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Sideman: to truly amplify Black voices, those with influence need to share the mic

BBC Radio 1Xtra presenter and comedian Sideman discusses the importance of sharing platforms

The Share the Mic initiative is something that I’ve seen happening in the United States, that I haven’t seen happen in the UK: where superstars like Jennifer Aniston, Selena Gomez, Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Garner, and people of that stature have shared their platform, with leaders from the Black community on issues around systemic oppression and racism.

One of the things that often happens is that a lot of white allies to the Black Lives Matter movement, and that idea and mindset, when they speak up, speak from a misinformed place. Even though they are trying to help, and don’t want to put out incorrect information, or sentiments that cause offence rather than healing, that’s what happens. It’s happened with a lot of brands that have spoken up or shown solidarity, because there is a level of cultural cluelessness there, which is indicative of the problem itself.

Sometimes brands or businesses don’t have enough Black people in their staffbase, or the Black people that they have wouldn’t feel comfortable enough to speak against something. Let’s say a brand shares a picture or post showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and they ask the Black staff that they have how they feel about it, whether the post could offend anyone, or was tone deaf. That staff member might not feel comfortable enough to say what they really feel. The environment hasn’t been created that gives them the level of comfort to be honest about their feelings, and they may feel that it would be detrimental to their career.

That is something that is a big part of the Black experience at work. You feel like you almost have to diminish and dilute yourself in order to not come across as “aggressive”, or “abrasive”, or like you’re playing a race card. And to not come across like you’re being difficult. Sometimes it is difficult for us to speak up in that work environment.

So, sharing your platform is sending a simple message: ‘OK. We can’t ever say that we understand. We can’t say that we know the right thing to say right now. So let’s give you the platform. Let’s give the people that have been disenfranchised, the people that have been silenced, held back, and marginalised, the opportunity to speak about exactly how they feel. Give the platform to leaders in the Black community. People that the Black community have verified as qualified to speak up on these issues.’ We have many people like that in the UK — people like Akala, George the Poet, and myself, who have spoken up.

It’s an opportunity for those people to be given a bigger platform than they already possess in order to speak on these issues. And not just a bigger platform, but also a different audience and demographic, so they can speak on these issues to make others more aware of what has happened, what is happening, and what can happen in the future. A lot of cluelessness in society about racism comes from not properly understanding the history of it. It isn’t well taught in schools, and what is taught is done in a very biased way.

"Helping the Black plight is not something you can do subconsciously, or on autopilot. It’s something that you have to actively fight against, not just in the public, but within yourself. Within your family. Within conversations that you have at work. Wherever you are, to bear us in mind. To do what you can do”

This system of biases is built within a person to such an extent that they will not know it’s there, or not until they really internally search themselves. It starts there. It starts with a serious investigation into one’s self. It’s an understanding that because Black people were held back, we need to be purposefully pushed forward. An understanding that it’s not unfair when you purposefully give Black people opportunities.

The onus is on all of us, but it should be understood by white people, about white supremacy and systematic oppression, that we can’t tear it down by ourselves. And it’s help that we need. Let’s say there was a race. It’s not a competition, it’s just an analogy. The buzzer goes that says you can run, but Black people are not allowed to run, whilst everybody else is running ahead. Now it’s only fair for everybody to stop and help us catch up. That’s all it is. It’s giving Black people — which some view as an unfair advantage — a push forward. But it’s not unfair because we were held back. If somebody has been held back then it’s important that they are pushed forward.

With that in mind it is not something that you can do by accident. Helping the Black plight is not something you can do subconsciously, or on autopilot. It’s something that you have to actively fight against, not just in the public, but within yourself. Within your family. Within conversations that you have at work. Wherever you are, to bear us in mind. Do what you can do, but it has to be something very active, as racism has got to a point where it is very subversive. The pushing of stereotypes against Black people, and phrases that have become common in society — like “Black-on-Black crime”. Nobody kills white people more than white people. Yet the phrase “white-on-white crime” is not a thing. It doesn’t exist.

What I hope can be achieved through the Share the Mic initiative is that more people become informed and energised to act. More people are made aware to be mindful of the Black plight. Mindful of what happens to Black people. It also gives an opportunity to those people that have been fighting the good fight to finally be heard. A lot of people that have been fighting the good fight have been doing so for long before Black Lives Matter was a popular hashtag. Long before it became beneficial for people to be involved. They’ve been fighting since a time that you would actually lose followers. You would lose platforms. You would lose money for speaking out. Those people have earned the right to have an opportunity to speak on a more national and global scale. They deserve that. They’ve earned that.

It’s a very smart thing for a white person to want to speak on it now, and get all the kudos for yourself, but it might offend some Black people as they feel like, ‘Oh, you want to speak for us now?’ When you give the mic to somebody else, it takes the praise away from you, but still gives out the information. Of course, you get some praise for sharing your microphone, but it shares that praise with the person that’s been boot-on-the-ground working towards the goal of informing people, long before it was popular to do so. Doing so will give Black people opportunities. It also will help to inform the demographic that probably needs to be informed the most, and it will energise people to act in their own communities, in their own families and in their own places of work.

After reflecting on how we can tackle the issues  around racism and racial injustice within the electronic music industry as a publication, we delivered our pledge to you on Monday (20th July), presenting significant changes within the company in order to better represent the scene — from the way we do business, to who we work with, and give coverage to. Read it here.

You can also find a directory of collectives, organisations, charities, and initiatives working with the Black community in a number of different ways, as well as resources that you can use to educate yourself, get involved, and donate if you can here.