|Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2014-03-06 04:44Z by Steven|
I’ve been reading a book recently by the American sociologist David T. Wellman with the frankly terrifying title Portraits Of White Racism. I say terrifying because it conjures all kinds of images of Aryan skinhead fascists with big boots and arm-bands. I find myself hiding the lurid green cover of the book so people won’t see it when I’m reading it on the tube.
In fact the book isn’t about skinhead fascists at all. Rather its premise is to refute the popular notion that all “racism” is born of ignorant prejudice. Instead Wellman’s subject is
“culturally sanctioned strategies for defending social advantage based on race”.
Of course the very word “racism” is now so incendiary it actually seems to have become worse to call someone a racist than actually be one. But leaving aside Wellman’s terminology there is something clearly and fundamentally unequal in UK society and particularly in the industry I work in, that of screen and stage, something that black British actor and playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah recently referred to as “structural inequality” .
The book (written in the 1970’s) features quotes along the lines of
“I’m not opposed to mixed busing ; I’m opposed to the time it takes” and “I can understand militancy but it’s self-defeating”. My industry is full of these kind of rationalisations:-
“Yes, there should be more opportunities for actors/writers of colour. But it won’t happen overnight” (Why ever not?)
“There should be more roles for actors of colour. But we need the writers from those communities to write roles for minority ethnic actors” (Well, a) You could commission some and b) Do we have to be from a separate and foreign “community”?)
“We definitely need to put more training initiatives in place”
(In other word we’re going to continue side-lining you now whilst we tick our boxes running workshops for people with no experience thereby diminishing your experience and expertise)…
…Ethnic roles are often very clichedly “ethnic” and badly written. They are also cast with a completely different criteria by people who are literally picking exotic flowers for their garden. The number of times I’ve been told “they didn’t think you looked Chinese enough” (I’m of mixed descent) is simply too often to be arbitrary. My agent was once told “we specifically do NOT want any Eurasians”. On the other side of the coin, I’ve seen casting breakdowns calling for African-Caribbean actors requesting they not be “too dark”. In addition we’re often expected to be de facto cultural “experts”, to speak a range of languages and have all manner of physical “skills” at our disposal…
Read he entire article here.