Editorials & Opinion

BLM and the fallacy of ‘celebrating diversity’ in the Eurovision Song Contest

How have the BLM protests exposed the illusion of inclusivity within the Eurovision fandom?

This has been an incredibly painful few weeks. Attempting to crystallise my thoughts has been equally painful. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests has prompted a broader discussion of the ideas of privilege and a reappraisal of popular culture. It has also unearthed some toxic and problematic mindsets in a number of individuals within the fandom. Of course, for a handful of us, we already had a hunch…

BLM within the Eurovision fandom

We need to be prepared for uncomfortable conversations and questions. These discussions are thought-provoking, eye-opening and enriching… but they are also hard.

It is difficult to explain to colleagues and peers why they might be allocated more privilege than someone else. To illuminate systematic inequality, or the violence that has knowingly or unknowingly occurred through our language or actions. Similarly, it is difficult recognising that you may enjoy systemic privileges over others, the stages of privileged racial identity development. It is equally difficult to relive the violence of racism to those who ‘don’t get it’ over and over to try and help them understand. I hope the widespread peaceful protests of BLM leads to positive change and enables these conversations. I also hope that the BLM movement will also allow for other marginalised groups in society to get an opportunity to recenter themselves in public discourse. As much as it is naive to suggest there is a singular ‘black’ experience, there is also a multiplicity of lived experiences which must be listened to if we want to achieve an equal society.

The Eurovision fandom, like the many acts that participate, are a melting pot of cultures, experiences and opinions. However, it is the responsibility of fan sites like ours to help shape and carve narratives of inclusivity – especially regarding identity. We have a social and moral responsibility to our readers, the acts we discuss and each other.

Performative optics

It is imperative we all collectively use our respective platforms to ensure we practice what we preach. We are not infallible. Dialogues, discussions and debates need to be had to ensure an ethical framework is built to ensure our beloved contest retains the moral principles it was initially founded on. That isn’t to say mistakes won’t be made. Dialogues and discourses change at a rapid pace and it is our responsibility to ensure we are on top of the often intersectional discussions of best practice. However, admitting a mistake and genuinely learning from it (rather than tokenistic lip service with no meaningful change) is the only way to grow and develop. We need to respect culture and the multiplicity of lived experience: celebrate diversity.

Remember that slogan? I do. Three years on, have we as a fandom managed to see that concept into fruition? Personally, I’m not so sure…

When the hosts to Kyiv 2017 were revealed, many made comments and/or jokes like Graham Norton’s commentary. Quite obviously, three white men is not ‘diverse’. However, this cognitive dissonance is emblematic of so much more than a punchline or gag from a commentators booth. It raises some poignant questions:

  • Was there ever an answer to how three white men embody the celebration of diversity?
  • Was the slogan successfully implemented? Where, exactly?
  • Almost more importantly, did anyone think to ask that question to the EBU and/or organisers in the first place?

These questions are somewhat rhetorical – I’m sure some did question the contradiction. But that ‘some’ needs to be ‘all’.

The below video covers the many tropes of white privilege.

Visibility and temporality

One thing to help diversify the platforms to which the fandom thrives off of is representation. Visibility is key. It may not immediately ‘fix’ the issues many of us see in the fandom, but it does provide a platform to be heard. ESC Insight have set up a brilliant initiative. Similarly, we at ESCXTRA are also looking for new contributors. I implore those who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) to consider joining a site and getting your voices heard.

That said, it should not be the sole responsibility of BIPOC to discuss these issues exclusively. Often the voices of allies – especially in this case white folks – using their privilege have the strongest chance to help dismantle systematic discrimination.

Indeed, ‘visibility’ is not just having a more diverse team on fan sites. Instead, visibility is the active and regular consideration and/or discussion of issues that directly impact those who are typically marginalised.

Racism did not end with the abolition of slaves. Similarly, racism will not end if and when the family of George Floyd get some form of justice for his death. The black tile or ‘temporary’ profile picture posted on social media to show solidarity as part of Blackout Tuesday? Well, unlike the temporary notion of a single post drawing attention to systemic wrongs for 24hrs, racism did not dissipate when the clock struck midnight and #BlackoutTuesday ended.

I welcome the articles by fan sites that have covered race, racism and the BLM movement. However, these pieces should not be a one-off tokenistic articles to say to ourselves ‘we covered racism’ and pat ourselves on the back. They shouldn’t be ill-thought rushed pieces to try and naively tap into the global outcry for some additional clicks. That’s a cheap, tacky tactic that is tone deaf as it is exploitative. It should be the start of a bigger conversation.

