Imagine a people without a means to tell their own stories, with less and less platforms available to express their tenderness, their torment even. As a Black African writer I am tethered to writing my experience. I’ve come to understand the strength of reading the thoughts of others before I write. I read for information, I read for inspiration. I mull over and ponder other people’s stories, replete with experience so that I can create and relate. I sympathize, understand and conceive what others report on their experiences. I relish the similarities. When the platforms I intentionally follow and read on social media are no longer around, where do I go for the news on the lives of those who look like me? Of those who share my thoughts, who care about what affects me too? For inspiration on black women, on African mothers, and on all things related.
You see, there’s something beautiful about personalisation. It’s talking about issues only your friends would understand, around your friends. It’s debating specific topics with your family because it’s about your family. It’s reading the room. Emitting opinions. Releasing grief and joy to the people you intended on aiming it at because they will just get it. A precise aim at the correct target. That’s what it’s like to speak on the experiences of people of color, on platforms aimed for us. In fact, ironic, but that’s what it’s like to be writing this right now.
The notion of diversity has introduced independent media platforms and organizations replete with the relevant staff, the right audiences and specific ideals intended to liberate underrepresented voices. This is what mainstream journalism has shockingly failed to do for a long time. To allow certain groups of people to express themselves creatively for a different purpose – to inform, to persuade, and to celebrate specific people, not just the general public. These personalized platforms are unique, required and renowned. They live in timeless spaces which have not been around for as long as they should have, for as long as they have been in demand in fact.
These necessary platforms mirror societies of people of color, their woes and their triumphs. They reflect their pain, their happiness, whether small or great. They tell the tales that may not be of interest to the big conglomerates, platforms that reverberate the stories we know are untrue or inaccurate and the stereotypes we have long laid to rest. These are communities still suffering from underrepresentation in the media, and they gain most of their traction from telling real stories first hand, no matter how trivial, no matter how small or specific, they are simply told, and by the correct people.
Surprisingly however, 87% of journalists still come from white ethnic backgrounds according to the Diversity in Journalism 2022 report. Even though the publishing industry has drastically changed in recent years to incorporate more inclusivity and diversity programs as well as create job opportunities, creatives in the industry are now lacking even more of these diversely enriched opportunities, and so they are still not as valued as their white counterparts. This is upsetting as a black African writer. Why is my identity an afterthought? Have we not always been here? Why are we not a priority in this right?
Many journalism platforms over the years that were required and essential to people of color and communities all over, also ceased operations due to reasons beyond their control; mainly finance. These were important platforms to black people because they were black stories being told by black people, for black people. It’s as straightforward as that.
Many of the platforms people of color require (though in demand, and more than qualified to represent POC communities) surprisingly have presented a pattern. It has been noted that some seem to struggle to continue serving their communities, as if diversity doesn’t predate news platforms. Platforms created for women, and focused on centering people of color for example, are integral to POC communities, and yet they are consistently undervalued.
A platform such as gal-dem, which was reliant on partnerships, has closed down this year due to funding and structural issues, even though it was an essential platform for marginalized communities. Formed in 2015, gal-dem was an online platform pivotal in deep dives surrounding several topics like housing issues, gender roles, the work of marginalized communities as well as other complex issues. They zeroed in on niche topics related to blackness, anti-rape, racism, Britian’s police, female Muslims and forgotten diasporas. The more specific and important to marginalized communities, the better.
How will the stories of these underrepresented people be heard if funding continues to be unavailable for platforms such as gal-dem? If we aren’t telling our own stories our way, who will do so? Are we setting ourselves up for failure, and to be forgotten, while expecting large media conglomerates or white-washed platforms to speak for us on topics they know and care nothing about?
It was platforms like gal-dem that I read a lot, and which in fact I wrote for previously. Its ethos was tailor made for my identity, molded for my thoughts. It’s where I first wrote about my feelings on Grenfell Tower for example, a deep dive on living in a council estate and also where I expressed my grief for the Grenfell victims five years later as I questioned our government and pondered the notion of neglect in connection with black death. It’s also where I read about things I would discuss with friends and family – culture, religion and blackness. Where I read articles I had never read elsewhere, things I would have happily written for gal-dem myself. The place where my identity was not a triple threat, and where I was heard as a walking subcategory – as a Black woman, as a Muslim, as a Somali and lovingly as a writer.
