#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

Musa Okwonga is a Berlin-based poet, journalist and musician.

A woman in an Indian surrogacy hostel. Photo: Getty
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The Handmaid's Tale has already come true - just not for white western women

Why, if the fate of the fictional Offred is so horrifying, is the fate of real-life women in surrogacy hostels causing so little outrage?

When anti-choice Republican Justin Humphrey referred to pregnant women as “hosts”, I found myself wondering, not for the first time, whether everything had got “a bit Handmaid’s Tale.”

I’m not alone in having had this thought. Since Donald Trump won the US election, sales of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel have spiked and we’ve seen a plethora of articles telling us how “eerily relevant [it] is to our current political landscape.” In an interview during Cuba’s international book fair, Atwood herself said she believes the recent “bubbling up” of regressive attitudes towards women is linked to The Handmaid’s Tale’s current success: “It’s back to 17th-century puritan values of New England at that time in which women were pretty low on the hierarchy … you can think you are being a liberal democracy but then — bang — you’re Hitler’s Germany.”

Scary stuff. Still, at least most present-day readers can reassure themselves that they’ve not arrived in the Republic of Gilead just yet.

For those who have not yet read it, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, who lives under a theocratic dictatorship in what used to be the United States of America. White, middle-class and college-educated, Offred once enjoyed a significant degree of privilege, but now belongs to a class of women whose sole purpose is to gestate offspring for high-status couples. Much of the shock value of the story comes from the contrast between Offred’s former life – in which she had a name of her own - and her present-day existence. If this can happen to someone like Offred, it is suggested, surely it can happen to any of us.

Or so that is what a white, middle-class reader – a reader like me – might tell herself. Recently I’ve started to wonder whether that’s strictly true. It can be reassuring to stick to one narrative, one type of baddie – the religious puritan, the pussy-grabbing president, the woman-hating Right. But what if it’s more complicated than that? There’s something about the current wallowing in Atwood’s vision that strikes me as, if not self-indulgent, then at the very least naive.

In 1985, the same year The Handmaid’s Tale was published, Gina Correa published The Mother Machine. This was not a work of dystopian fiction, but a feminist analysis of the impact of reproductive technologies on women’s liberties. Even so, there are times when it sounds positively Handmaid’s Tale-esque:

“Once embryo transfer technology is developed, the surrogate industry could look for breeders – not only in poverty-stricken parts of the United States, but in the Third World as well. There, perhaps, one tenth of the current fee could be paid to women”

Perhaps, at the time her book was written, Correa’s imaginings sounded every bit as dark and outlandish as Atwood’s. And yet she has been proved right. Today there are parts of the world in which renting the womb of a poor woman is indeed ten times cheaper than in the US. The choice of wealthy white couples to implant embryos in the bodies of brown women is seen, not as colonialist exploitation, but as a neutral consumer choice. I can’t help wondering why, if the fate of the fictional Offred is so horrifying to western feminists today, the fate of real-life women in surrogacy hostels is causing so little outrage.

I suppose the main argument of these feminists would be that real-life women choose to be surrogates, whereas Offred does not. But is the distinction so clear? If Offred refuses to work as a handmaid, she may be sent to the Colonies, where life expectancy is short. Yet even this is a choice of sorts. As she herself notes, “nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for. There wasn't a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose.” In the real world, grinding poverty drives women of colour to gestate the babies of the wealthy. As one Indian surrogate tells interviewer Seemi Pasha, “Why would I be a surrogate for someone else if I don't need the money? Why would I make myself go through this pain?"

None of the feminists who expressed shock at Justin Humphrey referring to pregnant women as “hosts” have, as far as I am aware, expressed the same horror at surrogacy agencies using the exact same term. As Dorothy Roberts wrote in Killing The Black Body, the notion of reproductive liberty remains “primarily concerned with the interests of white, middle-class women” and  “focused on the right to abortion.” The right not just to decide if and when to have children, but to have children of one’s own – something women of colour have frequently been denied – can be of little interest of those who have never really feared losing it (hence the cloth-eared response of many white women to Beyoncè’s Grammy performance).

As Roberts notes, “reproductive liberty must encompass more than the protection of an individual woman’s choice to end her pregnancy”:

“It must encompass the full range of procreative activities, including the ability to bear a child, and it must acknowledge that we make reproductive decisions within a social context, including inequalities of wealth and power. Reproductive freedom is a matter of social justice, not individual choice.”

It’s easy to mock the pretensions to pro-life piety of a pussy-grabbing president. But what about the white liberal left’s insistence that criticising the global trade in sexual and gestational services is “telling a women what she can and cannot do with her body” and as such is illiberal and wrong? “Individual choice” can be every bit as much of a false, woman-hating god as the one worshipped by the likes of Humphrey and Trump.

One of the most distressing scenes in The Handmaid’s Tale takes place when Janine/Ofwarren has just given birth and has her child taken from her:

“We stand between Janine and the bed, so she won’t have to see this. Someone gives her a drink of grape juice. I hope there’s wine in it, she’s still having the pains, for the afterbirth, she’s crying helplessly, burnt-out miserable tears.”

Right now there are women suffering in just this way. Only they’re probably not white, nor middle-class, nor sitting in a twee white bedroom in Middle America. Oh, and they’re not fictional, either.

The dystopian predictions of 1985 have already come true. It’s just that women like me didn’t notice until we started to be called “hosts”, too.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.