Declaration signed to stop racism in Canada’s music industry

By Lincoln DePradine

Ian Andre Espinet

The emergence of Black Lives Matter as a global movement has led to protests and demands for systemic changes to institutions such as policing, education, healthcare and politics. In Canada, there is an ongoing effort to end anti-Black racism in the music and entertainment industry and to make it more inclusive.

“There’s still a glass ceiling for Black people in this country,’’ according to Ian Andre Espinet, co-founder of Breaking Down Racial Barriers (BDRB), which was initiated in August 2020. “The majority of the music forms in the world that is successful today are Black music forms. We should have a greater impact over our own narrative.’’

BDRB, which was co-founded by David “Click’’ Cox, was part of last week’s signing of a document called, “The Declaration to End Anti-Black Racism in the Canadian Music Industry’’.

The declaration was signed by more than 300 individuals, companies, corporations, organizations and government bodies.

The virtual signing of the declaration was co-hosted by BDRB, the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA), and Canada’s Black Music Business Collective known as ADVANCE.

The declaration, ADVANCE, CIMA and BDRB, called “… upon the individuals, organizations, small businesses, corporations and government institutions of the music industry to play a role in eradicating anti-Black racism in the Canadian music industry’’.

David “Click’’ Cox

They say “dismantling anti-Black racism in the Canadian music industry will require the re-envisioning of all foundational policies, procedures and practices through a lens of anti-Black racism’’; and, they make several recommendations including demanding the “collection, tracking and public reporting of race-based data and key matrix’’, which would point to such things as “workplace diversity’’ and indicate the “racial breakdown of staff’’ at all levels of an organization including governmental institutions.

In order to build an inclusive Canadian music and entertainment industry, “it is critical to address the anti-Black racism that exists in the systems and working environments within which Black music professionals and creatives operate’’, the declaration says. “Anti-racism begins with awareness and education and moves towards more formal practices such as policies and procedures’’.

Altogether, the declaration commits signatories to measurable actions such as making an “active, conscious and ongoing effort to work against racism’’, and creating “mechanisms to dismantle systems that perpetuate racism’’.

The declaration builds on the findings of a 10-part “Breaking Down Racial Barriers’’ roundtable held last year that featured more than 60 working Black music professionals discussing anti-Black racism in Canada’s music and entertainment industry.

Andrew Cash, CIMA’s executive director, said his organization is “proud and honoured to partner with BDRB and ADVANCE to bring this declaration forth’’.

The declaration is “vitally important’’ and it’s urgent that “all our partners and colleagues bring this declaration to life in your workplaces, and within yourselves, to eradicate anti-Black racism’’, said Cash.

“CIMA calls upon the music community in Canada to declare its commitment to ending anti-Black racism in the Canadian music industry. By doing so, we commit to the creation of a more equitable, inclusive, and diverse industry; one that not only includes, encourages, and fosters the success of Black entrepreneurs and professionals but does so intentionally.’’

Anti-Black racism “has limited the progress of Black people in the music sector’’, said Keziah Myers, executive director of ADVANCE.

“The Breaking Down Racial Barriers’ declaration is extremely important to us because it is a step in the right direction towards ending racism. Collectively, we as an industry, need co-conspirators that stand in the gap and ensure that equity is achieved,’’ Myers said.

Anti-Black racism in the music and entertainment industry is “debilitating because it undermines creativity’’, Espinet told The Caribbean Camera. “It undermines economics because, if we’re not at the table, we’re not being selected; if we’re not being selected, we’re not producing and if we’re not producing, we’re not generating any money.’’

Espinet reiterated that the overall goal “is to end racism. But, my personal goal is harm reduction’’.

He explained that “harm reduction’’ is his initial objective to be followed by “incremental change. My approach is a little bit different in as much as I’m trying to get these places to change their policies and their structures. If people are not from the culture, who is voting on who should get grant money or who should get awards? Who is making the decisions about which kinds of artists are signed?’’