By Amit Singh @asingh11189
If you find yourself watching the corporate news or a TV program discussing something to do with politics, or actually, well, anything, there is always one thing in common. The show will invariably be dominated by white men discussing whatever issue is the focus, with an air of confidence. They will also trot out an ‘expert’ who 9 times out of 10 will be… a white man.
This is a trend that is pervasive across all media formats. Even on issues affecting ethnic minorities we often see a white man dissecting the issue. On BBC for instance if they’re discussing a crisis in the Middle East, they won’t turn to a Middle Eastern woman living on the ground with in depth knowledge of the culture and context. No, instead they will turn to a highly educated white man who is the head of some accronymed Think Tank, NGO or research institute to provide some cutting edge insight.
The Guardian revealed last year in a study on a lack of women in the media that of the experts quoted in newspapers 76% were male and 24% were female, highlighting this trend. Whilst a study of the US media found that white male experts were dominating the news. White men are the only people who have opinions that matter it seems.
Can those who aren’t white men think?
In the media this problem has been highlighted time and time again by Media Diversified. We also highlighted this in a recent article on the Paris Metro racism, describing how Comment is Free and Indy Voices both commissioned articles on the subject by white journalists, rather than contacting people who actually had a personal knowledge of racism, to discuss the topics.
In a society that is inherently white and patriarchal, the white male is often deemed superior. A white man, especially one privileged by extensive Western education, as these experts often are, is at the top of society. Their expertise is never really questioned, as their gender and race is enough to give their opinions weight. Yet, for a person of colour or for a women, their credentials will have to be routinely re-asserted and even then they are often not taken as seriously as a white counter-part. The reason being; they don’t look the part. Their face doesn’t automatically fit. A glaring example recently has been the number of white men discussing why young Muslims are joining ISIS, despite having very little first hand understanding of the communities.
Kurt Barling described in an interview how there is a culture at the BBC that ‘white men and women don’t see BME staff as credible.’ This is perhaps true of people sitting at home watching the news. They don’t expect non-whites to be intelligent so they are less likely to take their views seriously on such matters. Society often presents non-white culture as being backwards and inferior. For women, even white women, society routinely presents them as being stupid, ditzy, unstable and volatile. Not reasoned, assured and intelligent like their male counter-parts. This narrative helps to prop up the white male expert and delegitimize any others.
Mainstream media outlets simply don’t do enough to challenge this and unfortunately lazily trot out white male experts on a host of issues. They will commission articles on Somali politics by white men, rather than people who are from the Somali diaspora, or are living in the region with a deep understanding of events. Part of it is that they’re unwilling to break their habits. The Evening Standard when grilled on this by Media Diversified (when they produced an all white and 70% male experts panel for the London elections) said that non-whites needed to go to them! The problem is so endemic that Media Diversified responded by setting up their own experts’ directory to help media outlets find people who actually know what they’re talking about on specific issues, rather than trotting out aging white men.
Question Time is another example with the panel routinely being all white and usually being all male. Interestingly instead of calling on those who are immigrants and can share their experiences, the BBC’s flagship political debating show has trotted out Nigel Farage as an expert on immigration more times than any other guest since 2015. The closest thing Farage has to make him an expert on this topic is the fact that his wife is German. In which case she’d make a better guest to discuss EU immigration.
There is an assumption that those who are not white men cannot think. Their views are of less importance, irrespective of their qualifications or depth of knowledge. To prove this they have to continually refer to their academic backgrounds. This is something that runs deep through British and through most Western societies and is reflected through higher educational standards, the press, politics and the make-up of most boardrooms.
Deconstructing the expert
The problem is one of credibility but as Media Diversified’s project shows, there is not enough will from mainstream media outlets, who could easily start to buck the trend. They could start looking for genuine experts on issues, rather than going to the same old white faces. They could look beyond the ‘safe’ options and go to people with real opinions and more importantly real knowledge of the situation. Experts need to stop being judged by academic credentials. Someone can be an expert on a given issue without having a doctorate from Oxford or Cambridge. This is reflective of the class snobbery that exists within our society, given that most people who are able to receive such academic qualifications and attend such elite institutions come from privileged backgrounds. It’s also worth noting that elite universities in the UK favour white candidates, as non-white students are discriminated against in the selection process.
The problem is that we live in a society whereby being male and white is the measuring stick for intelligence and success. As viewers we perhaps also need to stop placing so much weight on meaningless credentials; the way in which someone speaks for instance, or how they are dressed when giving an interview. Instead more emphasis needs to be placed on substance and the way in which we analyse someone’s suitability to speak on an issue needs to be shifted. For now though, I am sick and tired of always turning on my TV to see white men discussing issues that they often have very little experience or knowledge of.