Published 29 February 2016
February is a funny old month, what with cupid coming and going, Leap Year fancies (*will she, won’t she) and that’s before the freezing winds, howling gales and unexplained celestial pancakes: we Brits might struggle with February, but in Tinseltown they truly can’t wait ’till it’s over.
When nominations for the 88th Annual Academy Awards were announced last month, organisers’ galactic balls-up looked like a B-movie farce. They only went and fixed it so all the Actor gongs would go to … lots of white people.
Like the proverbial (and non-Oscar winning) Groundhog Day, here we were for the second year running: no non-white name on the big prize lists. Cue fairweather media consternation, Twitter going mental, threats of boycotts, demands to re-vote …
I read countless words on social media, particularly LinkedIn, from professional types disgusted that Hollywood – for all its progressive intent and Clooneyish smugness – could be so perversely colourblind (We’ve kinda accepted they are most definitely sexiest and that any female north of 40 better get some work done if they want to stay in the game, but this…a new low for the democratic loving entertainment world…??)
Departing from the usual reach-for-the-stars spiel, CEOs and thought-leaders grabbed their best writing pencils to channel the great Roger Ebert and take us on a whistlestop tour through 2015 in film – making sure to note every stellar performance by a non-white actor.
Indeed, Sly Stallone got a nod for his sixteenth go at Rocky, while Creed lead Michael B. Jordan was overlooked. Nothing either for Idris Elba, who towered in Beasts of No Nation, nor Will Smith for Concussion. I agree, it’s all pretty unfair when – to my untrained eye – Maaatt Daaaymon merely bobbed about space … and Leo lay in the snow for like 90 minutes.
But for all the self-righteous indignation, the cries of foul, the talk of corruption, accusations of inertia, and, yes, racism … were most of us failing to see how this parallels our reality.
Racism or, let’s use the pre-watershed term, discrimination against non-white workers isn’t the exclusive reserve of the Oscars elite. No, unfortunately it’s the sad institutional truth of the workplace some 5,000 miles east of Hollywood: a place called home.
After analysing data published in the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey, the Trades Union Congress recently reported that black workers in the UK still face a “massive” pay gap that actually widens the more one is qualified.
There’s a pay deficit of 11% when comparing black and white workers with GSCEs to their name. There’s a 14% pay gap between black and white workers who have A-levels. And more depressingly, there’s a 23% gap in the average hourly pay between black and white university graduates.
For all the great work schools and social groups are doing to encourage black kids to stay in education, to achieve, and to invest in further learning, it seems they’ll be sold shorter every step deeper they go.
And just to show that our discrimination doesn’t discriminate, workers from all other ethnic minority backgrounds faced an average 10% pay disparity when there’s a degree, and 17% when there’s A-levels. Oh and a quick aside: the most up-to-date research shows that ethnic minorities actually outperform white British students in education.
A recent Observer report found that black and ethnic minority (BAME) grads in the UK were between 5 and 15% less likely to be employed six months after graduation, and BAME workers are still under-represented in almost all professions – the City, the media, FTSE 100 companies, and across the board at every management level.
Sure, I get it, the Oscars’ institutional whiteism is a satisfying target. It’s cathartic to write big words scathing Hollywood; its pomp and its priggishness. But we’re just as exposed as they are, every day, when it comes to noticing and accepting our own failings in racial economics.
To all those who, so incensed by the Oscars shortlist, thought they’d vent some condemnatory platitudes about the situation, why not look around instead at your office and assess the equality of your workforce.
Hollywood’s a synthetic land that’s light-years from reality. Rather than screaming at the stars, let’s get mad in our own back yard.
(*haven’t decided yet…)