“We, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation’ – James Baldwin
At the beginning of spring, a virus spread from country to country, reaching a scale that no generation living in these modern times had witnessed before. A virus that has taken so many precious lives, and left in its wake a grief of such magnitude that we are yet to collectively mourn the gravity of it. While in isolation away from our friends and family, many of us found ourselves facing questions about our own priorities, our very existence and the value we place in this world. We heard many people wonder what a ‘new normal’ would look like and how we could look forward to an unpredictable future. Then as country by country we began to emerge from a lockdown, we found ourselves faced with the legacy of another brutal violence and a suffering that has endured for generations. A debilitating force of racial brutality that has persevered for the last few centuries, creating in its wake systemic inequality and injustice. In this climate, as we grapple with a global pandemic, and widespread unrest – the fires of rage continue to burn and we are now faced with the question – where do we go from here?
At Nation of Billions, we champion Black culture. The last few weeks have been trying for us as human beings, as a family and as a culture platform. Watching crisis after crisis unfold amidst the backdrop of a pandemic has been a deeply emotional experience. We felt the need to stop our day-to-day operations in order to understand what is going on in the world currently. A lot has been said by various bodies across many industries, measures are being taken to stand in solidarity and task forces have been set up to combat racial injustices. And while we welcome these initiatives, it is becoming apparent that some organisations have rushed out PR exercises in order to protect their financial interests.
In 2020, the eyes of the world are beginning to open. To be silent on such matters is to neglect our role in highlighting the injustice that we wish to change in the world. To take radical action and be the change we want to see is vital to overcoming these injustices. So while many disingenuous gestures and statements might manage to save face, let’s face it, the enormous success enjoyed by some is not shared by all and we challenge the music industry to start paying it forward with tangible measures.
Racism should never be excused, tolerated, enabled, or facilitated and any system that encourages the promotion of such an evil culture has no place in the world. We certainly don’t tolerate it within our own community, and a zero-tolerance policy is paramount to what we do here at Nation of Billions. But the truth is, those of us who have paved the path have yet to walk it. The sanctity of a world-defining culture and its millions of self-less contributors have been and continue to be unacknowledged and undermined through empty statements and falsified gestures. Prejudices and core beliefs of superiority are perpetuated deeply into the very DNA of our industry’s make-up. In turn, it’s the artists, creatives, the writers, the documentarians who both offer and suffer the most. Whilst many industry practices and expectations have failed to serve our dignity since their inception, it is only now, as we are shifting into a tide-turning era, that we have the spiritual capacity to challenge them.
While we understand the need for the show to stop, pause and reset, we also know that lasting change is necessary in every facet of the culture industry. From our own position as an editorial platform within the music industry, we have seen many injustices brushed under the carpet over the years. Talented artists, creatives, executives have been overlooked, pushed out, and repeatedly ignored by this industry – again and again we have tried to counter it by highlighting talent at every turn. The chain of pay disparity extends beyond executive salaries, we have seen this in the way that advertising spends and marketing budgets are consistently offered to mainstream white-owned publications who make no real commitment to diverse voices. Our ideas have been stolen, photographer’s images and writers quotes have been taken and republished without credit or acknowledgment.
At Nation of Billions we have maintained an independent editorial voice without any outside funding, and we did this to protect our culture, to ensure that we would never feel pressured to write from a place influenced by outside financial interests. We know money talks, but the pen talks louder. While publication after publication is folding, the music industry has kept their hands in their pockets for far too long. For the Black culture industry, every time we lose a magazine, a newspaper, an independent editorial publication, a radio station, or a YouTube channel – we lose exposure. For artists who are consistently overlooked, exposure in this industry is a vital platform to launching their careers.
While we applaud the donations to social causes and we hope to see this commitment into the future, we also want to see a commitment from the industry to invest in diverse creatives, writers and platforms. We want the industry practices of bullying to stop and the constant expectation of ‘free work’ in exchange for access. Our creatives work voluntarily to spotlight our culture, and we have never sought to sell our editorial work as paid publicity. However, this industry has consistently failed to actively commission and compensate fairly the writers, photographers and filmmakers who create content and contribute to Black culture. We have always sought to spotlight and support our contributors and every one of their successes has been a point of pride. We have platformed over a hundred contributors, many of whom have gone on to build impressive portfolios and launched careers within this industry as photographers, DJs, presenters, authors and directors. Yet we are often treated as if we are here as a free service to an industry that cares little about our own survival.
What can music fans do in this time to be an ally? Support the platforms that truly champion Black content and creativity by supporting the writers, photographers and videographers who contribute not for by-lines or for a commission but from a place of passion and duty. Support the creatives and artists who are using their platforms to shine a light on important issues to raise awareness. Even outside of music, speak up for the things that matter! Vote, educate yourself, participate and learn your own history, arm yourself with the tools and knowledge vitally needed to spark real change.
We have dedicated ourselves towards working for future generations so they can live in a world where differences are celebrated and are not the basis for discrimination. Where all Black and Brown lives are valued and granted equality, no matter their religious, sexual, racial and other orientations. Whilst we will continue to do our part and double down on our commitment to the work we have embarked on, we ask that those who are privileged to benefit from these efforts, look within themselves and be true allies as we continue to combat these injustices and the worst pandemic of them all, racism.
Love and light,
The Nation of Billions team