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One Scotland, One Culture?

The Scottish Government recently consulted on its draft Culture Strategy for Scotland, which sets out a vision for Scotland to be “innovative, inclusive, and open to the wider world”. Their vision, however, overlooks a group particularly likely to be disadvantaged: Black and minority ethnic communities.

The evidence – qualitative and quantitative – demonstrates that Black groups are less likely than white groups to have access to opportunities in the culture sector. White artists can more easily access opportunities and funding as they have previously had chances to create; Black artists are more likely to be overlooked for opportunities, meaning they are more likely to be overlooked in the future. Institutional racism plays a key role in this discrimination.

CRER responded to the Scottish Government consultation – indeed, we were the only race equality group to do so (although culture is not part of our core remit, we felt it was too important not to respond to) – but we may as well not have.

Hardly any of our suggestions or constructive criticisms were included in the consultation analysis. There was a cursory mention of ‘inclusion’ in the Key Themes Report and acknowledgement in the Full Report of concerns regarding representation in a national partnership, the use of the word ‘diversity’, care needed to ensure BME groups are involved, and the need to increase inclusive work opportunities in the sector. However, other, more systematic issues were dismissed.

The race-specific issues we raised, which were dismissed in the analysis, included:

  • A nationwide survey[1] of ‘diversity in the arts’ which found that half of BME respondents saw their ethnicity as a barrier to career progression compared to just 5% of white respondents, with BME respondents having a lower median income overall. Barriers listed included discrimination, a lack of understanding of or interest in the cultural themes of their work, and lacking established networks.

  • Of Creative Scotland’s regularly funded bodies, no chief executives, artistic directors, or chairs, and only less than 2% of board members, permanent staff, freelance staff, and volunteers had a BME background.

  • The impact of the main funding bodies in the culture sector being led by white people, which means that if artists do not fit into a white, Eurocentric model of culture and art (which adopts a tokenistic approach, valuing art and culture created by Black individuals and communities only when it reflects their ethnic heritage in some way as part of an exoticised view of ‘diversity’), they are not chosen for opportunities.

  • The relationship between culture and its wider historical context; the history of slavery, colonialism, and empire continues to impact Black communities – and Black artists – in Scotland today. While the rich and complex history of Scotland is celebrated and studied, and despite Black communities having long been intertwined in this story, often this history ignores or poorly represents Black groups.

  • The focus of current funding encourages Black groups to celebrate heritages linked to a ‘non-Scottish’ ethnicity or to participate in very specifically ‘Scottish’ celebrations of heritage. This approach contributes to an ‘othering’ of Black communities and creates the misleading impression of culture in which Black communities in Scotland are seen to be distanced from the culture of the majority white Scottish ethnic community.

Furthermore, there was no mention of calls to:

  • Develop specific plans to improve the representation of BME groups in the culture sector and promote equality of opportunity for Black artists, moving away from the deficit-based model of capacity building

  • Examine of the impact of the broader story of Scotland’s history and the continuing impact of white supremacy and white privilege

  • Commit to educating white leaders in the sector about race equality and the long-standing reality of institutional racism, informed by the impact of slavery, colonialism, and empire

  • Reconsider of the role of Black leadership in culture and a development and better understanding of the relationship (and differences) between ethnicity, heritage, and culture

A strategy needs more than good intentions to be effective; the culture strategy in its current form will do nothing to advance race equality in this regard and will only further contribute to the inequalities faced by Scotland’s Black communities.

We hope that the final strategy will take more cognisance of these issues, and strongly urge the Scottish Government to engage with Black groups on these issues. If not, culture in Scotland will continue to be yet another place where institutional racism continues to thrive.

Unfortunately, this whitewashing occurs with nearly every consultation response CRER offers, despite our responses being evidence-based and often the only one addressing race equality.

[1] Creative Scotland – Survey on Diversity in the Arts 2017