Speaking on BBC Sounds’ Duvet Days podcast, Ray BLK – real name Rita Ekwere – has underlined the wider repercussions of the UK’s visibility problem.
As of 4 July, there have been at least 33 fatalities from stabbings in London so far this year – and statistics have shown that knife crime has increased by eight per cent.
However, Ray BLK – the first unsigned artist to win BBC Sound of the Year – has now implored people to remember that there is more to the press’ headlines about “lawless London”.
The singer-songwriter first burst onto the music scene last year with her debut single Run Run. In the critically-acclaimed song, Ray addressed knife and gun crime in London, which she based on “real life events I have experienced”.
“The Run Run video has been my favourite to date because of the meaning behind it,” Ray said, in a tweet preceding the song’s release.
“These communities affected by crime and poverty need more attention and assistance from the government to create change.”
Run Run was, as fans will no doubt recall, accompanied by a powerful video – directed by Misfits’ Tom Green – that followed a teenage boy as he tries to escape the ever-present threat of violence and death.
At one point in the video, he is seen climbing a staircase littered with victims’ bodies, before a police officer in riot gear tackles him to the ground. And, all the while this is happening, Ray sings: “Run, run if you wanna see the sun / We don’t wanna lose another one.”
Now, speaking exclusively to Abby Hollick on BBC Sounds podcast Duvet Days, Ray – real name Rita Ekwere – has explained that she released the song in a bid to help those listening understand why so many London teenagers have gotten caught up in the city’s knife and gun crime.
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“The crazy thing is that people from where I’m from, we’re so desensitised to stuff like that,” said Ray. “Even hearing about a stabbing… it’s become so mundane, like everyday life.”
She continued: “What I wanted to depict in the video [to Run Run] was to really show how the people that were involved in knife crime, they’re going through things as well. They haven’t created this problem.
“It’s a kind of a cycle where you get dragged into it… [and] even when you make it out of the ends, you come out to this big wide world, maybe you’re in the corporate world, and you’re still fighting and it’s still claustrophobic – and now you’re experiencing racism, you’re experiencing classism, and how do you win? How do you ever win?”
During her appearance on the BBC Sounds podcast, Ray went on to address the challenges she faces as a young black woman in the music industry, the UK’s lack of BAME representation, and the pressure that comes with being a role model.
“If you don’t see yourself being reflected somewhere, how do you feel like you’re capable of achieving that?” she said, echoing the sentiments of Stylist’s Love Women initiative.
“It’s amazing that we’re having the conversations about racism in the industry, but for some people it emphasises it more – that this is an issue, and that maybe they shouldn’t get into it. But for me, I’ve always been someone who’s pushed by doubt. If people are saying that it’s really difficult for black women to break into the industry, then I’m like, ‘OK, well someone has to do it!’ … someone has to say, ‘I have to try this and see if I can fly the flag and inspire other people to think that they can do it too.’”
Ray finished by saying: “I think it’s amazing to be a role model, in terms of inspiring people, but it kind of makes you feel like you have to represent properly and you can’t make any mistakes, and you don’t want to let people down. But, I’m human and I’m OK with that.”
For far too long, the representation of women by both mainstream and social media has failed to reflect who we see in the mirror, and its impact on our mental health is worrying. Stylist’s Love Women initiative promises to change that. As well as the launch of our Body Politics series, we’ve partnered with Dove, whose latest project (in conjunction with photo library Getty Images) aims to increase the supply of diverse pictures of women – which we will be using going forward.
Our editor-in-chief Lisa Smosarski has also made five pledges to Stylist readers:
1. We will ensure the women you see on our pages represent all women – inclusive of ethnicity, body shape, sexuality, age and disability. When we create content and ideas, we will ensure that all women are represented at the table. We commit to featuring one fashion or beauty photoshoot a month that uses real, diverse women.
2. We will ensure that we never sell an impossible dream. We believe in aspiration, but not in selling a lie. We will work with influencers, celebrities and other partners to encourage them to reveal their truths, too.
3. We will celebrate the so-called flaws of women to prove the normality in all of our bodies. We will run videos, photoshoots and honest accounts of our bodies and how they behave.
4. We will hold regular huddles with our advertisers and brand partners to challenge the way they portray and reflect women in their branding and advertising. We will call out and challenge brands, media and people who refuse to represent women with respect and truth. We will call on the government to support our goals.
5. Through insight and anecdote, we will teach everyone about the issues facing women, what needs to be done and how we can all work together to resolve this self-esteem crisis.
Find out more about Stylist’s Love Women initiative here.
Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.