June Sarpong, the BBC’s first director of creative diversity, has just talked about the reality of being “gaslighted” by TV bosses during her career because of a fear over “whether or not a Black person can present a mainstream show”.
Many people reading this will no doubt have been fans of June Sarpong since her T4 days, when she presented Channel 4’s iconic daytime teen-aimed show on weekends.
It’s been well over a decade since then (yep, really), and Sarpong has come to be one of the strongest and most active key voices in discussions around diversity in entertainment.
As well as being the author of Diversify: Six Degrees of integration and The Power of Women, Sarpong has been appointed as the BBC’s first director of creative diversity and has been awarded an OBE for services to broadcasting.
But Sarpong has just discussed the real challenges she has faced throughout her incredible career.
Speaking at the Creative Coalition 2020 conference, Sarpong talked about being “gaslighted” by TV commissioners because “there’s been fear of whether or not a Black person can present a mainstream show”.
“I understand first hand what the problems are, and who the problem is as well, and where the barriers are to progress,” Sarpong said, as reported by PA via Metro.
“I’ve been in rooms with commissioners where you’ve been gaslighted. I’ve been up for jobs and, last minute, there’s been fear of whether or not a Black person can present a mainstream show.”
She continued: “I don’t believe it’s intentional… It’s also out of fear and thinking that’s how the audience thinks. I know first hand… that is not how the audience thinks, because I know how the audience responds to me.”
Sarpong said that “sometimes the onus is put purely on people of colour, Black people”, adding: “But this conversation is for everyone and particularly white people have a very specific role to play in this.”
She said: “The self-reflection that we are asking people of colour about, we need to be asking white people about – in terms of how sometimes even ignorance can make you inadvertently complicit to a system that’s unfair.
“It’s about examining white privilege and what that means – are you perpetuating it or actively being anti-racist to help dismantle it?”
Sarpong’s vital words come a month after BBC director-general Tim Davie said that he wants ethnicity and disability representation of on-screen contributors to be monitored as part of a new voluntary move.
But they are also words that everybody should take a moment to think about.