‘‘The Black News Channel’’ for example, was a black news station in the US that specifically targeted an African American demographic. Its goal was to create a network that reflected cultural topics to serve predominant black audiences who are a very valuable and large audience. Black ownership here was vital, yet the channel’s billionaire backer declined to provide more funding for the startup and eventually, this sadly led to its demise. In 2021, Beacon Books, the UK’s first specialist black book shop in North London was also shut down due to issues with finances. It provided information and cultural solidarity to black communities for fifty five successful years. The famous ‘’Ebony’’ print magazine in 2015 as well as its sibling ‘’Jet’’ magazine, also saw its publishers declaring bankruptcy and the publication ended up going online. These were and are, valued and well known magazines in this space, but also companies which are not as celebrated today. Fundamentally, they are artifacts of black culture let go too soon.
Many other community based platforms have ceased operations too sadly. These were too niche, well liked platforms which greatly served their communities. Vice Apac, [Vice Asia Pacific] for example, was also shut down this year due to layoffs at Vice News World. Editors and writers from Hong Kong, Thailand, Pakistan, India, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia and Japan lost jobs as well as their voices to report on location specific news due to money. The understanding needed to solidify why these types of cultural specific news and stories are very important, is the barrier to making sure these stories become essential, rather than optional.
A report conducted in 2022 showed that women of color in the news industry in the UK are excluded and effectively viewed invisible. Representation here is unbalanced and the stories of women of color are often missed and ignored.
Though the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in 2022 finalized rules that require UK listed companies to account for meeting board diversity targets, one of the minimum targets, to make sure women and people from a minority ethnic background are sitting on boards in senior executive teams (and to explain why not if so), comes at the eleventh hour and comes across as data-related more than anything. How are we able to tell our stories at bigger companies, when the POC staff ratio is off, but also there’s not enough of us to do so?
The recent requirement for diversity means that audiences are linking diversity and representation to authenticity. As Dorothy Byrne (Head of News and Current Affairs of Channel Four,) once said ‘‘if your newsroom is not diverse, you will get the news wrong.’’ To be truly representative, POC communities need to be portrayed authentically to avoid age old stereotyping. Additionally, there should be a welcoming of truthful and meaningful tales about these communities on personalized platforms.
It can be argued that content today is more reflective of numbers and allows relevancy to win. The media’s approach to diversity has been described by the Financial Times as ‘maturing’ and equity and inclusion go hand in hand with the notion itself. Being diverse should remain a must, rather than an option. Otherwise, how will the world know us? How will we know each other, if we don’t tell our own stories? Ultimately, if these media companies are closing down more often, audiences and financial backers are echoing a lack of care about POC as a people. And that reveals a lot in itself. Has much changed after all? Or are we still stuck in the past?
I’ll put it like this. Imagine watching the news everyday and there is nothing being discussed that really taps into your life. Nothing tangible to relate to, nobody that looks like you on the screen. Or, maybe you’ve finally found communities that care about each dissected part of you, and you slowly begin losing each one, month to month. As a writer myself, the shutdown of these popular platforms is a blow to my craft. If the best POC platforms cannot stay afloat, or they were not fought for and ultimately saved, where is our hope for all the others to stay alive? How many platforms will there be left to hear my cries about issues on race, religion and culture, if not POC ones? Will my message be altered, misunderstood or deemed unimportant by the bigger conglomerates? Or is my identity in this country deemed so insignificant that my distress about these POC platforms closing down has been viewed as nothing too, just as these closures were, announcing their departure sadly and slipping off into the ether, never to serve us again. Is this the start of the end?
Idman Omar is a new mother and recent MA Creative Writing graduate from London, England. She has previously been published in Stylist Magazine, Black Ballad, The Good Journal, Entropy, Gal-Dem, and Litro Online. IG: littleladyiddy IG: littleladyiddy