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Prospect, Goodhart and race

Editor David Goodhart

About six years ago, editor of Prospect magazine David Goodhart was given unprecedented column inches in the Guardian to talk about race in Britain. Although he was pilored from people such as Trevor Phillips, Gary Younge and myself for his thinly disguised racist views he did resonate to an extent  within political thinking of that time.  Goodhart himself, however, felt chastened by being vigorously challenged and, I would argue being exposed for what he was really trying to do: put the brakes on Government tackling race inequality.

Six years later he is back to his old stomping ground: race.

But this time he’s got others to do his dirty work. And boy are they a willing bunch: Munira Mirza, Swaran Singh, Lindsay John, Mike Phillips, Sonya Dyer, and Tony Sewell.

A loose set of individuals who write more from anecdotal rather than an evidential base to paint a spurious picture that race equality no longer exits. The clear message is: move on.

Here Abitya Chakribatea gives an over view about what the collective pieces are about and what they mean.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/28/race-relations-cant-dismiss-the-problems

We hope we’ll be able to comprehensively respond to each and every article in detail and as a collective.

It is sad that our own people should do this to us, but that is a reality of life, I’m afraid.

Simon Woolley OBV

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7 Responses

  1. Dear Simon,

    As a writer of one of the pieces in the Prospect issue, I naturally do not agree with your assessment of the writers and their intentions / aims.

    Of course, I can only speak for myself. In no way shape or form do I believe – or have I ever stated – that there is no need for race equality, or that we need to ‘move on.’ (I don’t believe the other writers think so either, but that is for them to say). To acknowledge the fact that my experience of Britishness is different to my Grandparents or even my parents generation is hardly radical, it’s self evident.

    I simply do not believe in the idea of Black inferiority – that we are somehow less able than others and therefore need, for example, a special, vocational art curators course that is a diminished version of the mainstream, internationally focused course run by the same institution.

    Equally, I have consistently stated that Black people in my sector who rely solely on Diversity-based schemes for opportunities are simply making themselves more vulnerable to ‘changes in the weather’ so to speak. We have seen this in the past – history repeats. (You may also recall that Linda Bellos had a similar concern for the radical feminist movement in relation to being reliant upon GLC funding in the 1980’s). I argue that one of the best ways to help more people from all backgrounds – particularly working class people of colour such as myself – is to radically change the system.

    The arts depend on unpaid labour – internships – as routes into the sector. This makes it near impossible for people from economically challenged backgrounds. It keeps the art world an overwhelmingly middle class pursuit. Paid internships, educational bursaries and a more transparent system that gives people from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds the opportunity to learn about the structure of the arts world is essential. These are just some of the suggestions I have consistently made.

    I’ve been involved in these discussions for many years, and am encouraged by other Black peers who have similar reservations about the incredibly conservative status quo, but perhaps do not find themselves able to speak out as publicly as I can. Many are nervous about ‘old school’ activists doing hatchet jobs on them!

    I’ve always supported Operation Black Votes aims, I was even on one of your early posters. Surely a politically mature ‘community’ ought be be open to nuance and unafraid of difference of opinion. What kind of ‘Black Community’ are you trying to develop anyway? One with a Borg-mind? I will continue to support my peers, believe in the potential of Black youngsters and support their efforts to make their way in the art world without other peoples low expectations of them limiting their options.

    For the record I don’t know and have never met David Goodhart; he didn’t commission me directly. I’ve never met the editor of any journal I’ve written for. This is not unusual.

    Yours,

    Sonya Dyer

  2. Dear Sonya,

    Of course you make some good points, particularly in regards to challenging the ‘tick box’ culture that at times gives grants to BME artist whilst never really addressing the fundamentals of race inequality within the art establishment. And that’s the point. You virtually ignore the much larger problem of a Eurocentric view of art world that either dismisses black art and artists or views them in some exotic or erotic way. It’s not, Sonya, that Black artist feel inferior but rather too often you are not judged as equals.

