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Reflecting on #TheShowMustBePaused

Following #TheShowMustBePaused, we must now turn awareness into action in order to create meaningful, long-term impact.

Published: 03 June 2020 | 12:00 AM Updated: 28 April 2021 | 4:30 PM
Protesters at a Black Lives Matter march in London.
Posting a black square on social media, whilst a well-intentioned act of solidarity, is not enough if it’s not followed up with action. Photo Credit: Taan Parisse

#TheShowMustBePaused initiative was created by two Black women in music, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, in response to the countless murders of Black people in the USA. The initiative was intended to disrupt the working week and have an open and honest conversation about how the music industry can support Black communities and work to dismantle racism globally.

The MU, as part of the music industry, felt that it was important to show our solidarity with Black communities and observe #TheShowMustBePaused.

The reactions to the initiative have been far ranging from both Black and white people. Some people really like the idea, others have questioned what this action will achieve, and if the action has done more harm than good. All are legitimate responses.

Awareness needs to turn into action

What started as a music industry initiative, snowballed into a social media wide campaign of posting black squares, which adversely disrupted and obscured the work of Black activists using the hashtag, #blacklivesmatter. Posting a black square on social media, whilst a well-intentioned act of solidarity, is not enough if it’s not followed up with action.

Let’s be frank, one action for one day will not dismantle racism, and we are way beyond just raising awareness. What the Blackout should do is start conversations and reflections by white communities on what they can do, long term, to listen to and work with Black communities towards dismantling racism.

If #TheShowMustBePaused initiative is to have meaningful, long-term impact, awareness needs to turn into action.

Racism is deeply embedded in society

Racism is a structural problem and needs to be addressed as one. Structural racism impacts Black communities in every area of life. From healthcare and housing to education, structural racism disadvantages Black communities every step of the way.

Of course, individual prejudice needs to be tackled, and we should all be calling out racism whenever we encounter it, but that cannot be the beginning and end of our work.

Racism is so deeply embedded in society that individual actions just aren’t going to cut it. Structural racism is a problem that is literally killing Black people, as we’ve seen in the USA and here in the UK during the Coronavirus pandemic. This is nothing new.

The music industry is racialised

The music industry isn’t free from racism, no matter how “diverse” some people think it is. The targeting of Black communities or music genres that have originated from Black communities still goes on to this day.

Form 696 was used to racially profile events, which led to the closure of grime gigs. More recently, the censorship of Drill music is another example of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Music education remains almost entirely Eurocentric, despite the contributions of Black composers, musicians and performers, works that are outside western traditions are largely dismissed. This deprives all students of the opportunity to experience works by Black musicians and disempowers young Black students by denying them role models who look like them.

We as an industry need to stop shying away from the issue and develop a better understanding of how racism works, how it prejudices decisions and how it robs Black musicians of opportunity or pigeonholes them into genres that are deemed as “Black” or “ethnic”. Whether we admit it or not, the music industry is racialised.

Our commitment to creating a space with our Black members

For the MU, #TheShowMustBePaused was a time to educate ourselves, think about how the union can better represent Black members, and work towards dismantling racism in the music industry and beyond. A document was circulated to all staff with resources aimed to educate and reflect on racism.

This work is about how we can change the environment and culture to ensure that the MU is a space where Black members can fully participate and engage.

This is not just a 24-hour project, the MU is committed to:

  • Working more closely with Black members to ensure their voices are heard and represented in all sections of the MU, such as through reserved seat structures
  • Continuing to work with Black members to tackle racism and lack of representation in the music industry and beyond through campaigns, and positive action projects
  • Engaging more frequently with Black members on issues that directly impact them through our member networks
  • Identifying and acknowledging the role that the MU plays in upholding inequality by being held accountable to our Equalities Committee
  • Building stronger partnerships with anti-racist organisations and amplifying their work
  • Making sure Black and other high-risk workers' issues are raised in return to work plans
  • Keeping equality, diversity and inclusion at the top of our agenda
  • Working to better educate our members and the communities we operate in on racism and its impact on Black communities

The music industry must be actively working towards change

#TheShowMustBePaused calls on white people in the music industry to educate themselves and each other on these issues, and to make a commitment to work towards reducing the harm of structural and systemic racism.

As we’ve said before, this cannot be achieved by a 24-hour action, and it can’t be achieved by an individual approach. It requires multiple, sustained, targeted approaches that white people must invest in and work together with Black communities on.

Racism is a fight we can win, and dismantling racism, particularly anti-blackness, will create a fairer and safer society for everyone. If the music industry is not actively working towards change to the exclusionary and racist systems that are embedded in society, then we are failing Black communities. We need to ensure that #TheShowMustBePaused translates into collective action.

There are many lessons for the MU to learn on how we do this. We will be listening to Black members and taking the lead from them on this work.

For now, we want to highlight a list of organisations that members can connect with for more information on racism and race equality.

Black Members’ Network

Black members are invited to join our Black Members’ Network for regular opportunities to get involved, have your say on what we do, contribute to consultation responses, and help make policy that reflects the truth.

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