I hear some of you suggest fan sites covering race and particularly BLM is ‘too political‘. The plight for equality is a basic right of humanity. To suggest the existence of black people, or any other type of person, is ‘too political‘ is to suggest that section of society are somehow not worthy of basic human rights. That in itself is a trope of racism.

There is only one race: the human race.

Jane Elliott

You may read the above and think ‘surely all lives matter‘ – well yes they do. However, the below cartoon explains why that analogy just doesn’t work:

Why ‘All Lives Matter’ is a fallacy

Micro-aggressions, the fandom and violence

As Costa has recently outlined, the BLM movement and racism is not an exclusively ‘American’ issue. Far from it. I’ve seen tinges of racism, intolerance and ignorance from many corners of the fandom, including some pretty close to home. The concerns of black fans in relation to how fan sites have covered race is not ‘ridiculous‘ or ‘too political‘ or something to be ‘ignored‘. We would all agree that if a homophobic or ableist slur was knowingly or unknowingly made, it would be right to call it out. However, it seems qwhite interesting that this moral compass doesn’t seem to extend to the sensibilities of BIPOC.

You only need to watch this experiment that took part in the UK a decade ago to recognise how racism thrives by not listening, challenging societal structures of white privilege to be an effective ally.

The one thing we cannot and must not do is refuse to ‘read the room’. Ignore the writing on the wall and ignore the global outcry for change. Instead, every single one of us needs to take a reflective moment to learn and educate ourselves on how aspects of identity might have impacted our engagement and reception of the Eurovision Song Contest. It could be a book, article, a Youtube video. Dipping into the materials provided by the BLM movement to understand the macro and micro-aggressions of simply existing. How might these experiences mimic or reflect those of an act, songwriter or performer – who put a brave face on for those precious three minutes on stage? Although I hope no act/performer has been subject to abuse, problematic statements or micro-aggressions, I’m all too aware many have been subject to violence.

Violence sounds like an odd word, to some extent it is. However, this word is intentional. It attempts to capture a spectrum of meanings and implications that is caused systematic inequality, the hangover from colonialism and (in)direct prejudice. It also means trivialising the existence of a group of people within society. The dismissal of voices trying to speak truth to power. The trivialising of concerns, upset, trauma or anger. It’s all too easy to do harm without realising the implications and impact of our words and actions.

Best practise moving forward?

As inspiring as this wave of BLM based activism has been, we all need to ensure this conversation doesn’t fizzle out. To stop writing about systemic inequality, privilege and the insidious nature of discrimination is to whitewash the issue. The pun there is both intentional and a stark reminder of what happens when we don’t keep talking about this issue.

Costa has previously outlined what we as a site can do and you as readers. A social contract of sorts. Essentially – don’t be racist.

But what positives steps might we take? What micro-aggressions can be stopped immediately? Here are a few suggestions, though they are just that – suggestions. Things to contribute to a broader discussion within the fandom.

DON’T: Describe a specific soundscape as ‘ethnic’ or ‘world music’

  • Is there a more precise term to reflect what we hear?
  • What do we mean by these terms and how might they assimilate/blur distinct cultures – eroding their individuality?

Rather than homogenise all non-traditional Western sounds – we should instead take the time to educate ourselves in another culture. More often than not, acts who integrate part of their cultural and musical heritage are more than happy to openly discuss the instrumentation, beats, style or elements that have been fused to make a soundscape. Use their words/language as a guide!

Prior to becoming a fan of the contest, how many knew what a Portuguese fado sounded like? The typical traits of schlager or what white voice sounds like? How long did it take to learn this terminology? Probably no time at all!

So, why can we not apply that yearning for knowledge of soundscapes beyond the loose boundaries of ‘Europe’ in the Eurovision Song Contest? A few moments to learn about a musical culture is part of why we love Eurovision, so why not expand this love further? It is often the case fan-sites are rushing to report breaking news and shortcuts are often used to get something published quickly. However, this can create a clunky echo-chamber, erasing the nuance of national identity, musicality under the increasingly clunky term ‘ethnic‘ or even more strained ‘world music‘. An op-ed article by The Guardian explains why these terms need to be queried and dumped.

DON’T: Dismiss the voices and perspectives of BIPOC.

Here in the UK, BLM activism has prompted a reappraisal of popular culture and calling out micro-aggressions within the music and media we readily consume. Recent revelations of X Factor semi-finalist Misha B represent the human impact of these comments and the damage of racialised narratives. The trauma and damage inflicted on artists who wish to share their craft is very real: it is something we must fight against.

It’s a common talking point to suggest this is merely ‘playing the race card’ – but that in itself is a micro-aggression. As Afua Hirsch convincingly argues, the phrase is not only deeply racist but intended to silence, threaten or shame a BIPOC’s experience to a ‘subaltern’ state. Instead, listen to constructive feedback!