    Your analysis has too often ignored racism and as sought to articulate it as a problem of class. Your less than complete articulation once again penalizes the Black artist for accepting some assistance. It’s not an either or situation. We should tackle the structural inequalities within the art establishment , whilst simultaneously supporting those –Chris Ofili was afforded grants before he made it to mainstream-who would find it most difficult to access this often closed shop.

    Your article Sonya, pieced together with all the other articles is a patchwork of discussions that in effect say the same thing: Institutional racism no longer exists, multiculturalism is a bad thing, local and national government should no longer place any resources into tackling race inequality.

    As a writer I would always urge you to know who you are writing for. I suggest you google David Goodhart, and perhaps also put in Gary Younge, -who I’m sure you respect, and Trevor Phillips or myself .

    With Government cuts around the corner I believe for some people this is their opportunity to revisit unfinished business.

    Lastly, Sonya, I hope you’ll continue to support our objectives in fighting race inequality and ensuring our communities are strong in all areas at all levels of our society.

    Stay strong

    Simon Woolley

  3. Dear Simon,

    I believe you are quite mistaken to state that I ignore the ways in which ‘black artists’ can be treated by the arts system. All artists are lucky to receive whatever financial support they can. I have written / spoken about the need to be pragmatic – I myself have in the past been involved with ‘BME specific’ streams – I have written about this and spoken about this previously.

    However, pragmatism does not equal acquiescence. This is something that artists / curators are frequently keen to reiterate to me. Just because you go for some funding, doesn’t mean you totally agree with the background noise – you have to make the best decision for yourself at the time, and hope you can negotiate what comes with it. Sometimes, the decision is to take the money. Often the negotiations are not easy.

    Nor do I believe that ‘black artists’ feel inferior – just that in terms of the structure of the art world these schemes can lead to them being seen / treated as inferior (or at least as a different species of artist) and that is often a long-term problem for them.

    (Chris Offili – to my knowledge – has never received funding from a diversity-based scheme, but I would be happy to stand corrected if that is not the case.)

    The crux of the argument you seem to be making also ignores the fact that tackling the structural inequalities of the art world is central to the arguments I put forth. These structures will not be challenged by short term, temporary projects every decade and a half, but a long – term strategic approach. I would suggest you read up on some of the work the great Rasheed Araeen has done in this regard. (He was having the same conversation we are having now in the 1970’s). As I said in my previous comment, history repeats.

    You also seem to neglect the fact that Black middle class people exist! There are many in the art world, who exhibit many of the same privileges as their white counterparts. Economic disadvantage is not unique or specific to us. An approach entirely based on ‘BME’ people is also out of step with ACE’s own policy on diversity which acknowledges class and social disadvantage. For many Black people the two intersect (as they do for me). For an increasing number they do not – we need to recognise our own internal diversity.

    Euro centrism is another conversation altogether. The Diversity funding schemes are not based on the premise of introducing non-European art to the UK art world, so if that’s what you are after you are barking up the wrong tree. Most Western-trained artists make work loosely in the Western cannon. Just as most Western plays are based around the template set by Terence.

    Art based around ideas of identity, for example, is not unique or special to minorities. An artist like Julie Mehretu grew up in Ethiopia and was weaned on Soviet art. Picasso was inspired by West African art. Steve McQueen makes Western Art, as does Offili. Both have represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. It’s much more complicated than I have time to get into at this point, but we don’t necessarily make art that is intrinsically ‘different.’ Some people do, but so do some white artists, for example working in folk or outsider art. It’s much more complicated than you suggest. Adrian Piper’s letter ‘Dear Editor’ is a useful reference http://www.adrianpiper.com/dear_editor.shtml

    My focus has been on art policy, as that is my background and it is an area I understand well. I know how policy affects opportunity. I am also often in the meetings Diversity officers don’t get invited to. I should also reiterate that some of the most helpful off the record comments, suggestions and support have come from Black people working on these schemes. (Pragmatism again – they may not fully agree with what their job entails, but they have to eat.)

