excuse?

“I set the general editorial direction of travel,” says Newsnight editor Ian Katz at a meeting rammed with white faces.

I found it useless trying to talk to Katz when he was editor of the Guardian’s G2 supplement in 2000. They’d run a controversialist piece by Charlotte Raven about the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which was storming the box offices: ” … Because they were oriental, everyone presumed this was understatement, rather than woodenness. … In Chinese, delivered inscrutably, it seemed to contain multitudes.”

My disappointment wasn’t so much that one writer had written this casual othering of a racial group but more that the G2 editors — the Guardian institution — hadn’t sounded alarm bells. I can only guess at how richly ethnically diverse they weren’t. I was met with hostility for raising the issue, so I’m hardly surprised that Katz now works in an all-white environment at the BBC. (Here’s how it panned out.)

When working on my my play for Radio 4, Red Guard, Yellow Submarine, drawn from my memoir of the same name about being brought up by Chinese communists in Hackney, I walked through Broadcasting House with my producer, Pam Fraser-Solomon, who is Black, and it was notable that the only other non-white face at the time was the cleaner.

It’s assumed that white folk do everything best and that any person of colour is there as a token.

Every time we stick our heads up the dominant white establishment tries to shoot us down. East Asians actors were give four minuscule roles out of 17 in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Chinese classic, The Orphan of Zhao — which the RSC then had the cheek to market to Chinese audiences. Trevor Nunn wants to produce all-white Shakespeare histories in the interest of verismilitude, minus the bad teeth and buboes, of course.

The latest lazy dismissal in the Guardian of a rare project made by a non-white team, Reggie Yates: Race Riots USA, would indicate that the liberal media are in nightmarish free-fall into some inner apartheid hell zone. I mean, accusing the lovely calm Reggie Yates of the crime of swagger? How submissive must a Black man be to assuage the white writer’s fear?

I suggest they seek help. And I said, “seek help”, not “sieg heil”.

The Independent: Behind the scenes Newsnight new show blows the lid on the lack of racial diversity on the BBC.

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