MOBO founder Kanya King pens powerful letter on racism in music: “It is the worst pandemic”

"The music industry, it is fair to say, could and should have dealt better with black artists"

MOBO founder Kanya King has called on Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to tackle racism in the music industry, describing it as “the worst pandemic”.

In a new open letter, King criticises the industry for failing to sufficiently promote black music executives and provide support for labels that have been integral in championing black talent.

She wrote: “The music industry, it is fair to say, could and should have dealt better with black artists, black run companies and taken on more black executives.

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“In many cases the black businesses, institutions and communities that give rise to black expression and talented individuals have not been able to benefit or partake in the financial rewards that have driven billions to the UK and global economies and helped create entire industries.”

Opening up on her own experiences of racism, King said: “My parents came to the UK from Ireland and Ghana at a time when there were notices on houses saying, ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’. My father was often out of work. In that time there were not many companies wanting to employ a dark- skinned black man with a strong African accent.

“My mother was ostracised from her family in Ireland because of her relationship with a black man so she was on her own trying to bring up 9 children with no family or financial support. Four of my older sisters grew up in care and I also spent a crucial time of my growing up in care when I should have been in secondary school so I ended up with minimal qualifications.”

She went on: “I have never told this story before, but I have a younger brother who, after getting racially attacked at a football match, has suffered from ongoing health issues and barely leaves his house. It is traumatic watching so many people you care about having hopes and dreams being wasted. One of my sisters who suffered serious discrimination, often being the only person of colour in a white environment, became unhappy in her own skin so used to wear lighter foundation. She consequently became an alcoholic and died from a broken neck. All she wanted was to be accepted.”

King also called for constant focus on anti-racism in the wake of the music industry’s Black Out Tuesday, and mooted the idea of United We Stand, an event “with a powerful purpose to inspire unity and collaboration, educate viewers and listeners and raise funds to empower organisations in their fight for equal opportunities”.

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She went on: “We feel there is a need for a high level event to bring the creative and entertainment industries together so that we can show solidarity, express our strong voices and work together to help implement changes.”

The MOBO founder also outlined her plans for tackling racism, including “empowering “underrepresented organisations socially, culturally and economically so that they can do more, dare more and be more”.

You can read the whole letter here. 

It comes in the wake of the music industry’s social media blackout earlier this month in solidarity with the black community.

Messages shared by Warner, Universal, Dirty Hit and more set out a plan to “disconnect from work and reconnect with our community” for the day, held as “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change.”

The decision came in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25. Floyd was a 46-year-old black man who died after being apprehended by a white police officer. Officer Derek Chauvin has since been sacked and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

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