    I would suggest you read some of the evaluations of these schemes, you may find them illuminating. (There is often resistance on the part of funders to people to gaining this inside knowledge. For example, I had to submit a FOI request to ACE just to get the evaluation of the Inspire scheme.)

    I have no problem in saying that it has been useful to have a focus on diversity (again), but in order the make the gains sustainable, we have to think about what we mean by diversity now and in the future. Most – if not all – of these schemes are likely to be dropped soon with the impending cuts. They were largely going to be dropped anyway, as others have been in the past (they are always temporary.) Some schemes are better than others, the MLA programmes, for example seem to be well regarded. Yet, just like in media, journalism etc. the art world is still about who you know, whether you can afford to study a subject that will lead to a graduate deficit (not a premium like most other University subjects), depends on free labour and has oversubscribed opportunities. This has not changed. My interventions over the years have been grounded in the understanding that these key things need to change in order for gains to be sustainable. And that this decade’s ‘Diversity’ agenda was always going to be a phase. It always has been in the past.

    Equally, I’m not responsible for anyone else’s writing, although I will always defend the right for people to express themselves. I don’t have to agree with a single word any of the other writers say, but I do believe they have integrity. I absolutely respect the fact that Black people in Britain are diverse and we would do well to acknowledge and accept that, in fact it is essential for us to do so. The Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave an excellent TED talk on the perils of the ‘single narrative’ view of African writers. I find her observations resonant – you may do too.

    Finally Simon, please resist the urge to patronise, I didn’t say I was unaware of who David Goodhart was, just that I didn’t know him personally and was not directly commissioned by him. The idea of some crack team of ‘native infromants’ doing his dirty work is quite fanciful. If you have not come across Black people with the views expressed by the other writers or myself before, you need to get out more.

    If I vetted every opportunity to the extent where I only engaged with forums where I agree with everything everyone associated with it has ever said I’d never work for anyone. I might not engage with you. I wouldn’t even leave my house!

    Best,

    Sonya

  4. The irony of this exchange is that the author at which Simon’s accusations could be least levelled at is the author most willing to debate the issue. Thank you both for expanding on the articles and the riposte.

    Sonia Dyer’s voice is the furthest from polemic in the feature. Tick-boxery does not challenge notions of superiority. That black students might actually be encouraged on take on a sub-standard qualifications in the name of diversity is actually reinforcing a stereotype, not challenging it.

    Tony Sewell though should have paid Propsect for his article. It is a limp duplicated critique dressed around a huge plug for his project – and a hatchet job on rivals who are successful in the ways he argues are unnecessary.

    In reference to the ‘convenor’, I don’ want to get started on the flaws and misrepresentations in Munira Mirza introduction and article. What I will ask is that seeing as she called for open debate, that she set one up soon under the Mayor’s work on cohesion.

    I would however caution against the one-sided arguments made by some Prospect feature authors, their inspirations (Mirza’s being Hart’s Manifesto Club report) and in fairness some of their detractors.

    That is unless those throwing the ‘race industry’ charge are in effect an ‘anti-race industry’ who rather than say what works, just say what does not (because it pays well). Food critics are not the best chefs.

  5. p.s. Did Lindsay Johns dream that someone called for the dismissal of the European literary canon?

    He is wrong to “safely assume” that “content which interests and empowers young black people” mean that people who make this argument are”not talking about Ovid, Chaucer or Shakespeare”.

    He does not name anyone as making this direct claim and I can not find this proposal being made anywhere. It is a false dragon to be slayed. I think those that testified at the home affairs select committee were referring to the absence of black history other than slavery and civil rights.

    Even so, Johns might even be made aware that:
    a) some use the canon to improve the curriculum for all students by making it come to life and drawing comparisons with modern life;
    b) use it to open up discussion about ‘race’, racial theories, and racism (shhh…don’t mention the R word) as Shakespeare, Defoe, Blake, and Ovid’s works can all be used for that purpose; and
    c) it can be used alongside not instead of a more rich representation of Black History within the context of World History. Why would English interfere with lessons about pre-colonial African civilizations; or why would it deter history teachers from tell all students about the feats of African, Caribbean, and Asian world war heroes? That is not political correctness, that is factual correctness. It is also a completely separate part of the curriculum.

