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Courtesy of gal-dem

Why media spaces for women of colour need to exist

Gal-dem is the online magazine by and for women of colour tackling minority representation head on

“We need to cover this,” yelled the news editor to a desk of dead-eyed reporters, “this girl is white, middle class, pretty and she’s done a creative writing course!”

The girl in question was the late Alice Gross, who had just been declared missing, and the newsroom, of an incredibly influential London-based national title which it’s probably safer I don’t mention, could have been one of many in the United Kingdom.

The media is not a friendly place for ethnic minorities and the lack of diversity within it continues to shock me. This is where ‘gal-dem’ comes in: a new media platform, or “online magazine”, exclusively produced by young women of colour (WoC), which launched in September 2015.

I first met the other members of the ‘gal-dem’ team on a hot day during summer, in Brixton, south London. Walking into a concrete floored café, there they were; a tight gaggle of girls from a variety of backgrounds, sitting around a wooden table. Some were already wearing gal-dem t-shirts, featuring an illustrated image of a woman whose natural afro hair springs up in tight coils, an off-centre smile on her face. There wasn’t much to go on, but we had an idea which brought us together - the concept of creating something that would have helped us growing up, an outlet for voices that aren’t heard as often as they should be.

Liv Little, editor-in-chief, came up with the idea for ‘gal-dem’ after attending a talk by black screenwriter Cecile Emeke (who produced the cult YouTube hit Ackee & Saltfish). When she contacted me about getting involved and I began to research similar publications, it almost shocked me that nobody else had taken up the gauntlet. The idea of a platform like this is almost painfully obvious, and gal-dem has quickly spin-balled, picking up nearly 50 contributors along the way. The only problem has been that some people are struggling to understand why a platform like ‘gal-dem’ needs to exist. This is why:

THE MEDIA INDUSTRY IS DOMINATED BY RICH WHITE PEOPLE

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with rich white people, but when a certain demographic are at the top of the food chain, their influences and prejudices can bleed down throughout an industry. To throw some figures out there, as of 2014 only six per cent of people working in newspapers, radio and television were ethnic minorities, compared with 14 per cent of the UK population as a whole. A white newspaper editor might not walk into their newsroom and immediately feel uncomfortable because the chain of writers they have instructed to spew out current affairs bile are all grey haired white men, but it’s certainly unsettling for a woman of colour in that environment. Sadly this white-bias is reflected in the content of mainstream media too: for instance, Vogue didn’t feature a black woman on their cover for 12 years.

THE ‘MINORITY MEDIA GHETTO’

As put by Nasrine Malik in the Guardian, there currently exists a “minority media ghetto where minority writers are limited to writing about minority issues and gripes”. The amount of times where I have clicked on the profile of a woman who has written about black hair for a national newspaper, and realised that this is the only topic she has ever been commissioned to write about is ridiculous. Personally I’ve been used as the “black face” for articles on race that particular editors’ wanted to see written. In part to counteract this, ‘gal-dem’ writers can pitch any stories that have a strong angle, and although naturally our content has focuses on race and feminism, we are in no way limited to this remit.

“As of 2014 only six per cent of people working in newspapers, radio and television were ethnic minorities”– Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff

OUR VOICE IS JUST AS VALID AS YOURS

WoC are not just unheard in the media, they also struggle to be heard in day-to-day life. In our recent YouTube series, Interlude, one of gal-dem’s editors, Varaidzo, tackles the topic of silent oppression. “A lot of people want to continuously police how you talk. You always have to be conscious of how you say things. I’m so aware of whatever I say, I just follow the lead of whoever I’m around,” she says. ‘Gal-dem’ is an opportunity to move away from that mindset. We want to voice our own opinions, narratives and identities as WoC and not have them voiced for us. There is a lack of stories out there from our perspective and we are in the process of reclaiming our narratives.

POSITIVE ACTION IS NOT RACIST

While ‘gal-dem’ doesn’t exactly practice positive action, it falls under the same scope. People who complain about the exclusivity of ‘gal-dem’ (I can already imagine the shrieking-style comments “It’s racist! Imagine if there was a magazine set up just for white girls!”) only need to look at the figures at the top of this article. That’s not to say that there aren’t other problems with diversity within the media industry (54 per cent of the top “100 media professionals” in 2014 came from public schools despite only seven per cent of the population being privately educated), but there are unique, intersectional pressures faced by WoC, and we deserve recognition and a voice just as much as anyone else.

WE’RE ALL LEARNING

One of the most important aspects of ‘gal-dem’ for me has been it’s ability to open my eyes to the worlds’ of other WoC. We form a collective as part of ‘gal-dem’ but we have such a variety of lived experiences, and my own ignorance has been tackled through writing and debate. I have had a huge community open up in front of my eyes. ‘gal-dem’ has also been useful almost as an educational tool for friends and family, opening up dialogues between us that genuinely weren’t there before. It exists as a space we can direct our friends to who aren't people of colour when they are trying to be allies. It's a platform where we don't preach, we just aim to exist. This is us. This what we like, this is what we care about, this is what makes us proud to be WoC, this is what makes us feel pain. This is where you can be part of the conversation too.

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