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An insider's view on the BBC and "Black Staff Matter"

NO COMMITMENT: BBC Director-General Tony Hall has not made any assurances on the corporation’s pay gap between black and white employees

THE REAL scandal around the revelations regarding BBC salaries is that the Director-General, Tony Hall made no commitment to look his black staff in the eye and assure them that they would be paid equitably to their white counterparts.

Which says more about our ineffectiveness than it does his or the Corporation’s attitude to Black Staff Matter. When it came to gender equality, Mr. Hall made that assurance on Radio 4 to the Today programme’s Mishail Hussain. He looked her dead in the eye (we are told) and committed the Corporation to paying women the same amount as it pays men within two or three years. Two or three years! I doubt that time scale will go down well with women at the BBC.

Many of whom have come out and put their heads above the parapet, and are letting him know that they ain’t having it. They’ve said as much in an open letter to the national press, which as been signed by 40 of them.

Over the past week, dozens of black staff at the BBC have expressed their dismay at Hall’s omission of any such pledge to black staff on pay. They interpret it is as the DG telling them that race doesn’t matter as much as gender. As one frontline black TV presenter says, “it’s p****d a lot of people off”.


But none of them want to tell him to his face. Instead they want me to do the telling. Like enslaved Africans who were flogged to within an inch of their lives for looking a white man in the eye, they fear that telling the DG straight that “we don’t want no piece (sic) we want equal rights and justice,” would earn them a black (yes, pun intended) mark or, worse, lose them their jobs. I kid you not.

Another enraged frontline black presenter is currently having discussions with his union rep to see what he can or cannot say without losing his job before deciding to make a stand or not. Fair enough. I get that. I am not asking him or any other BBC employees to lose their job over our equal rights to equal pay and justice. But they don’t mind me losing my job. The very same people are urging me to stand-up strong and face the fire and vitriol.

They want me to fight the rearguard action all on my own, I guess because they regard me as the field negro who always puts his head above the parapet and rattles the cages of the Corporation to their benefit. Yes, to their benefit. Because when all this is done and dusted and the Corporation is brought to the table of equal rights and justice – willingly or kicking and screaming – it is these same representatives of ours at the BBC who will benefit.


Just look at the response so far from the BBC’s black presenters who are getting shafted by the Corporation’s pay gap at least as much as women are, if not more so. So far, there has been no response. No public response. Oh, a response has been mooted and considered and, no doubt, as you read this being re-considered.

But, we have done nothing. While the female presenters have done everything and done it swiftly and risen like a phoenix form the ashes of the BBC’s salary disclosures to trigger a national debate about sexism in the workplace.

It’s bad enough being black and not getting your equal rights and justice. But to sit on our hands and screwing over our predicament when we should be storming the Bastille is shocking. If for no other reason than that we should be inspiring the next generation of young people at the BBC who may yet face the same discriminatory pay policies that the Corporation is being charged with and who will no doubt be demoralised by that as we are.

Right now, in these times, with white news presenters standing up and bawling for equal rights and justice when it comes to pay at the BBC, it is distasteful and demoralising to see our own too timid to say anything when what we could be saying would make the difference.


No doubt, the open letter from the women at the BBC will shame the BBC into paying them as much as the men pronto. But why are we ducking and diving? Why are we not getting-up and standing-up and fighting for our rights? Is it because we is black? Is this a fundamental part of the black condition that keeps us forever shackled to the yoke of oppression?

Have we become the realisation of Linton’s penetrating poem:

Dem wi gi’ whey dem talent to di state/An' di black workin ‘ class and ah rate/Dem wi' side wid oppressah/W ‘en di goin' get ruff/Side wid aggressah/W ‘en di goin' get tuff dem a black petty-booshwah/Dem full of flaw.

It’s like we all want to go up to heaven, but none of us wants to die (follow us Jesus). It don’t work like that. We think that we are in BBC heaven with our huge salaries, when in fact any place of employment where white people are paid more than their colleagues of colour for doing the same job is more like a black man’s hell.

Look, we have to stop being afraid. We don’t achieve anything with fear. As Nelson Mandela so eloquently put it:

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”


I want to live in a just society. A society where a man/woman’s worth is judged by the content of his/her character and ability rather than the colour of his/her skin, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, equally eloquently.

The BBC should be a beacon to those principles, and yet, after all these years, it is not. Can you imagine the outrage if it was discovered that gay men and women at the BBC are paid less for doing the same job as their heterosexual counterparts?

We, on the other hand, have lost our teeth and our voice. And we have let everybody down. Because if we at the top are too timid to ask for equal rights and justice, then what hope for those at the bottom who are also being paid less than their white colleagues?

Dotun Adebayo is Britain’s most listened-to black radio talk show host. He presents Up All Night on BBC Radio 5 live Thursdays through Sundays on 909/693 MW, The Sunday Night Special on BBC 94.9FM and Reggae Time on BBC London 94.9FM on Saturday evenings. Tune in if you’re ranking!

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