Following the Thought Trail Whilst Wary of Drive Through Diversity

The results were exasperating as I read through the data. Across the city that evening in a ‘Babel’ moment, the news would surely attract the attention of the industrious and those that have made an industry out of this.

Babel, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu illustrates how fragments of seemingly independent events inform each other — the Butterfly theory in action.

One person’s misfortune is another’s gain. A report showing yet more social iniquities can quicken the heart of human resources looking for an empirically-sound solution. Can inequality in hiring personnel be solved by conformation bias tests? When a series of reports by default shame the media industry from its lack of diversity, how do you get those in power to actually change direction?

My head was heavy and I desperately needed to give my mind and body, which felt like it’d been used as a punch bag, some RnR.

We’re packing bags heading off for a series of long walks tomorrow; the kind that isn’t gentle on the knees and couple of companions are coming along that include, Raynor Winn’s Best seller The Salt Path — how a couple down on their very last luck from a bad investment deal become homeless. As Winn’s husband battles a terminal brain illness corticobasal degeneration, which has no cure, they set off as wild campers to walk a 630-mile South West Coast Path.

And then there is Ibram X Kendi’s majestic Stamped From the Beginning — a vividly cinematic insight into “the definitive history of racists ideas in America”. Here, the reader learns of the intersection of British and American racism and the interaction between some of history’s most prominent figures, from philosophers to politicians abetting or combating this scourge. The narrative is intricate, nuanced and indelible.

Several actors, such as Thomas Jefferson were anti-racist, but easily fell within the mindset of an assimilationist. A multi-hyphenate and third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809, Jefferson held firm on his 200 plus slaves to secure his wealthy trappings. Segregationists can’t be helped, but assimilationist want it both ways says Kendi. They’re anti-racist but their actions add up to something that is uncomfortably racist in actions.

In very different ways the books nourish a thirst for learning about struggle and invite waves of introspection. We’re on the coastline of Wales and the throbbing head has subsided, replaced instead by mind drifts and breathlessness climbing an incline that a herd of goats have navigated with ease. Is this was a year’s lockdown does to the body, even whilst still frequenting weekly body pump aerobics?

I’ve been a journalist for more than thirty years and share the pain and sorrow, breakthroughs and disappointments of seeing reports that resemble travelling up an escalator that mid flow reverses direction. You find yourself slipping backwards.

My first jobs from Uni included designated outputs to audiences interested in race and cultural issues; Leicester’s Talking Blues and the BBC GLR’s Black London, alongside Newsnight. Then in search of adventure I blagged a flight from British Airways to visit Apartheid South Africa (SA). I flew back to the UK for a stint reporting on BBC Reportage before returning to SA work as a freelance journalist and broadcaster.

Back again the UK in 1994, after a two year stint, I would work for some of the most respected broadcasters, BBC, WTN and Channel 4 News producing across a range of subjects. Outside work, I’d lead national summits with groups addressing diversity, stage events to publicise Black and brown people’s success and last year helped launch a university journal Representology with the Sir Lenny Henry Centre.

Two opinion pieces on Black Lives Matter and their intersection with journalism and law; one of the International Law Review, and the other for the British Library’s news exhibition book will surface next month. In July just gone, alongside Silkin Entertainment Law form I worked with Simone Pennant of the TV Collective on a national survey: Best Places to Work for Ethnic Minorities. This is the report and the data makes for grim reading. So all in all, you could say I’ve got skin in the game.

The report Best Places… showed up, amongst other things, that black media employers are caught up in the the frozen middle of pay and promotion.

Alongside a list of damning reports this year, several too from the Sir Lenny Centre for Media Diversity, and given the extraordinary eventful tail wind of 2020, substantive change has not yet come to pass I find myself telling the UK’s Creative Industries Federation in an interview.

Is this down to too ambitious targets being set? Is it that whilst progressives seek change they hold themselves back by Kendi’s notion of assimilationists’ ideas and this positioning needs to be better understood? Or that in its overall framing the approach to diversity and inclusion requires a different tact?

Several parts of the media industry have responded to what might be called Drive-through Diversity — quick grabs from the counter. Take confirmation bias programmes as takeaways? That said, I recognise many great minds and activists who work tirelessly to find solutions.

