That Won't Put Food On The Table: Fighting the Stigma of the ‘Arts & Humanities’ in BAME Communities
It is my hope that this article will make BAME students studying arts and humanities feel more assured about their choices as well as encourage all other students, to follow their passion, take pleasure in what they do and have a commitment to hard work.
Whilst in our early years, learning how to speak, how to write, how to listen and how to read are most likely all our first experiences of education and some of our parent’s proudest moments of us. For this reason, we can all identify with and testify of the importance of language and literature. One of the most essential functions of literature, is its ability to take us into other minds: the mind of the author and the mind of the characters the author creates. Literature can act as a time machine propelling us into a specific time period, it can reveal to us various aspects of the world by allowing us to experience it from different perspectives, different cultures and places. But if this is true, and it is proven to be, then according to the most popular and prevalent novels in our society black consciousness, culture, identity and being do not exist. From the time we are taught to read, write, speak and listen, commonly from an early age, we were also taught that our stories and realities are insignificant and that the intrinsic definition of what it means to be human is to be white in body and mind.
Think about all the non-European literature you read or studied as a child; think about what they all have in common… racial struggle? Slavery? Oppression?
Even when the themes change from the common solemn notes of history, BAME characters in literature are either minor characters or enjoyed and celebrated by the BAME communities. This is true throughout the arts and humanities. Think about your favourite POC TV shows, films, art… and now compare all of those numerically to white film, white tv, white literature, teachers, historians, philosophers and psychologists. Our works of creativity, as well as our creators, are always side-lined, we always seem to be at the periphery and never the centre. From book festivals to the Oscars, we always seem to be asking one important question: Why is there such a lack of diversity in the Arts?’
The first finger should be pointed at society. Society has held up barriers for BAME people in creative industries and education from before all of us in this room were born. That’s why the attainment gap exists, that’s why our curriculum is mono-cultural and why we don’t see ourselves reflected in popular culture, classrooms… the very books we read. We have always had to work harder as black people and undeniably society has made it that way. We know this and have known this; we talk about this and protest this. For that very reason, societies wrongs will not be the focus of this talk. I want to explore our own attitudes towards artistic creativity and innovation. Where does arts and humanities stand in black culture and societies? I want to explore the ‘BA’ stigma and the stigma of the arts and creative industry in the BAME community.
Prospective students are faced with having a conversation with family and loved ones to inform them of their desire to choose a degree; and with the stigmas attached to BA degrees, this conversation can be awkward for some!
There tends to be judgement towards Bachelor of Arts degrees and arts industries for various reasons: the variety of job prospects, the myth of financial instability in careers, the meaning and impact it will have on society etc.
I often hear the regrets of BAME students. Many say: “Renée, I am not enjoying my course” or “I wish I didn’t have to study what I am studying” and my first reply is often “Why…what did you want to study instead?” to which they respond giving examples of degrees such as fine art, drama, literature, history, philosophy; and so, my second question is always the same as my first “why…why didn’t you?” to which I often hear “oh, well, you know African/Caribbean/Asian parents.” The trouble it is us, as students, who must study for a degree for three years of our life and unfortunately it is us who suffer ill mental health due to lack of motivation, purpose and pleasure. The number of university students reaching out to mental health facilities is up by 50 per cent, according to new statistics. Specifically, black people are much more likely than their white counterparts to be diagnosed with a mental health condition. So, it is imperative that you do whatever it is that makes YOU happy, despite the wishes of our elders, our community, our parents.
This is not to blame parents, or our elders or others in our community, however, because to an extent I understand. Some of us may be the descendants of immigrants who came to this country with nothing, seeking for a better life. Our generation are among the first in our families to have the opportunity to go to university, and so the pressure has fallen on us to help change our familial situation by studying something which will more likely ensure financial stability. But that is not guaranteed even in STEM.
I believe, however, that there are three key things we need in order to be successful in any industry, three key things which will also help to fight the stigma:
Decision: Decide what it is you want to study or what career path you want to follow based on whatever it is that makes you passionate, gives you pleasure and can enable a commitment to hard work.
Communication: communication has the power to influence and enhance understanding. Sitting down with your family or peers to explain why you want to do something that they do not agree with or understand is not always easy. But, with relevant research of possible career paths and examples of successful people in your ideal industry, communicating your passion can be a crucial step in fighting the stigma against your social science degree or industry. It may also get you in the habit of communicating your passion to other people — a great skill employers look for. Communicating your passion to yourself is also a great way to keep you motivated when you otherwise feel undetermined or uninspired.
Dedication: We have to challenge ourselves by going for those opportunities which intimidate us. The job markets have evolved; with the ever-changing times comes a new wave of creative sectors filled with opportunities in which you have the potential to reap great success. Take the risk or lose the chance. situate yourself with like-minded people who work hard, celebrate your successes and push against the barriers of race. This will aid you greatly in your journey towards success.
There’s always more to be done but there are exciting things happening. industries are changing and there are schemes that are specifically looking for ethnic minority students. If you do not push to be the representative you will never be represented. There are some organisations that can help you explore your passion for artistic innovation and thought:
Women Who - https://www.womenwho.co.uk
Women in the creative industries are underrepresented and Women Who is here to change that. This community based in London aims to connect and inspire creative working women to take charge and make the changes they wish to see in their careers.
Social Fixt - https://www.instagram.com/SocialFixt/?hl=en
Social Fixt is an organisation that aims to connect BAME talent with the latest opportunities within the creative industry.
Business of Creativity (BOC) - https://twitter.com/thebocuk
The Business of Creativity is a new platform that helps creative entrepreneurs handle business matters and value their work.
Let us be active in leaving a legacy, let us stop complaining that we are or will be the ‘only one’, let’s be the change we want to see.
- Renée Landell