Clement Ogar
Africa

Stifled voices, broken society

In Africa, we believe that the little chick that screams and wails when snatched by the eagle is not doing so because it thinks the mother can still save it; it does so in order to alert the rest of the flock and warn them of its plight, so that they do not suffer the same fate. The essence of this is that if one’s freedom is taken away, at the very least one should not be rendered voiceless, because in doing so not only is one rendered voiceless, a whole nation, a whole people could become voiceless as a consequence.
One of the most devastating pain and suffering voiceless people endure is defencelessness. They become defenceless as they are voiceless and so unable to tell their side of a story. And because of their inability to defend themselves, any oppressor is in a position to decide the course of their lives and their history in any way he or she (the oppressor) deems fit. For example, if a dog is given a bad name in order to kill it, knowing full well that it is unable to defend itself, the name-tag does not necessarily turn the dog into a bad one; it simply makes it easier to get rid of. Consequently if your voice is the only one that is heard and you relentlessly drum it into everyone that the dog is mad, the chances are people will begin to believe you. It’s not that people wouldn’t question the authenticity of your story, with time they simply will get used to your story. As a consequence the true story of who the real monster is may simply never emerge. And you know what they say; it is the victor who writes history.
It is no secret that African communities in Britain are denied proper opportunities to represent themselves in the same media that carefully and relentlessly create identity, perceptions and stereotypes about them and others of African-Caribbean origin. Even in instances when they are given the opportunity to do so, they only serve as a mouthpiece for propagating mainstream media’s agenda. Ultimately, their position in society is influenced solely by those who control the media which produces the materials that are consumed by the general population, thereby marginalising them. This exclusion has in effect created a vacuum which African entrepreneurs are now clamouring to fill with media productions for consumption by their own communities.
The past two decades has seen a number of minority African media outlets (television, radio, magazines, newspapers, internet, etc) spring up in the UK in an attempt to represent their communities and give themselves a voice. Nevertheless, there are still very strong feelings among Africans that the representation of their communities is still mostly inadequate and largely inaccurate. As a direct result of their lack of representation by mainstream media, their voices are being steadily and systematically stifled thereby rendering them voiceless and therefore powerless. There is now a real threat of exclusion of minority African communities from the larger British society due to the silencing of their voices. Unless their ethno-specific media can provide a powerful alternative voice to challenge this injustice, there is a real danger now that even their real identity could be in peril. Consequently many Africans in Britain today crave the type of media that is capable of not only engaging with them fully, but also able to act as the voice for the issues that affect them. Many yearn for a media that’s not only able to represent them with one voice, but also hold a comprehensive debate about the most important issues that matter to them on their behalf.
There is a significant population of various communities of people from all parts of Africa and the Caribbean residing in Britain and Ireland. These communities consist largely of people from the sub-Saharan region and in particular from countries like Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, etc. Nevertheless, there are also significant communities of people from North Africa dotted across the country as well. A large proportion of Africans in the UK resides mainly in the capital, London and in the Southeast and in Dublin, Ireland. Others live in cities like Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield, Glasgow and other smaller towns and cities around Britain.
Empirical research has shown that a large percentage of ethnic minorities believe that they are not properly represented in mainstream media, and where any attempts have been made to do so, it has been mainly biased and focus mainly on the negative (Starfish Research’s Minority Report). This feeling, which seems to reverberate particularly across the African or Black communities have prompted some entrepreneurs and journalists to set up one form of media or the other, to give their communities the type of voice they need in order to be heard. Many of them fear that mainstream media’s obsession with negative images of Africa and Africans (particularly sub-Saharan Africa) may be fostering fear and loathing of black people as a whole in Britain.
The issue of Africans representing themselves in UK’s media sphere has recently become a matter for close attention as more and more media outlets spring up all across the country hoping to become the voice for their communities. It had suffered lack of research interest from social scientists in the past but is now coming under close attention because ‘minority media are now playing the important role of mobilising people and stressing the need for action’ (Isabelle Rigoni, 1995). In an age when globalisation provides different avenues for accessing information, it is becoming increasingly difficult for mainstream media to continue their traditional stranglehold on the instruments of information dissemination thereby laying bare their culture of brain washing and biased reporting.
The British media must self-monitor in order to avoid slipping into the trap of falling in love with the sound of its own voice. Gate-keepers must ask themselves whether they are doing a disservice to the whole community in which they operate. Mainstream media must strive to become more inclusive and editorial policies must be overhauled in order to provide fair and accurate coverage of the issues that affect black Britons. Otherwise it risks alienating the very society it purports to represent.
As noted earlier in this piece, the clamour for access and allocation of resources has meant the sidelining of some groups of people in society. This issue has for far too long divide people along racial and ethnic lines. And as most of us are aware, divide and rule is the oldest trick in the book for getting your hands on those resources, whether that’s in terms of education, jobs, political representation, etc. Subsequently, mainstream media has become more or less an instrument for the struggle to control access to resources. Many black Britons now believe that mainstream media has become one of the most potent instrument of institutional racism in their society. Although many are now hoping that the ‘Obama Effect’ may bring about a gradual shift in attitudes, the rest are still sceptical that anything will ever change fundamentally and that we are not about to see a black Prime Minister anytime soon.
Nevertheless, if anything, what the ‘Obama Effect’ has given many black Britons today is hope, hope that anything is possible and that colour should not and must not stand in the way of your talent and skills. Stifling the voices of a section of society by denying them opportunities to represent themselves and sidelining them from accessing the enormous opportunities that exist in their society can only breed anger and dissent. The only profit anyone could reap from that is a broken society.
Clement Ogar is a London-based journalist. He can be reached at: clement@arrowheadmedia.co.uk

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