Last week, Equity announced it was setting up an Independent Commission for Race Equality, stating that it hoped to have “a strong, positive working relationship with those who resigned from [the union’s] Race Equality Committee”.
As a former member of that elected committee, I’d like to explain why most of us (Daniel York Loh, Rebecca Boey, Matt Lim, Irvine Iqbal, Julie Cheung-Inhin and myself) will not be engaging with the commission.
When, in January, our committee posted tweets critical of Laurence Fox’s comments about racism on BBC Question Time – stating that he was, in our opinion, “a disgrace” – Equity’s management moved quickly. It deleted the tweets, locked us out of the committee’s Twitter account and publicly censured us.
Then, in April, Equity issued a public apology to Fox, giving us only a few hours’ notice of its decision to do so, a decision that was taken by senior managers without reference to any democratic process within the union. They also agreed to pay his legal fees: around £10,000 plus VAT. We were left with no choice. The only way that we could object in public to Equity’s decision was to resign, which we did.
In response to our resignation, Equity did nothing in public; no statement was made. Instead, plans were made for an appointed (as opposed to elected) Race Equality Task Force, prompting more than 100 prominent industry figures to sign an open letter refusing to take part, warning that trust in Equity had been “critically undermined”.
Privately, my colleagues and I met with Equity’s general secretary. We offered to return, stand with the union and continue our anti-racism work, provided that a joint statement, acknowledging Equity’s shortcomings, was released. A similar statement had been drafted and approved earlier in the year, before being mothballed following Fox’s legal action. This offer to return was enthusiastically received.
We are not the problem. Racism is the problem. It is rife in the UK’s performing arts. If Equity wants to be part of the solution, it has a lot of work to do
More than a fortnight after submitting a draft statement, we received a lengthy email from the general secretary telling us that (1) a joint statement was no longer being considered, (2) we were no longer being considered to return in any capacity as representatives of ethnic minority members and (3), with no reference to the open letter we had signed, we were being asked to cooperate with the commission/task force. We responded with questions about how and why these decisions had been made and received no reply prior to Equity publicly announcing the commission.
Nominally independent, we have nothing but respect for those on the commission, but it has been handpicked by the union’s management, whose complicity in structural racism is plain to see. So plain in fact that the general secretary’s recent #BlackLivesMatter statement has sparked a slew of incredulous replies on Twitter.
While management states in public that it expects “a strong, positive working relationship with those who resigned from the REC”, it has consistently excluded us from decision-making processes and refused to engage with our position, essentially telling us that we are the problem.
We are not the problem. Racism is the problem. It is rife in the UK’s performing arts. If Equity wants to be part of the solution, it has a lot of work to do. It must urgently democratise its decision-making processes and start listening to the ethnic minorities it is supposed to represent. Until then, we refuse to legitimise the commission and won’t be engaging with its work.