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The royal wedding exposed the media’s tokenism

21 May 2018

12:11 PM

21 May 2018

12:11 PM

I was lucky (or unlucky, depending on your sensibilities) to be in a prime spot for Saturday’s royal wedding. Wearing my BBC producer hat, I worked on the huge outside broadcast on the Long Walk in Windsor.

Thursday and Friday was all bunting, dogs sporting union jack collars and the Household Cavalry rehearsing. I interviewed people who’d come to camp out, weaving my way through the increasingly packed streets, observing, gathering material and soaking up the atmosphere. It seemed very much like any other big ceremonial occasion. But on Saturday, something changed. Colour. People of colour to be precise, at first just one or two, but as the clock ticked towards midday, everywhere I turned in the area behind the BBC and ITV purpose-built studios, I saw black and brown faces. In my 20 years of working in TV news, I have never seen so many non-white faces on the telly. It felt less like the privileged world of ‘media’ and more like walking down an average high street. And it wasn’t just well-known people of colour who the TV exec producers wanted on screen; for every Emeli Sandé, there was a black or brown skinned member of the public, plucked from the crowd and invited backstage to be interviewed. Unfortunately they were only being asked to comment on one issue: race. How refreshing if I had seen an expert on tiaras or dress design or lip reading who also happened to be black or mixed race.

Watching the ceremony itself on a small monitor in a hot tent, I started counting the number of black and brown faces inside the Chapel, starting with the bride, of course, and her wonderfully stoic mother, but also guests like Idris Elba and Oprah. There was Bishop Michael Curry, brilliant, bold, prolific, he just did his thing without regard to stiff royal protocol or timings, quite the breath of fresh air.  And then there was the amazing gospel choir, followed by the brilliant young cellist who also happened to be black. By this point I’d happily lost count.

Incredibly it is the royal family, adroitly led by its newest member, who has grasped what it means to put on a truly inclusive and representative spectacle without a hint of tokenism. It’s something that the main broadcasters didn’t manage to get quite right and it’s becoming glaringly obvious why; there simply aren’t enough Meghans sitting round the tables where these decisions are made.

People of colour are still regarded as ‘them’ by the media execs who decide on how big events should be covered and ‘they’ must conform to a white person’s stereotype of what a person of colour should look like. I, for example, despite my bona fide Trinidadian ancestry, would not be regarded as being ‘black enough’.

I felt a bit annoyed when I was asked to go out into the crowd and ask black and brown people what they thought about the ceremony. But as with many things that fall into a producer’s remit, I rolled my eyes and cracked on with it to the best of my ability. As I worked the crowd, approaching anyone who was the ‘right’ colour and looked friendly, my anger was replaced by hope.

‘I only came because of Meghan’, said one elderly black gentleman perched on a box. ‘She came to Brixton, she made me feel like I matter to this country, after all these years, things are changing’.

‘I can be anything I want’, said a tiny girl dressed as a princess complete with a union jack cloak, ‘Meghan is a princess and she looks like me’.

‘There’s definitely a change in the royal family after today’, the tiny girl’s mum said, ‘they’ve shown that they are inclusive to everyone by welcoming Meghan and we wanted to come to show our support for them’.

When I turn up on an outside broadcast in the future and see people of colour all around me being interviewed about politics, finance, food, floods, fashion – whatever – then I’ll know that the media has learnt an important lesson from the royal family and we will have reached a very good place indeed.


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