How often do we consider how these tropes might impact an act on a daily basis. From national final, to promo tours, rehearsals, local and international media and the performance itself?

Tired of hearing about race/racism? Imagine how tired the people are who experience it on a daily basis. To say you ‘don’t see colour’ is to demonstrate a freedom and privilege many BIPOC people do not have.

Your words and actions have an impact. What may seem like a harmless quip to you can be incredibly triggering and damaging. A seemingly sassy or intentionally antagonistic/provocative comment can have a lasting impact and feed into systemic tropes of violence. These comments chip away and diminish the self-worth of an individual. They invalidate your being. They make you want to hide in a void. They hurt. These statements may feel flippant when they are said or posted, but cause a lasting wound for the recipient. Simply put, they fuel and perpetuate white supremacy.

We can, should and must do better.

DO: be aware of the struggles an act may have endured during the Eurovision process

A little bit of homework goes a long way. Read up on the issue(s) before forming an opinion. Consider how an act may have been shaped or abused by local media before they even step foot on stage. Aminata, for example, received a torrent of racist bile after winning Supernova back in 2015. Recent testimonies from singers, such as Alexandra Burke, demonstrate how the music industry can proactively attempt to erode signifiers of your cultural identity.

The selection of Benny Cristo this year was exciting – especially given how the 2020 season was often dubbed as having ‘too many ballads’. Yet, the singer received a deluge of abuse from the fandom on social media. You might be asking ‘how do you know it was the Eurovision fandom‘? Great question! I doubt many Czech folk would send racially charged abuse to a Czech act in English that one of the ‘fan-favourites‘ didn’t win.

The singer received little digs and sly comments. Phrases used repeatedly and permeating in different fandom circles. Some designed to delegitimise his music or dismiss his vast performing experience. Other, equally ignorant comments dismissing his contribution to the contest. Some directly targeted at his identity. Allusions and racist tropes which aim to dehumanise his existence.

Statements that allude to the fact the singer is somehow not ‘European‘ or even how ‘that style of music‘ doesn’t belong to the song contest. More brazenly, how this isn’t the ‘Africavision‘. You don’t need to be subject to similar abuse to know where these comments are coming from…

Now, I could take the time to call out or challenge the motives behind these comments. All three claims are different shades of racist. But to call these claims out, especially on social media platforms, creates a ‘debate’-style format. However, you aren’t debating a slogan or a staging concept… instead the legitimacy of somebody’s existence.

As a person of colour, a part of me hesitates to do anything. I’m all too aware that if someone feels comfortable Othering a section of society, it doesn’t usually take a huge amount to widen the metaphoric net of prejudice. However, to say nothing is to be complicit and watch those views be legitimised: further erasing any resistance to a bubbling systemic racism within the fandom. Allies need to prevent bigotry from getting a platform.

racism is far from over

Benny Cristo

Concluding thoughts

As much as we like to think the fandom is a homogenous blob of inclusivity, recent experience has proven it is not. To some, black lives are up for ‘debate’. Spoiler: they really are not.

I’m sure to some, this lengthy commentary is just as ‘ridiculous‘ as fans rightfully calling out editorial violence. Yet to fans who are black or people or colour more broadly, the fandom has become (or always was?) a hostile space. From a personal perspective, I have never felt more angry, isolated and ostracised by parts of the fandom whose statements in recent weeks and months have shocked me. ‘Celebrate Diversity‘ perfectly encapsulates the grand fissures between solidarity and inclusivity that comes with being an ally vs. the chasms of what is too often the reality: intolerance, ignorance and tokenism. However, I’m sure I am not the only one who has experienced this of late. There is a lot of work to be done to correct course, seal this chasm and make meaningful, positive steps forward.

This has been an incredibly painful few weeks…

A suggested reading/resource list:

Fiction and non-fiction. Mostly US/UK-based – happy to add more especially non-English resources! This list is not exhaustive, but a snapshot of anti-racist material to supplement Penguin Random Houses list.

  • Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race
  • Frantz Fanon, Black Skins/White Masks
  • Ibram X Kendi, How to be an Anti-Racist 
  • Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
  • Layla F Saad, Me and White Supremacy
  • Malorie Blackman, Noughts & Crosses
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Toni Morrison, Tar Baby 
  • Leone Ross, Orange Laughter
  • Zadie Smith, NW
  • Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 
  • Jabari Asim, The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why 
  • Robin Di’Angelo, White Fragility
  • Afua Hirsch, Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging
  • Miranda Kaufmann, Black Tudors
  • Ijeoma Oluo, So you want to talk about race 
  • Anti-racist work by Jane Elliott – interviews and experiments are readily available on Youtube!
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