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Anti-racism for arts organisations

In February 2021, over 80 arts organisations from across the country came together to discuss anti-racism, and how the arts sector in particular can become more anti-racist.


WHAT DOES ANTI-RACISM MEAN?

Taking an anti-racist stance means recognising that racism is a social construct. There’s nothing natural or inevitable about the racial categories we use. They were invented to justify and uphold systems of oppression, most obviously by creating a hierarchy of races with white people at the top and black people at the bottom.

Taking an anti-racist stance means recognising that racism also operates through formal and informal norms that subtly and constantly marginalise people who do not hold white privilege. Structural racial inequality shapes many facets of British life from housing to health to education.


To address systemic racism, we need to identify and address the ‘causes’, not just the ‘symptoms’. This means looking at culture and uncovering the ideas that are held consciously and unconsciously by all of us socialised into a racially unequal society - ideas like internalised oppression or internalised superiority, and myths, fears, stereotypes and beliefs about ourselves and ‘others’ that reinforce dominance and discrimination.


WHAT ARE THE KEY ISSUES AFFECTING ARTS GROUPS?

Participants in the seminar identified the following as key issues facing arts organisations:

  • how can we accelerate the pace of change in organisations and communities and keep people on board? At the moment, there appears to be a real misunderstanding – and perhaps even ignorance – of what anti-racism and inclusion mean. Some people are even worried about a backlash if we move too fast

  • what terminology/language should we be using? Underlying this question is a concern around not furthering marginalising or othering particular groups. But there is also an understanding that many of the issues we face are intersectional – that is, they also bring in gender, disability, and so on. How can we be as inclusive as possible?

  • how can we diversify organisations and audiences in areas where the BME population is low (such as some rural areas)? Some of the approaches the sector has used in the past have perhaps been tokenistic and haven’t really brought about long term change


WHY IS ANTI-RACISM IMPORTANT FOR THE ARTS?

Overcoming anti-racist thinking requires us to see the world differently. We need to see how our society has been built on certain assumptions about what is normal and who is privileged. We need to recognise how power operates and use our own power to bring attention to injustice and inhumanity. Just like in The Matrix, we’re faced with a choice: continue to see the world through an ideological lens or choose to see it as it really is, shorn of the power systems that have been put in place.


Of course, in The Matrix there was a red pill that could help people do that. We live in a world without such a handy bit of medicine. But we do have the arts sector – a sector that is committed to helping people use their imaginations to understand others by telling new stories and bringing to life our histories. If we’re going to move forward on this agenda it won’t ultimately be through policies, strategies, and plans. It’ll be by helping people recognise their shared humanity, by showing them that the barriers between us are artificial and that another future is possible.


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