Diversity at ESC2016
Hyvää Paivää – hei rakas lukijat!
And Hello Dear Readers!
There’s been an uptick in readers from Finland — kiitos että luit! And thanks to all of you for reading, regardless of where you are from!
Last year, we looked at race at the ESC and I expressed my pleasure that we were seeing more and more minorities as lead performers, particularly folks of African and East Asian descent. This year, there continues to be some racial diversity, but not as much as there should be in my opinion. This year, Norway is represented by a Sami woman – Agnete. This is awesome and would be akin to a member of a Cherokee tribe representing the US or an Aboriginal singer representing Australia (which happened somewhat when DR had Australian pop star Jessica Mauboy perform during the interval act of the second semi-final in 2014). Native peoples are an integral part of a nation’s history, particularly in looking back at how these people groups were often mistreated, disenfranchised, and systematically destroyed. Having a first-nation person representing a country shows that steps, perhaps small – perhaps big, have been made and are continuing to be made to heal past wounds.
Australia is also being represented by a minority. While Im was born in South Korea, she spent the majority of her life Down Under, as her family moved to Australia when she was a child. Im has received backlash since she was named Australia’s performer. Much how many non-white performers and soccer players (read: footballers) representing European nations must deal with, from opponents and their own countrymen. While we celebrate the Contest’s ability to be inclusive of LGBTQ+ persons (particularly gay men), we must not overlook the very real racism that still exists. Does this mean that every contestant needs to be non-white, no. Of course not. Does this mean that hosts need to do the same mindless pandering to racial minorities as they do to gay men? Again, of course not (if anything, there should be less pandering). But it does mean that when race-based issues around the Contest occur, they need the same attention and discourse that comes when an LGBTQ+ issue arises. Likewise, fan culture needs to promote and encourage racial diversity (actually, fan culture does a pretty good job of forcing any non-white, unattractive non-gay man into the realms of invisibility, but that is a conversation for another time) and call out people when they are not. This includes not just around skin color, but ethnicity, national origin, and religion as well.
One country that has historically done a good job at bringing diverse performers to the Eurovision stage is France. They have been represented by persons and languages from across the French realm, including Corsica, Haiti, Congo, and Tahiti. This year, Amir takes the stage for his native France. His ethnic background is rather diverse, as his roots tie back to Morocco, Tunisia, and Spain as well as being ethnically Jewish and spending half of his life in Israel. Sandhja from Finland also has a multi-ethnic background, as her father is Finnish and her mother is Indo-Guyanan. Sandhja has often said that her identities, and the communities that they give her access to, inspire her music and performance.
So, once again, why do we care diversity, particularly ethnic and racial diversity, at the Contest? Because the ESC is for EVERYONE. Just like how gay male fans get excited when an openly gay performer competes (such as Hovi Star from Israel), how excited would the many more number of Europeans who are non-white be for ethnic minority performers? Those who feel like they belong to the broader community are more likely to contribute and otherwise actively participate in the community. Furthermore, when someone feels systematically excluded, it can lead to lowered psychological and physical well-being for individuals who feel marginalized. Additionally, these are the people who are most likely to violently strike out against society. We see this in the US with mass shootings, we see this throughout Europe with riots and the rise of neo-Nazi groups, and we see this in the Middle East with groups like DAESH/ISIS that specifically recruit those who are made to feel like outsiders and radicalize them to the point of striking out against those that ostracized them. Clearly, incorporating more minorities as performers won’t prevent or stop groups like ISIS, but it will make it harder for them to recruit.
And, you know, help the Eurovision Song Contest work towards its mission to unite Europe, if only for one night.
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Correction: Article has been updated to correct the spelling of Jessica Mauboy’s name and correcting the name Australia uses for the First Nations people. Eurovision Obsession apologizes for the error.