SRtRC talk with comedian, columnist and SRtRC Hall of Fame member, Ava Vidal
As a person of colour you are just erased from your very first experiences. Every young person has the right to see a reflection of themselves in the things around them, especially in books which are so important for a child’s development. It is also very important that this is an accurate reflection too, not just the same old tired stereotypes.
Ava Vidal is a comedian, columnist and writer. She is a big supporter of Show Racism the Red Card, a member of the campaign’s Writers Against Racism and Stand Up Against Racism initiatives and a SRtRC Hall of Fame member.
In part three of our interview with Ava we asked her about Britishness, the importance of a diversity of role-models in children’s literature and comedy.
You recently commented about the absence of black characters in children’s books, citing figures of just 3%. What are your views about the lack of representation both in children’s literature and on the TV in Britain?
“I wrote an article called ‘Popping the 'white, middle-class bubble': Why black actors need positive discrimination’ and I find the whole thing incredibly frustrating. As a person of colour you are just erased from your very first experiences. Every young person has the right to see a reflection of themselves in the things around them, especially in books which are so important for a child’s development. It is also very important that this is an accurate reflection too, not just the same old tired stereotypes.
“I think the situation is really bad on TV and it is getting worse. I actually wrote a script for TV and after I sent it in the producers got in touch to tell me that if any of my characters were black then I need to state it otherwise they would just assume that all of the characters were white. That is just one example of the way that black people are still framed as the ‘other’ and that white is ‘normal’ and I don’t think that is fair at all, especially for children because it has an effect on their self esteem.”
On a more positive note, a permanent home for the Black Cultural Archives opened in Brixton last month; do you think such collections are important?
“I haven’t been down to see it yet but I will. I think it’s great because so many people don’t know about the history of black people in Britain. Obviously, a large number of people came to the UK as part of Windrush generation but there has actively been a black presence in the country for far longer than that and it is great that people will be able to visit the archives and understand more about the contributions that black people have made to society.”
In a recent column about Britishness, you talked about sport as the factor that broke-down how you felt about self-identifying as British or English. Will the positive examples of international sport e.g. the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, World Cup etc lead to a situation where everyone feels included in describing themselves as British?
“I think that sport naturally promotes good feeling. If you are all together and sporting a team or an athlete then it does have the effect of bringing people together. I remember the Daily Mail writing a quite vile article about the last World Cup in which they suggested that the reason why the England team consistently ‘under-achieves’ is because there are so many players who have descended from immigrants and do not care about the country.
“Thankfully, there was quite a big backlash against the story because so many people spoke out against it. However they also wrote another horrible piece sneering at the opening ceremony of the Olympics and its attempts to reflect multiculturalism.
“I do think that sport can play a part in breaking down some of the barriers that exist between people of different skin colours, nationalities, religions and cultures, however there are clearly some issues within large organisations like FIFA and the FA which need to be addressed.”
Do you think that we comedy can be used as a vehicle for social change?
I think that comedy has a role to play too. You can challenge quite a lot with humour rather than with a more serious debate, especially as people tend to be more relaxed than in other environments.
Who are the best examples of comedians who have done so?
I think Chris Rock has had a big impact on the perceptions of ‘race’ in America and helping to find a platform for discussing issues that had previously not been spoken about.
I love what Jon Stewart has done with the Daily Show too.
Prince Abdi is a UK-based comedian of Somalian heritage who is doing really well and I am trying to get him involved in SRtRC’s ‘Stand Up Against Racism’ initiative (Prince Abdi will be part of the line-up for a Stand Up Against Racism event at the London Assembly on 11th September 2014)
I think there are a lot of black British comedians coming up at the moment which is great.