#AllWhiteFrontPages has been a key campaign for Media Diversified.
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Why the UK media needs more writers of colour

The launch of the Media Diversified directory aims to address the lack of diversity in the mainstream media.

Media Diversified, the organisation committed to the nurture and promotion of writers of colour, has just taken arguably its most important step since launching in July 2013. From this month onwards, it will make available an interactive online directory which media organisations can search if seeking people of colour to comment on the pressing issues of the day. This measure is the latest significant measure for an outlet which, despite only being only a few months old, has made a notable contribution to debate alongside its far larger peers. With the stated aim of “tackling the lack of diversity in UK media and the diversity of whiteness”, it has published a series of powerful critiques on current affairs, most recently by Chimene Suleyman and Judith Wanga in relation to media coverage of the Muslim schoolgirls who fled the UK to join Isis.

Samantha Asumadu, the documentary filmmaker and campaigner, recalls the moment when she decided to found Media Diversified. “A number of things came together at the same time,” she says. “I couldn’t get funding to do my second documentary despite the first one, The Super Ladies, being commissioned and funded by Aljazeera English. I read this article in the Voice, ‘The Evening Standard of Whiteness‘, and it stuck with me. Amol Rajan became editor of the Independent and it became big news in 2013, when really it shouldn’t have been such big news, but he was the first (non-white person to edit a mainstream national newspaper). I wrote this storify about it, A tale of everyday lack of diversity, and it became very popular, and the hashtag #AllWhiteFrontPages started due to it.”

Asumadu was then struck, she says, by several feminists on Twitter who were apparently positioning themselves as spokespeople for women of colour – in her words, “a lot of white feminists calling themselves intersectional feminists”.  As a result, Asumadu “wanted our voices to get heard and to speak for ourselves”.

Media Diversified has seen its audience grow swiftly, having amassed over 19,000 followers on Twitter and seeing those with far larger visibility on the site, such as the Times’ Caitlin Moran, regularly sharing its content. Unafraid of controversy or confrontation, it is currently requesting nominations for “The Trashies”; that is to say, those articles which most “rely on and perpetuate racism and Islamophobia, however subtle this may be”. To Asumadu, her organisation’s online directory of experts is merely another means of challenging what she sees as the media’s misinformed consensus. To be included in the directory, each expert must submit a written application to the Media Diversified website: if successful, their profiles will be made available to companies and charities who pay a subscription fee. The size of that fee will depend upon the size of the organisation, with three different tariffs for those who have ten or fewer employees, between ten and 50 employees, or more than 50 employees. Users can also pay not only for access to the database, but also for a project manager who will be on call for up to 24 hours a day to help with their queries.

As Asumadu is keen to point out, the directory and The Trashies are by no means the limits of Media Diversified’s ambitions. The outlet has launched a series of articles under the #OtherPolitics hashtag, which will provide a succession of alternative perspectives during the run-up to the UK’s general election in May. This summer, in addition, Media Diversified is providing content for Lebara Group’s new mobile digital hub for global migrant workers, and curating a panel at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. In the longer term, it is working with West London’s Bush Theatre on a competition and training programme for cultural critics in theatre, film, and dance, and preparing a new website for long-form work, where it can promote authors so that, in Asumadu’s words, “we have our own Teju Cole and Ta-Nehisi Coates”. Supporters of Media Diversified’s output can also look forward to more investigative journalism, given that the organisation now has a budget to support such work, and a broader reach of coverage, with the call now out for a Middle East and North Africa editor. All in all, it is clear that Asumadu and her team are just getting started.

“We’re working on our own literary festival, which we hope to host at the Institute of Contemporary Arts,” she says. “We’ll continue to cultivate and publish skilled writers of colour, and we’re actively looking for poets who wish to try their hand at prose...We hope to do more workshops in camera skills, writing, and pundit skills. We want to be an alternative to VICE.”

Contributors to mediadiversified.org wrote for the New Statesman’s “Race and the Media” week. Read their articles here

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Wrists, knees, terrible rages – I felt overwhelmed when Barry came to see me

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state.

To begin with, it seemed that Barry’s wrists were the problem. He told me about the pain he was experiencing, the pins and needles that came and went in his hands. I started to examine him. His palms were calloused, his fingers thick and stubby, veterans of the heavy work he’d undertaken throughout his 57 years. Even as I assessed this first problem, he mentioned his knees. I moved on to look at those. Then it was his back. I couldn’t get to grips with one thing before he veered to the next.

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state. Barry was making me feel overwhelmed, the more so as I learned that he’d been experiencing all these problems for years.

“Why are you coming to see me about them now,” I asked, “rather than six months ago – or in six months’ time?”

“I need some time off, doc.”

There was something about the way he wouldn’t meet my gaze. And again, that feeling of being overwhelmed.

“What’s going on at work?” I asked him.

His tone hardened as he told me how he’d lost his temper a couple of days earlier. How one of the others had been winding him up, and something inside him had snapped, and he’d taken a swing at his workmate and landed a punch.

Barry had walked out and hadn’t been back. I tried to find out if he’d heard from his boss about the incident, if he knew what was likely to happen next.

He told me he didn’t care.

We talked some more. I learned that he’d been uncharacteristically short-tempered for months; his partner was fed up with being shouted at. Sleep had gone to pot, and Barry had taken to drinking heavily to knock himself out at night. He was smoking twice his usual amount. Men like Barry often don’t experience depression as classic low mood and tearfulness; they become filled with rage and turn in on themselves, repelling those closest to them in the process.

Depression is a complex condition, with roots that can frequently be traced right back to childhood experiences, but bouts are often precipitated by problems with relationships, work, money, or health. In Barry’s case, the main factor turned out to be his job. He’d been an HGV driver but at the start of the year his company had lost its operator’s licence. To keep the business afloat, his boss had diversified. Barry hated what he now had to do. He was now a “catcher”.

I didn’t know what that meant. Getting up at the crack of dawn, he told me, driving to some factory farm somewhere, entering huge sheds and spending hours catching chickens, thousands upon thousands of them, shoving them into crates, stashing the crates on a lorry, working under relentless pressure to get the sheds cleared and the birds off to the next stage of the food production chain.

“It’s a young man’s game,” he told me. “It’s crippling me, all that bending and catching.”

It wasn’t really his joints, though. Men like Barry can find it hard to talk about difficult emotion, but it was there in his eyes. I had a sudden understanding: Barry, capturing bird after panicking bird, stuffing them into the transport containers, the air full of alarmed clucking and dislodged feathers. Hour after hour of it. It was traumatising him, but he couldn’t admit anything so poncey.

“I just want to get back to driving.”

That would mean landing a new job, and he doubted he would be able to do so, not at his age. He couldn’t take just any old work, either: he had to earn a decent wage to keep up with a still sizeable mortgage.

We talked about how antidepressants might improve his symptoms, and made a plan to tackle the alcohol. I signed him off to give him some respite and a chance to look for new work – the one thing that was going to resolve his depression. But in the meantime, he felt as trapped as the chickens that he cornered, day after soul-destroying day.

Phil Whitaker’s novel “Sister Sebastian’s Library” will be published by Salt in September

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt