#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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France’s burkini ban could not come at a worse time

Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

Since mayor of Cannes David Lisnard banned the full-body burkini from his town’s beaches, as many as 15 French resorts have followed suit. Arguments defending the bans fall into three main categories. First, it is about defending the French state’s secularism (laïcité). Second, that the costume represents a misogynistic doctrine that sees female bodies as shameful. And finally, that the burkini is cited as a threat to public order.

None of these arguments satisfactorily refute the claims of civil rights activists that the bans are fundamentally Islamophobic.

The niceties of laïcité

The Cannes decree explicitly invokes secular values. It prohibits anyone “not dressed in a fashion respectful of laïcité” from accessing public beaches. However, the French state has only banned “ostentatious” religious symbols in schools and for government employees as part of laïcité (the strict separation between the state and religious society). And in public spaces, laïcité claims to respect religious plurality. Indeed, the Laïcité Commission has tweeted that the ban, therefore, “cannot be based upon the principle of laïcité”.

While veils covering the entire face such as the burqa or niqab are illegal, this is not to protect laïcité; it is a security matter. The legal justification is that these clothes make it impossible to identify the person underneath – which is not the case for the burkini.

 

By falling back on laïcité to police Muslim women in this way, the Cannes authorities are fuelling the argument that “fundamentalist secularism” has become a means of excluding Muslims from French society.

Colonial attitudes

Others, such as Laurence Rossignol, the minister for women’s rights, hold that the burkini represents a “profoundly archaic view of a woman’s place in society”, disregarding Muslim women who claim to wear their burkini voluntarily.

This typifies an enduring colonial attitude among many non-Muslim French politicians, who feel entitled to dictate to Muslim women what is in their best interests. Rossignol has in the past compared women who wear headscarves through choice to American “negroes” who supported slavery.

Far from supporting women’s rights, banning the burkini will only leave the women who wear it feeling persecuted. Even those with no choice in the matter are not helped by the ban. This legal measure does nothing to challenge patriarchal authority over female bodies in the home. Instead, it further restricts the lives of veiled women by replacing it with state authority in public.

Open Islamophobia

Supporters of the ban have also claimed that, with racial tensions high after recent terrorist attacks, it is provocative to wear this form of Muslim clothing. Such an argument was made by Pierre-Ange Vivoni, mayor of Sisco in Corsica, when he banned the burkini in his commune. Early reports suggested a violent clash between local residents and non-locals of Moroccan origin was triggered when strangers photographed a burkini-wearing woman in the latter group, which angered her male companions. Vivoni claimed that banning the costume protected the security of local people, including those of North African descent.

Those reports have transpired to be false: none of the women in question were even wearing a burkini at the time of the incident. Nonetheless, the ban has stood in Sisco and elsewhere.

To be “provoked” by the burkini is to be provoked by the visibility of Muslims. Banning it on this basis punishes Muslim women for other people’s prejudice. It also disregards the burkini’s potential to promote social cohesion by giving veiled women access to the same spaces as their non-Muslim compatriots.

Appeals to public order have, occasionally, been openly Islamophobic. Thierry Migoule, head of municipal services in Cannes, claimed that the burkini “refers to an allegiance to terrorist movements”, conveniently ignoring the Muslim victims of recent attacks. Barely a month after Muslims paying their respects to friends and family killed in Nice were racially abused, such comments are both distasteful and irresponsible.

Increased divisions

Feiza Ben Mohammed, spokesperson for the Federation of Southern Muslims, fears that stigmatising Muslims in this way will play into the hands of IS recruiters. That fear seems well-founded: researchers cite a sense of exclusion as a factor behind the radicalisation of a minority of French Muslims. Measures like this can only exacerbate that problem. Indeed, provoking repressive measures against European Muslims to cultivate such a sentiment is part of the IS strategy.

Meanwhile, the day after the incident in Sisco, riot police were needed in nearby Bastia to prevent a 200-strong crowd chanting “this is our home” from entering a neighbourhood with many residents of North African descent. Given the recent warning from France’s head of internal security of the risk of a confrontation between “the extreme right and the Muslim world”, such scenes are equally concerning.

Now more than ever, France needs unity. Yet more legislation against veiled women can only further divide an already divided nation.

The Conversation

Fraser McQueen, PhD Candidate, University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.