Lord HALL BBC diversity LGBT BAME
Society and Social Structures

Diversity is deeper than BAME and LGBT: it is social, political, intellectual and philosophical

Lord Hall, the outgoing Director General of the BBC, has demanded that the Corporation improve the diversity of its staff to better reflect those who pay its TV licence. “You don’t want people who all think alike,” he said, “So you need diverse voices around the table; that could be diverse because you’ve got black, Asian, minority voices around the table, that’s important. I’ve got a thing myself about social diversity.”

This is good: social diversity includes age, education, profession and politics, as well as race, sex and sexuality. But his solution about social diversity is a little odd. He talks about “pushing” staff out of London and into the regions, seemingly unaware that if you push London’s liberal-left “metro elite” up to Manchester, it doesn’t make the Mancunian Tory Brexiteers; it simply relocates the existing mindset and so perpetuates the framing of the narrative. As Andrew Marr observed some years ago: “The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It’s a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities, and gay people. It has a liberal bias, not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.”

Michael Crick tweeted:

What he didn’t ask in his customary terrier-with-a-cushion interrogative style is why Lord Hall has only woken up to the need for greater diversity a week before he leaves his job? He has been at the helm of the BBC for seven years, possessing all the necessary levers of power to “push” (and pull) for whatever changes he felt were needed. But he didn’t: he has focused instead on employing more BAME people – principally presenting in the studios – as though diversity were skin deep. This follows decades of heightening the visibility of LGBT staff and role models and so overcoming its historic heteronormative culture, to the extent that 11% of its workforce now identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual.

According to the ONS, the estimated proportion of LGBT people in society as a whole is around 2%. Quite why the Corporation thinks five times the representation is necessary is unknown.

The BBC’s new diversity “push” coincides with the Church of England’s appointment of the Rev’d Canon Dr Chigor Chike as the interim National Adviser for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns:

The House of Bishops voted recently to establish a new Racism Action Commission to start work early next year to implement “significant cultural and structural” change within the Church of England on race. The commission will also monitor progress on changes.

Preparatory work ahead of the Commission, will be conducted by a Task Force.

The Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of the MPA Department said: “We are hugely grateful to Chigor and to the Diocese of Chelmsford for making this secondment possible.

“We have a thorough process in place for identifying a permanent Advisor on Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) issues, but the work is too important to wait for that process to take its course.

“Chigor will play a pivotal role at a crucial time as the Church of England builds on a new commitment to addressing racism and seeking he full inclusion of all people within its life and ministry.”

There is no place for racism in the Church of Jesus Christ, and yet the obsession with having a church that reflects society’s spectrum of skin colour is also questionable. Bishop Rose Hudson-Wilkin is of the view that the Church of England is “institutionally racist”, and no doubt a dead white man has no right to question this lest he reveal his own unconscious racist bias. The Rev’d Arun Arora believes the lack of BAME diversity is damaging to mission: ‘How can the Church of England speak about race when its leaders are so white?‘ he asked in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the rise of Black Lives Matter. “In a church that rightly proclaims that the gifts of the holy spirit are for all people, from every race and nation, why does the Church of England present such a contradictory picture?”

It is a challenging question, but one quite of this world. ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus‘ (Gal 3:28). If there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither black nor white. If there is neither male nor female, there is neither gay nor straight. The proliferation of labels and human categories leads to the demand for quotas and fairness and equality, and so the Church’s mission becomes distracted or diverted into signalling its admirable ethical virtue: obsessions over self-identity supersede the work of sanctity and salvation.

Lord Hall believes the BBC’s essential mission is not “pander” to any particular group, but instead be the “calm centre” in any stormy situation that arises. This, too, is the essential mission of the Church of England: the ‘via media’ is the path of perpetually reconciling diversity. But you can only manifest the “calm centre” and reify the ‘via media’ when the polarities of expression – social, cultural, ecclesiastical and theological – are acknowledged, valued, nurtured and loved. Diversity isn’t simply about BAME and LGBT people reading the news; it’s about heterosexual, 60+, right-wing non-graduates helping to frame the narrative of the news. Diversity isn’t simply about BAME and LGBT vicars being seen in pulpits; it’s about valuing conservative theology and advancing traditionalist clergy, permitting their ministries to flourish instead of telling them they’re “unsuitable“. If divisive arguments and policy decisions are seen constantly to favour the liberal-left ‘progressives’, don’t be surprised if those of another social, political, intellectual or philosophical worldview vacate the pews or stop paying their TV licence.