One of the popular and much talked about features for direct action has been the Rooney rule, named after Dan Rooney the Pittsburg Steelers’ president. It was introduced in 2001 as a response to the paucity of Black NFL coaches.

Rooney’s rule has been well documented and several companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Uber have adopted its form to varying, if not weak, success. A close read as depicted in Pamela Newkirk’s Diversity Inc: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business provides some answers.

Rooney, initially a skeptic, is instrumental. It’s the respect he commands in the NFL that enables a proposition from two leading civil rights lawyers to take off: Cochran, OJ Simpson’s lawyer and Mehri who took on Coca Cola in one of the biggest discrimination law suits in the US.

The proposal of a diversity committee amongst leading NFL teams which regularly meet keeps the idea alive and then as if on a firm handshake Rooney divulges responsibility to assembled members to take action. The reading strikes me as one of those agreements that if it fails off the start line members will low sling their heads in shame.

There are set backs when the Detroit Lions violate the rule because they failed to include any black coaches in the interview process and are fined. But since that no other team has flouted the ruling. Success, though has ebbed and flowed from the number of Black coaches from seven in 2011 to only three today in Mike Tomlin of Pittsburgh, Brian Flores of Miami and David Culley of Houston. Belatedly, there’s been a revamp to shore up the process.

There’s something else about the ruling. The applicants being considered are Super Bowl winners or with pedigrees of success. Indeed Newkirk’s Diversity Inc cites economist Janice Madden research that shows Black coaches had taken their teams to 67% of playoffs compared to the 39% for white coaches. All this in a game where Black players constitute 70% of the NFL.

What could be an equivalent scheme in the UK media? Who could be the Rooney figure to command respect amongst his or her peers with coercive powers to bring about change amongst assembling media companies. The requirement, much the same as Rooney would be to short list Black and brown candidates with pedigrees for the job. It’s a will of politics and scruples.

The evidence from The TV Collective’s survey showing a number of Black talent frozen in middle career paths is evidence of the talent.

Then again, is the inertia because prospects for Black and Brown people is ill perceived, that conditions aren’t as bad as thought? That’s in spite of a litany of reports that show otherwise. Thoughts loom large in Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning. Wins and gain emerge from co-ordinated advocates joining forces and relentlessly pursuing a cause. Take this example.

In 1890, the idea of Black people in America being prepped for colonization in Africa, harried by the Colonization bill attracts a spectrum of racist scholars, business owners, White Southerners, travellers like Henry Morton Stanley’s author of Through the Dark Continent which influences Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to the cause.

“Although millions of American citizens supported the bill”, writes Thomas Adams Upchurch in Legislating Racism, the Billion Dollar Congress and the Birth of Jim Crow, “the austere opposition held the day, and it never became law”. There was a coming together of super pacts and the anti-racist lobby at least on this matter won the day.

It’s evident too in a more physical show of alliances in 2020, and for legislative impact the 1963 March on Washington which coalesces different but similar minded groups. The march caps part of the pressure on Kennedy’s administration to initiate a civil right bills for congress. Whilst on the whole there are many more forces and conditions behind the scenes that enable change, it’s the super concerted processions that draw reflection.

It’s the spectacle of it that mesmerises the senses at Three Cliffs on the south coast of the Gower Peninsula in Wales. For a half hour we take in the scene as we watch the tide envelope the farthest point and close off the walk way we traversed earlier.

Raynor Winn’s turn pager in The Salt Path features its cliff hangers. When the couple tell strangers they lost their home which has forced them on the trail, they are pitied, if not shunned. When they say, they sold their home to go on an adventure they are look upon heorically.

They steal opportunities, sneaking onto camp sites under the cover of night and make a break for it at the crack of dawn to avoid any fee payment. Moth, Winn’s husband’s degenerative disease takes an extraordinary turn. He runs out of medication. But the journey’s end, something remarkable. Doctors are baffled; his brain is creating new pathways.

What if the narrative in diversity and inclusion requires reframing in its journey and language? What if reports were then reworked into, say, cinematic stories that provide indelible spectacles to capture the mind. Maybe, just maybe, this thought trail requires new pathways and a renewed combined effort.

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.