Introducing Pass the Mic
It was a phone call from a radio producer, back in October 2019, that made Talat Yaqoob realise she had to find a new way to change the make-up of the media.
A long-standing feminist campaigner, Yaqoob is a well known voice on Scotland’s TV and radio channels, but there were times when she found herself overwhelmed by calls for media appearances. Some of the requests were on areas upon which she has expertise, but others, she felt, related to issues where other women of colour, working today in Scotland, would have more insight.
Producers and commissioning editors are under pressure to find reliable contributors quickly, but with a small pool of options on file, and with the names overwhelmingly white, the same patterns continue. Women of colour are excluded from Scotland’s screens and airwaves – even on issues that disproportionately affect them – and their experiences go misunderstood or ignored.
The tipping point, for Yaqoob, came with a request to do a radio appearance. They wanted her to come along to talk about immigration, and the experience of being a migrant.
In normal circumstances, if the request was unsuitable, she would send a polite reply, explaining the situation and suggesting two or three others who would be better suited.
But Yaqoob is not an immigrant. She got the call because of her colour. It was a particularly damning example, but in some ways it sums up the current failings characteristic of a media which is overwhelmingly white and male.
Initially, she says, she was angry. But a few days later Pass the Mic was born. Faced with a media landscape unable or unwilling to change, Yaqoob decided to get organised, creating a single database for editors and producers, organised by different areas of expertise, to help them link up with women of colour.
She told Holyrood: “The Pass the Mic project started as a directory of women of colour experts to diversify the voices in media and diversify the expertise we get to see and hear from. While women of colour may be in the minority in Scotland, even in our small numbers, we remain significantly under-represented across media platforms.
“Since the project’s launch in October last year, we have had success by adding a huge range of experts which now stands at over 130 women. These include scientists, economists, public health experts, unpaid carers and activists.”
From its beginnings, the project then grew from listings of potential contributors into something bigger, winning funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to do outreach and development work, and allowing Pass the Mic to pay women of colour to write and present in the Scottish media.
The project now has seven media partners – including Holyrood – giving 30 women the opportunity to write paid columns across a whole range of outlets.
Yaqoob said: “Our aim is to increase the representation of and visibility of women of colour, but it is more deeply about culture change within Scottish media and instigating change in how women of colour and communities of colour are talked about, as well as widening the topics given space in Scottish media.
“I have been heartened by the response from women across Scotland. The project received double the number of applications as we have spaces, and we have 30 women taking part. We all met online for the first time last week, and it was clear how important it was for this space to be created, giving a platform to share our, too common, experiences of racism and sexism, and identifying ways we can change the systems around us, including within media.
“The project will be working with seven media outlets over the next year, the participants will have the chance to write paid commentary pieces relevant to their areas of expertise and will receive training too. Alongside this, the project will also be conducting media monitoring research with The University of Strathclyde and will develop strategies on improving internal cultures in media and improving how racism and sexism is written about.”
As part of the project, four writers will produce two columns each for Holyrood over the next eight months, on issues that fire them up.
Meet our new columnists...
Viana is the founder and talent development coach at pRESPECT whose mission is to provide career coaching services for underrepresented talented people in Scotland to access meaningful employment.
Viana is also a Diversity and Inclusion consultant at AAI, a UX designer, and a social project creator. In 2020 Viana won a Bright Red Triangle Active Citizen Award
Friends describe her as generous, funny, and tenacious.
In her spare time, Viana enjoys exploring the freedom technology allows us, planning dinner parties, plotting a return to the stage, and finding ways to empower other women to create the spaces and world they would love to be a part of. Lover of tea and BBC radio crime dramas.
Shubhanna is a research and policy professional and regularly tweets about some of the key issues (and failings!) within the social care system in Scotland.
Shubhanna’s observations and analysis of the health and social care landscape in Scotland, alongside her own experience of managing the care needs of her disabled child and husband, gives her a somewhat unique perspective on the challenges facing people with support needs and family carers in Scotland.
Shubhanna’s motivation for signing up to ‘Pass the Mic’ stems largely from her increasing frustration at the lack of progress made over the last 20 years, and the fact that we are still having the same conversations about the lack of diverse voices and representation in the media across Scotland.
Lorna is a freelance screenwriter and classically trained dramatic soprano in love with most forms of writing (sorry poetry, I never knew thee).
Born in Ghana, and having lived there, in England and in Scotland, she says she is positively histrionic and full of laughter – “because you have to laugh in this life to keep from crying or screaming constantly.”
She is a huge fan of fantasy and historical fiction books and very particular in her goal to carve out inclusive spaces for marginalised peoples (“especially Black womxn”) in the film and TV industry, particularly within Scotland.
Khaleda founded Intercultural Youth Scotland, through her own experience of poverty, racism, care experience, disability and inequality, growing up in Scotland. Her practice comes from working directly with intercultural young people over the past 10 years to highlight current needs and lack of change. She has designed and implemented four leading projects within the charity and now employs 15 black and people of colour in the charity.
She campaigns to implement and embed improvements in line with the principles of Curriculum for Excellence and has continued professional learning and successful activities and outcomes. All of her practice has been critical to building the capacity required to ensure sustainable improvements in excellence, equity and justice, forming policies in consultation with a wide range of partners.
Khaleda has influenced change with schools and organisations, building lasting legacies by assessing different needs and securing partnerships with representatives of diverse groups and a wide range of experts.
She has produced around 10 social inclusion films, used as cultural awareness resources for schools and organisations, showcasing the voices of intercultural young people in Scotland. She has published two reports on the experiences and perceptions of young Black and young people of colour growing up in Scotland and now has been commissioned to write and publish a further two for Scottish Government.