As a – hopefully welcome – alternative to the incredulity that can come from those “Person of the Year” accolades awarded by the established press (Nigel Farage, anyone?), we here at Media Diversified wanted to give a space to acknowledge those people of colour whose contributions were worthy of special mention. A team of our writers gave their individual choices for their respective PoC of the year.
They are as follows:
Dr Freeman Osonuga and many others who worked on the ebola crisis
He made me late for work. For over a year I had been listening to the BBC World Service reports of the ebola crisis in West Africa but that particular morning a few months ago a Liberian doctor, utterly exhausted and on the verge of tears, explained the toll the work had taken on him and his team but how they pressed on tending to the sick, often going into hostile villages of frightened people to find the infected and to dispose safely of the bodies of the dead. He explained the stigma sometimes experienced by ebola survivors and how the virus impacted on the culture of hospitality. His voice broke with grief a few times but his determination was clear and unwavering. I didn’t catch his name and I’ve tried to find the programme to no avail. But he is one of many African doctors, health workers and burial teams who have worked tirelessly to bring the ebola pandemic under control. It has been an international effort but while the media spotlight has often focused on the contribution of Western doctors, it has also been a pan-African effort. As Dr Freeman Osonuga, Nigerian, blogged in March: “It is a delight to work with other Africans from Uganda, Congo, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, fellow Nigerians. In addition, we overcome the language barrier between patients and doctors with the support of Sierra Leone’s dedicated community health officers. The spirit of pan-Africanism is strong in this team. Fighting a common enemy has united us.” The media is often lambasted for its lack of coverage of non-Western issues, but BBC World Service has had a daily news segment dedicated to tracking the crisis, highlighting especially the Africans who have continued to battle long after the outbreak fell away from the headlines. Many have died in the process; but last week it was reported that in the week leading up to 13 December, no new cases were reported across the affected countries. That doctor and all of these brave men and women are my PoC of the year.
~ Kiri Kankhwende
“Do you know what it means to be a hero?” questioned Basima Atat. Her late husband, Adel Termos provided the most poignant object lesson of heroism in November. In a terrorist attack largely relegated to the margins of Western awareness, two bombs were detonated in Beirut. The tragic death toll was only lessened by Termos’s astonishing bravery in tackling the second bomber. It was an act designed to produce fear, in Termos it elicited courage. Having a wife and two young children didn’t stop him attempting to use what limited power he had to help his fellow citizens. It was a sacrifice he should never have had to make, but many are alive because he did. I can think of no person whose actions left me more awestruck this year than Termos. May he rest in peace.
~ Shane Thomas
Adel Termos is also my hero of colour for the year of 2015. Adel, a father, three years older than I am, rushed to tackle a Daesh suicide bomber in the Burj al-Barajneh district of Beirurt. One murderer had already detonated his explosive vest. While people tended to survivors, the second bomber prepared to commit another atrocity. Adel smothered him, his body absorbed the impact and his sacrifice undoubtedly saved lives. I am humbled by Adel’s bravery and selflessness.
~ Robert Kazandjian
“Conversing shouldn’t have to feel like drowning”, said Claudia Rankine to an audience in Gateshead last month. In this short sentence, she beautifully encapsulated the experience so many people of colour have when trying to navigate a world that sees them as fundamentally out of place. This year saw Rankine’s fifth volume of poetry – Citizen: An American Lyric – go public. Challenging how we view poetry, Rankine carefully and skilfully strikes at the heart of race in contemporary society. She explains how racism is institutionalised and microaggressions commonplace by unearthing a history of oppression that lingers and persists in the present. Her work is both brave but comforting; challenging but uniting; and alarming but reassuring in its honesty. Though focussed mostly on America, Rankine helps to articulate experiences and emotions that push so many people of colour into silence. Her work is moving, invaluable and freeing.
Melsha O’Garro (Lady Leshurr)
This 27 year old Rapper from Solihull has been bubbling under for ages but her Queen’s Speech series of freestyle raps went viral in 2015 this year and almost everyone is predicting great things for her.
Her style is rap with a bashment lilt, her lyrics which are current and funny and her attitude says don’t mess.
Next year will surely be her year.
~ Maurice McLeod
Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah
Picking ONE hero of the year was haaarrrd! Seriously. People of colour have been being amazing all year/decade/centuries long. It’s kind of our default mode what with living within a system hell bent on erasing you at every turn and STILL going out into the world being loving, funny, generous people. Amazing. Fact.
So, though they are literally a ton of people of colour I would like to write about here (academic Sara Ahmed, the founder of this site Samantha Asumadu and the wonderful people who help to make it happen, the women of Another Round, John Boyega for, amongst other things, repping Peckham on the red carpet, activists like Chitra Nagarajan, film maker Cecile Emeke, the list just goes on and on) I’m going to whittle it down to one for purely selfish reasons: teacher and essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah. I love my life but honestly, between us, I wouldn’t mind being her for a couple of hours. (No point holding it in, I’m unleashing the unashamed fangirl.)
Ghansa is a writer intent on teasing out complexity and laying bare the intertextual layers behind even the most banal of material. Be prepared to be taken on exploratory tangents encompassing works she has/is read/ing. You’ll reach the final full stop with an extensive reading list and a faint feeling of nostalgic regret that the experience is over, for this time at least. She’s my 2015 hero because, honestly, if I could write like her, I’d be done. (Not that writers ever feel done.)
At a time when so much of journalism is about keeping it short and direct – simple for the reader to consume – Ghansah shows the beauty and power of its long form. Life feels good when I have time on my hands, a comfortable chair to snuggle in and an essay from Ghansah to get lost into.
~ Lola Okolosie
Who knew talking into your laptop camera or for the “Youtube Stars” in to high definition cameras, with unrivalled production values could command so much attention? I didn’t until this year. You tube stars boast millions of subscribers and followers across a multitude of platforms. They, their managers and the corporations that advertise on their channels rake in thousands of pounds daily. However a dark underbelly was exposed this year (and last year, and the year before). Some of the most well known white male Youtubers were using this unprecedented attention to coerce fans as young as 13 into sexual activity to the point that more than one has been accused of rape. Thankfully one Youtuber I came across when first hearing about all this was an eighteen year old American of Ethiopian descent named Nathan Zed. With over 300,000 subscribers and over 12 million views on his channel The Third Pew he is one of the very few PoC youtubers who have made a name for themselves. Regardless of what you think of the artform here is an eighteen year old talking about sexism, racism, education, stereotypes and calling out abusers in the community to rapt audiences of teenagers. He has even called out the industry on its whiteness. (He was the only non-white Youtuber out of over 200 invited to speak at the annual VidCon gathering last year.) With great power comes great responsibility, and he wears it well.
~ Sam Asumadu
In a diverse universe it sometimes feels like you can be any colour but black.
Back in summer when the first teaser trailer for the eagerly awaited seventh instalment of the Star Wars franchise was released, some of the fans threw their lightsabers out of the pram at the sight of a black stormtrooper.
Boyega’s response? “I am grounded in who I am, and I am a confident Black man,” he said. “A confident, Nigerian, Black, chocolate man.”A proud Nigerian stormtrooper from Peckham. What’s not to love?
~ Maurice McLeod
This list is subjective and is certainly not exhaustive. Please add your PoCs of the year in the comments!
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