Out of the echo chamber

I’m still buzzing as I write today’s blog. I’ve just put down the phone to Alan Clifford, the BBC Radio Nottingham presenter. I had a really healthy, challenging chat with him today as I reviewed the news for his Sunday morning show (available on BBC Sounds if you’d like to listen).

I chose three news stories from this last week and what I loved about it, was that they opened up conversations about race, division, representation and equality. Alan asked some questions that I think a lot of people would probably ask too. Is literacy on the decline because of “text speak”? Doesn’t all this talk of race on social media bring more division? Isn’t it hard to keep up with the ever changing language about racial identity?

It made me realise how much I often luxuriate in my own echo chamber. So many of the people I speak to are joining me in educating themselves about race and diversity and are on the same page as me in terms of recognising the injustices and ways society needs to improve. Alan gave me the chance to publicly challenge the perceptions of many people who don’t agree, or aren’t aware, or aren’t interested. And that’s what Oo! That’s A Bit Racey! is all about – sparking conversation, debate, and, ultimately, change.

I chose three news stories from the week to share. The first was the amazing Amanda Gorman and her empowering poem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

I chose this event because Amanda Gorman is such a powerful figure. She represents many people across many different areas. She is young, just 22 years old; Black; female; has an auditory processing challenge and speech impediment. It is so refreshing and so empowering to think that many groups of people who have been marginalised in the media and many other areas of life, now see someone such as Amanda achieving such great success. The words that I loved most of all in her poem summarised the hope and strength we are all trying to find during the challenging days of COVID-19.

Even as we grieved, we grew.

Even as we hurt, we hoped.

Even as we tired, we tried.

The second story was one of my all time favourite role models, and this may surprise some people, Dolly Parton. Dolly turned 75 this week and I think we should all raise a glass to wish her a happy birthday.

Not only do I love her music (I’m not too proud to say that), I hugely admire her philanthropy. Most of you know by now that I am a book-buff. I read and read and read. I’m a Trustee for the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature and I believe that literacy is the key to so much – education, future prospects, mental health, entertainment, empathy and understanding, to name just a few. Dolly’s Imagination Library is one of the charities I admire most in the world. It delivers books to millions of children across the world to encourage a love of literature and to help with children’s literacy.

And my third story was about the much discussed Netflix show, Bridgerton, which confirmed this week that it be making a second series. (Yipee!)

Set in Regency London, with all the stunning aesthetics and indulgent love stories we’ve come to expect from period dramas. Producer, Shonda Rhimes, has made Bridgerton extra special. She set out to portray an ethnically diverse London. Not something we’re used to seeing in period dramas. Although the programme is fictional, what is true, and important to know, is that London was in fact a diverse population historically. Shonda was determined to demonstrate this diversity, to make sure that ethnic minorities are no longer erased from history, to be inclusive to its modern audience and, like all good art, to spark debate and education, as well as entertainment.

Fact weaves with fiction in the series. Queen Charlotte was mixed race, descended from a Black arm of the Portuguese Royal family (although she doesn’t look mixed race in may of her portraits……a Regency version of today’s photo-shop skin whitening.) There was a famous Black boxer called Bill Richmond, a slave, who became a soldier and then a professional boxer. And there were multi-cultural figures enriching society, just as they do now.

You can listen to the show on BBC Radio Nottingham via BBC Sounds and I’d love to hear your thoughts. What questions would you have asked me if you were Alan? And what stories would you have chosen to discuss?

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