I was asked to contribute to this article:
Just in case it’s helpful, here’s the piece I sent them in full - a few notes added at the end.
I think it’s important to remember that, if you look at the demographics of Britain, one in two people are female, one in five are disabled, one in ten are queer, one in ten are from a minority ethnic group and only six would be of what we’d call (in very loaded terms) of working age. To ensure that any cross section reflects this isn’t tokenism, it’s normalising. Personally, I completely applaud the BCA’s spirit and approach, but I think it’s inevitable that when a group of friends decide to react to previous awards which were losing all credibility, they’ll look first to the work they’re familiar with, and that’s most likely to be that made by those most similar to themselves. Having a final judging panel including reviewers and shop-keepers ran the risk that commercial appeal could be weighted more favourably than innovation.
I don’t think the nominating or the judging panel were guilty of any wilful bias, but I do think it’s important to be mindful of the notion that one of the fundamental signs of privilege is that you’re not aware of your privilege. I think that people who are straight, white, non-disabled, men or of any other advantaged group should always try to be mindful of that and not be affronted if people without those advantages find that there are barriers to being heard, whether that’s in the nomination process passing over some absolutely phenomenal titles by women or other marginalised voices or in raising concerns about those omissions.
I’m very glad that we’re having this discussion; I think it’s long overdue, and it comes from a perspective of celebration rather than criticism, so the message isn’t “Your privilege bias is showing!” but “You might have inadvertently missed out on some absolutely cracking and innovative work here!”
To be clear about this, I’m someone who studied Cultural Studies and specialised in feminist social art history for several units of the undergraduate degree, then I went on to be a sign language interpreter for Newham Council, sitting on their equalities board and writing council diversity policy. I’m a cis-gendered man, Caucasian and born in Britain to English parents, I’ve had a Grammar School education, so I’m probably quite privileged. I’m also in a relationship with a man, and I’m disabled and have long-term health problems.
I mention all of that to make clear my own bias on this, which is that I’m likely to, if anything, veer towards being overly sensitive about equalities issues, but also to be clear that I don’t always know where my bias lies, so I’m very open to being pulled up where I’m unaware of my privileged ignorance.
In terms of the comics scene, as I think everyone’s saying, the BCA are a great thing, the only issue is that they might have inadvertently left open a perception of bias which they can take on board for next time, and I don’t think there’s anyone who’s said there shouldn’t be a next time, just that in this, as in all areas of life, ensuring diversity in the committee and the judging panel is normalising it, not box-ticking, and that we’re all really happy to watch the awards and the scene they reflect, continue to grow.