On March 10, Music Week published an interview with Gamma founder Larry Jackson and UK president Ben Cook, in which they addressed the controversial fallout from Cook’s appearance in blackface at a fancy dress party in 2012 when he dressed as a member of Run DMC. Here, in an open letter to the music industry, the Black Music Coalition offers its response…
Dear Music Community,
The Black Music Coalition stands firmly with the Black music community here in the UK and we remind you of the many promises which were made by companies to create a more equitable music industry for us all.
Post-2020, the black squares, pledges and the claims of “listening and learning”, we are often asked the question, “what has changed in the music industry?” One area that we have witnessed change is the way the Black community are reclaiming the space to articulate our experiences of anti-Black racism, anti-Black sentiment, and discrimination. One thing that continues to remain is the consistent minimisation of the real harm caused to Black communities and individuals here in the UK by such acts. This lack of regard towards our lived experiences is so often paired with the business-as-usual response that Black communities have come to learn takes precedence over the harm caused to them.
It appeared to be suggested by Larry Jackson, an esteemed American music executive, in an interview (printed in Music Week on 10th March 2023), that the Black music community in the UK should simply accept the poorly timed apology about an incident of ‘Blackface’ committed by Ben Cook whilst he was a senior executive at a prominent label which had a number of Black acts on its roster; up until this point the incident appeared to be something most in the industry seemed to want forgotten. The Black music community in the UK will not be told how to react in the face of recurrent contempt because of that fallout. We acted then as we know first-hand that the strength of feeling about the incident and how poorly it was handled, ran way deeper. If true progress and reconciliation are now the best intentions here, then the channels of communication to the Black music community must be the first port of call, and not merely part of a strategic play. Regardless of the colour of any face which promotes the message that anti-Black racism should be forgiven and forgotten with the wave of an interview, or a new hire; harm to the Black community will no longer be ignored or go unchallenged.
Anti-Black racism, and its personal and professional casualties, is alive and kicking in many corners of the industry and attitudes are still not as progressive as many would like to portray. Since our inception as an organisation Black executives and artists continue to report to us in their droves, accounts of events and incidents that demonstrate that racism in the music industry, often perpetrated in plain sight, leaves many feeling dejected by their day-to day experiences. It also shows that there are still those who are boldly hopeful that any progress towards a more equitable industry grinds to a halt. Yet still, there are so many perpetrators who continue to profit off the rhythm and the blues of Black artists and culture, making big bank all while maintaining the disdain which is entrenched in the music industry at large and wider society. It should be a source of shame that the same industry which profits so much off a culture repeatedly and readily displays apathy when it comes to the disrespect of Black people and Black culture.
As Black music and culture continues to provide joy and wealth to many non-Black people, it is evident that proximity to Blackness continues to offer those who act contemptuously towards it, a redemption arc. If the music community was really listening and learning, then the following should come as no lesson: where there are wrongs committed and damage caused, the Black music community deserves unequivocal apologies, acknowledgment, and consultation towards repair. No anti-Black action or sentiment by anyone should be beyond reproach. The Black community must be included in the understanding that racism and persecution of any group is a threat to us all and something which merits serious action and consequences enforced and upheld by the whole music industry.
We care not for apologies drafted by crisis PRs which ‘don't go far enough’ or which mainly serve to protect a perpetrator or an organisation with little to no thought to those wronged, or worse, an apology years down the line, conveniently timed in line with an upward professional step; far from “selective outrage” this letter is a reminder that still, not all harms are responded to or treated equally in this industry.
The Black Music Coalition will continue to support, uplift, and amplify the collective voice of the Black music community in the UK as we are acutely aware that speaking out in this industry is not easy and the likelihood of being met with little empathy, compassion, or respect from others when it comes to our lived experiences remains apparent. We are all too familiar with the scrutiny that comes from every choice we make not to remain silent in the face of racism, and the professional cost paid by those who do speak out, which ironically appears to be the direct opposite effect on the careers of perpetrators of anti-Black racism.
The BMC therefore acts as a safe space for the Black music community who still are at the sharp edge of racism in their personal and professional lives. One look at our inbox lets us know that the fight against racism in its many guises in this industry is far from won.
Back in 2020 in the wake of organisations scrambling to be on the right side of history, it was Black executives in the UK who spoke out about their harrowing experiences of racism and the gross inequality in the industry. They spoke on their own behalf and will continue to do so as they navigate the nuanced UK music industry daily. Respectfully, the Black music community in the UK do not want to hear lessons on the ills of so-called cancel culture, we’ve seen which way that tends to work, what we are listening for are the true signs of change.
Meanwhile, we will continue to speak out for ourselves and invite our true allies and supporters to do so with us.
The Black Music Coalition
Ammo Talwar – CEO, Punch Records, Ben Wynter – Co-Founder Power-Up, Charisse Beaumont – CEO Black Lives in Music, Kienda Hoji – Music Lawyer & Manager, Indy Vidyalankara – Indypendent PR, Joe Frankland – Co-Founder Power-Up, Mykaell Riley – Director Black Music Research Unit, Paulette Long – Music Consultant, Roger Wilson – MD Black Lives in Music, Yaw Owusu – Senior Power Up Manager.