The Little Mix “blackfishing” row has highlighted the lack of investment in black artists as a damning new report reveals “institutionalised racism in the UK Music Industry”.
The chief executive of group Black Lives in Music told the Mirror that record labels “would rather pump money into an artist who is appropriating the very look and sound that wouldn’t be supported if the artist was black.”
It comes as Jesy Nelson was accused of “blackfishing” by former bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock in her new music video for Boyz. Fans claimed she had darkened her skin and altered her hair for her new release. She was later defended by Nicki Minaj.
Black Lives in Music CEO Charisse Beaumont said: “The onus here is with the record company. They obviously know how to promote Black music but only when a white or a palatable face is fronting it.
Yet our BLIM survey finds that when it comes to actual black artists, they would rather not make that investment. The excuse usually given is that they do not know how to market them.
They would rather pump money into an artist who is appropriating the very look and sound that wouldn’t be supported if the artist was black.”
Black Lives in Music conducted a study which found that 63% of black music creators had experienced direct or indirect racism, including explicit racist language. They said the responses showed there was “institutionalised racism in the UK Music Industry”.
Anonymous respondents reported “having to repeatedly ask other artists to stop using the N-word” and being typecast as an R&B artist.
Those surveyed reported a range of discriminatory acts and “sometimes hostile working environments.”
Black artists were also granted less studio time than their white counterparts, refused event performance opportunities and being told to change the type of music they create. 86% of all Black music creators agree that there are barriers to progression.
X Factor winner Alexandra Burke previously revealed that she was told: “You need to bleach your skin because you won’t sell any records.”
Beverley Knight told ITV News in 2020 that a record company digitally lightened her skin on the cover of her first album so she’d appear more presentable and acceptable to a non-black audience.
Beaumont added: “This is a first of it’s kind report which holds a mirror up to the UK music industry showing what it actually looks like.
Dave Benett/Getty Images for The)
The disparities Black creators and industry professionals are faced with is rooted in traditionalism and systemic racism. The report highlights racist culture and behaviours in the workplace, financial barriers and lack of investment in Black music creators, and industry professionals unable to reach their career goals.
The report also spotlights Black women being the most disadvantaged across all areas of the music industry and how all of these factors affect the mental health of Black creators and industry professionals.
This is data, you cannot ignore it. The data clearly shows that change is needed across the entire music ecosystem from grass root education to all the way up to record labels. I hope industry leaders read this report and hear the voice of those who spoke out. I hope this report evokes change in the way we do our music business which has greatly profited from Black talent.”
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