Yesterday I went to the House of Lords. Very swanky.
I was there to lobby MPs on behalf of other authors about rubbish contracts, meagre advances, closing libraries etc etc. The stuff that gets all of us writers ticking like clocks.
Because it was a lovely day, I decided to walk there from Marylebone Station and my route took me through Green Park and past Buckingham Palace. A garden party was about to take place and the Mall, Birdcage Walk – everywhere – was stiff with ladies in dresses, jackets and hats and men in suits, uniforms or some other form of best-bib-and-tucker. It was all very impressive. Then I walked past Horse Guards where there was a rehearsal going on for the Queen’s Birthday Parade. Even more impressive and I’ll be the first to admit that I do like a bit of pomp and circumstance. Finally I crossed Parliament Square and into the Lords to do my bit for my fellow authors. If you’re looking for pomp and circumstance, the Houses of Parliament is probably a go-to destination.
This was an official reception so there were speeches, lots of speeches, but one was particularly memorable. It was given by Floella Benjamin and she addressed the issue of diversity – or lack of it – in this world: a world where kids books are so often peopled by white kids and not black, Asian or Chinese; where it comes as a surprise to people that women can be airline pilots or brain surgeons; where books written by black authors are in the ‘black and ethnic minority’ section of the book shop and not there on the same shelves as other novels; where men are supposed to go out to work and women look after the kids. Why is this? Is it because the rest of us don’t stop and think that we are all basically the same – we’re all just human.
It is getting better, she told us. Hugely better. When she started on Playschool none of the stories were illustrated with anything other than pictures of white kids… till she pointed it out. No one had noticed except her. Why? Because everyone else who worked on the programme was white.
There is still a long way to go – especially when I thought about the scenes I had witness on my way to the reception. How many of those attending the garden party had been white? Thinking back I don’t recall seeing anyone of colour in a posh get-up. And the soldiers on parade on Horse Guards? The same. Equality and diversity still have a long way to go in every field. This is supposed to be a multi-cultural country but Floella Benjamin’s thought provoking speech made me think that maybe it’s less multi-cultural if you’re on the other side of the fence looking in.