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Black Music Coalition sets out five priorities to tackle discrimination in the UK music industry

By | Published on Wednesday 10 June 2020

Black Music Coalition

Following last week’s Black Out Tuesday initiative, a new organisation has been formed in the UK seeking to ensure that this time round the commitments made by people and companies in the music industry to address prejudice, discrimination and racism – within the industry and beyond – are actually met. To kick things off it has organised an open letter, signed by 32 people working across the industry, setting out five key priorities.

The global music industry quickly rallied to last week’s Black Out Tuesday initiative after it was first proposed by American music industry execs Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests that were staged all over the world in response to the controversial death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.

On the day itself, numerous music companies paused their activities for 24 hours so that employees could take time to consider discrimination in their industry and communities, and learn about, consider and discuss how they could help tackle that discrimination. Most of those companies also made public statements supporting the Black Lives Matter protests and pledging to do more to bring about change within their our businesses and the world at large.

Many expressed concerns that the day could end up being a somewhat token gesture, with lots of vague commitments being made that were then not acted upon. Others called on the big corporates of the industry to also make significant financial commitments to support social change.

All three major record companies have now pledged money for the cause, and although those commitments have been led by their respective US-based head offices, it was implied that some of that money would be spent on projects to combat prejudice elsewhere in the world.

At the end of Black Out Tuesday itself, Thomas and Agyemang declared on the social media they had set up for the initiative that “you just witnessed Act One”. The new Black Music Coalition has been formed to ensure that is the case in the UK as well as the US.

The new open letter addresses the “Chairmen, CEOs, presidents and leaders” of the UK music industry, and is signed by execs working at all three majors, a number of independents, and in the live sector and artist management. Among other things, it states: “Your public statements of support throughout the recent times were impassioned and we appreciated them, but we now want to drive forward tangible changes, giving power to that show of support”.

The letter begins by summarising recent events in the US, including the death of Floyd while being arrested by American police officers. “As the black community mourned, many of us working in this and other industries tried to adopt our usual coping mechanism of suppressing our trauma caused from witnessing the disregard for black life”, it says, “but this time was different, we found and find ourselves unable to do so”.

It goes on: “For far too long, the global black community have faced racial injustice, inequality and disenfranchisement across all aspects of society, and here in the UK is no different. As black British people, we know of and have seen members of our community over-policed, brutally treated and die at the hands of institutionally racist police forces and recount for example the deaths of Sarah Reed, Rashan Charles, Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg and many more. Simply put, the UK is not innocent”.

The letter subsequently turns its attention to the music industry in particular, stating: “The music industry has long profited from the rich and varied culture of black people for many generations but, overall, we feel it has failed to acknowledge the structural and systematic racism affecting the very same black community and so [is], effectively, enjoying the rhythm and ignoring the blues”.

“We feel that as an industry, we cannot continue to benefit and profit, whilst continuing to ignore the issues of the community we benefit and profit so much from, issues which affect far too many of our artists in one way or another”.

Noting how last week’s Black Out Tuesday initiative brought many black people working in the music industry together, the letter reveals: “Coming together and talking about the events outlined herein and our shared experiences caused us to relive the many instances of injustice, racist comments and marginalisation across our lives including in our experiences within this industry”.

“It is a widely shared belief that the music industry has long been a microcosm for these injustices and they continue to play out within the companies you lead, companies which we are a part of. As a result of the passionate and thought-provoking conversations over the last week; the consensus is clear – the time for change is NOW”.

The letter then sets out five key priorities:

1. Mandatory anti-racism/unconscious bias training across each respective company for all non-black members of staff, led by black educators in the field, and complimentary counselling and holistic services made available for black members of staff with immediate effect.

2. For each company to commit a specified annual budget to financially support black organisations, educational projects and charities across the UK, eg The Black Curriculum.

3. Career development implemented for black staff across all business areas, including long standing consultants, in order to develop the next generation of leaders, [and] to address, challenge and change the lack of black staff at senior management level and [the fact there are] no black female presidents/chairwomen across the industry.

4. Following statements from major labels and management companies, the term ‘urban music’ is to be removed from your company verbiage and replaced with ‘black music’.

5. Establish a dedicated internal taskforce to review, and with the remit to drive and challenge, both the equality and diversity aims within your business structure, and the advancement of black executives across your business, including equal pay, mentorship and career progression.

The letter concludes: “We expect that these long overdue steps will be implemented in a comprehensive manner to translate your empathy into a legacy of lasting change and we look forward to working with you to ensure that this happens”.