On why future generations need us to act instead of talk

Editor-in-chief Nicholas Lewis considers the all-inclusiveness and tolerance suddenly besieging the cultural sector in his latest editor’s letter.

As a magazine, you tend to get a lot of press releases, save-the-dates and invitations sent to you. In the past year or so, I couldn’t help but notice that more and more of the events, exhibitions and festivals we were being invited to suddenly incorporated a message of all-inclusiveness and tolerance. All-female line-ups, LGBTQI-friendly night outs, race-neutral day-long outings as well as a commitment to equal pay across the board suddenly seemed to be part of the message. The message still being dictated by communication concerns.

It’s as if the festival programmer who had never thought twice about the diversity of his headlining acts, the curator who, until recently, saw no qualms in being the only woman of colour around the table or the party promoter who had, in fact, never previously booked a queer DJ had, overnight, caught the conscientious bug and decided that, they too, needed to do something.

All-female line-ups, LGBTQI-friendly night outs, race-neutral day-long outings as well as a commitment to equal pay across the board suddenly seemed to be part of the message.

Don’t get me wrong, I find all these acts commendable, if not long overdue, and I myself have increasingly, and very much belatedly, tried shifting our editorial direction towards a more engaged and embattled path. Bottom line, as shapers of the conversation, there’s no doubt that we’ve all realised the apathy couldn’t continue much longer, and that it fell upon us – the curators, programmers, entrepreneurs, promoters and, indeed, publishers – to use the tools at our disposal – spaces, stages, pages, studios – in a way which forced a collective consciousness.

And, similarly to writer Lucas Catherine’s closing statement on page 18 of our latest edition (“We as a society need to enact change forcefully”), I don’t use the term “forced” lightly, as I fundamentally believe the time for conversating and compromising is long gone and that future generations need us to act instead of talk.

I fundamentally believe the time for conversating and compromising is long gone.

The fear I do have with this suddenly more combative stance emanating from the cultural sector’s driving forces – and I firmly include myself in this category – is that we’re just seeing in it an opportunity to rid ourselves of any guilt for past transgressions and omissions. Sure, it’s never too late, and better late than never and all that – ok. But isn’t there an element of cultural appropriation intertwined with a willingness to find a quick fix at play here? I mean these are movements – the Civil Rights, LGBTQI, feminism, and so forth – that have existed for decades, yet all of a sudden they’re headline-worthy and, worse, communication- ready? And are we really adding a constructive note to the debate by putting on LGBTQI-exclusive club nights, or curating a programme of talks and debates around feminism right after booking a concert of misogynistic rap? Has this – and by this I mean the struggles of minorities the world over – merely become just another source of mainstream entertainment, a trend corporate and political interests see a benefit in exploiting?

Isn’t there an element of cultural appropriation intertwined with a willingness to find a quick fix at play here?

These are the questions, and many more, that our Education Edition, which hits the street nation-wide this week, broadly tackles, looking not only at the issues at stake but, also, at the people behind them for who the struggle has been a long and lasting one. Those individuals that have made it their mission to not only shape the debate but strive to radically change, with committed intent, the narrative, process and thinking of the future.

As the writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass said so poignantly, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” And the same goes for society at large.