    What does work for students of all cultures is the curriculum coming to life, and relating to their experience. Oh, and teachers fulfilling the aims of the National Curriculum…

    “Foremost is a belief in education, at home and at school, as a route to the spiritual, moral, social, cultural, physical and mental development, and thus the well being, of the individual”.

    http://curriculum.qcda.gov.uk/key-stages-1-and-2/Values-aims-and-purposes/index.aspx

  6. Thank you for response Sonya.
    I don’t want to respond to the personal insults. There is a political debate out there, and interestingly you make the point of the perils if a single narrative, which is precisely what I’m railing against with the Prospect articles. A single narrative orchestrated by David Goodhart and delivered by six Black writers.

    It’s worth reiterating once again Sonya what that single narrative articulates: Institutional racism plays no part in the failing of Black children. Tony Sewell; Generally speaking racism is a thing of the past, evidence of this is demonstrated by the fact that we have many more mixed race relationships-Munira Mirza; Don’t worry too much about Black writers, we’ve got Shakespeare-Lindsay John; And perhaps the most pernicious and damaging given their vulnerability and gross disproportionally is the assertion that, Ethnic minorities suffer high rates of mental illness because of their background as immigrants not racism.

    Actually, Sonya, many would agree with you on your assertion, that at times artist, are too easily pigeon holed. But other than scrape diversity schemes, I struggle to see what solutions you offer to bridge the inequality gap.
    This collective singular narrative negates institutional racism, systemic bias, or structural inequalities. It points to a post racial world in which the State has no role to play precisely because any race inequalities that still exist is our own fault.

    Incidentally, Sonya, both you and Tony would have benefited attending Diane Abbotts Black London schools awards, last Friday at the House of Commons. Proud award winner after proud award winner achieved mesmerising results, in spite of persistent structural inequalities, often because one particular teacher went the extra mile, and these young men and women believed in themselves.

    The vast majority of us would like to live in a post racial world but even our political leaders don’t believe we are any near that point;

    ‘We must tackle the deep and structural inequalities that all too often hold Black people back, especially the young… We know something is extremely wrong when the colour of your skin dictates how likely you are to succeed at school, starting a business, employment, or ending up in prison.’ David Cameron’s

    Given that much of our inequalities are more structural than personal -most people on an individual level get on with each other- the State has a fundamental role to play.

    My frustration Sonya is that the Prospect debate takes us back to analysing what we think the problem is and not how we deliver comprehensive and holistic solutions.

    Take care and good luck with your art.

    Simon

  7. Dear Simon,

    I’m not sure of which personal insults you refer to – I certainly don’t feel I have insulted you and it certainly wasn’t my intention.

    RE. solutions, I have offered many over the years, including in ‘Boxed In’ my first textual intervention on this subject. If you google me, you’re bound to find most of them. I have a policy of not just complaining, but actually using my experience and insight to suggest alternatives ways forward. (As an aside, although ‘BME’ people are more likely to go into further education than white people, they are least likely to study art).

    Furthermore, I also engage in public forums and have held meetings with various senior policy makers within organisations – the texts are part of a much longer campaign. Of course, articles always have word counts, so it isn’t always possible to get into a great deal of detail.

    As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think it is my place to defend the details of the other writers texts as I am not responsible for them, However I (naturally) disagree with the suggestion that they put forward the ‘single narrative argument.’ It is because they are counter to the usual narrative that they are causing such a stir.

    Your comments re. the Black London Schools Award and post-racialism indicate to me that, for whatever reason, you don’t quite get what I’m saying. I don’t believe in the term post-racial. I believe in the state (although I recognise it cannot solve all problems). I am not suggesting that money should not be spent on ‘diversity,’ but that it should be spent differently. My suggestions are focused on tackling the structural inequalities within the arts.

    Also, I was one of those children you write about (although they didn’t give out prizes in my day..!)

    Yours,

    Sonya

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