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Was Eurovision 2020 The Contest Of The Racial Watershed? Written by on July 3, 2020 | 3 Comments

In a turbulent year for the BAME community, Fin Ross Russell talks about the lost opportunity of Rotterdam 2020 and his hopes for BAME representation in future Song Contests.

There was always something that felt special about the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest. Looking back, I’m not sure if I started sensing that on August 30th 2019 when Rotterdam – one of the most culturally diverse cities in Europe – was chosen to host at the Ahoy Theatre in Charlois, one of its most culturally diverse neighbourhoods. Perhaps it was on January 10th when Jeangu Macrooy, a black artist born and raised in Suriname was announced as the Dutch representative at said contest.

Whenever it was, I definitely felt it by the time the confetti had rained down at the end of Melodifestivalen on March 7th as five years of solo male (and mostly white) winners had been brought to an end by three black women singing a song packed with hope, love and overcoming adversity.

By that point, we had our full list of artists competing at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest including nine entirely BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) competing acts (nine and a half if you include half of Ben & Tan).

Eurovision has had BAME representation since Anneke Grönloh competed for the Netherlands in 1964; with BAME performers winning the Contest in 2001 (Dave Benton’s triumph for Estonia alongside Tanel Padar & 2XL) and Loreen’s 2012 victory with ‘Euphoria‘. 2020 was shaping up to be the first time that racial representation at Eurovision wasn’t just sporadic; BAME artists comprised a remarkable 23 percent of the competing acts. Not only that but subjectively, they were all very high quality from a range of different genres around an incredible variety of themes.

Then came March 18… The day when the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest was officially cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Initially, I hoped that the songs and artists from this year’s competition would be automatically carried over to next year so that the Song Contest would not lose this brilliant opportunity to showcase racial diversity. Two days later, the Reference Group confirmed that this year’s songs would not be eligible and each broadcaster would have to make their own decisions about inviting artists to return in 2021.

As a BAME Eurovision fan and writer, I felt robbed of not only high quality songs, a fantastic stage, and a brilliant team of Dutch hosts; but importantly robbed of the opportunity for BAME people like me across Europe and the world to see ourselves on the stage of the world’s biggest song contest.

Then of course, I felt sick for the competing artists. Every artist who won their nation’s ticket to the 2020 Song Contest worked hard to earn that right, but I guarantee that BAME artists worked even harder to ensure that they were recognised and respected in predominantly white nations. That’s before we discuss any personal abuse or prejudice that they may have been subject to.

Black Lives Matter

Which brings us to May 25 2020, the day when George Floyd was asphyxiated by police officer Derek Chauvin who had kept his knee on George’s neck for almost nine minutes. The result was international outrage leading to protests around the world, widespread debate on social media and most vitally commitments from governments, organisations and individuals that they need to do better.

I feel conflicted about this movement. On one hand, it is really positive to see the extent to which people of all ages (particularly young people) care about these issues and seeing that all types of organisations are sitting up and paying attention to the widespread injustice sewn into the fabric of our society. On the other hand, we have all most definitely been here before.

Protestors carrying placards at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in New York City in 2014 (All-Nite Images / Wikimedia)

Protestors carrying placards at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in New York City 2014(All-Nite Images / Wikimedia)

‘Black Lives Matter’, the slogan for the movement against racism that many of you may have seen on social media, was first used in 2013 when George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges after shooting African-American teenager Trayvon Martin (see the Black Lives Matter). It became nationally recognised in 2014 during the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Now here we are again in 2020 and once more this message is on everybody’s minds again at protests, on social media, and in politics.

Many organisations will make promises during this time to combat racism but for anybody who well and truly cares about racial inequality beyond its current topical relevance, it is our responsibility to hold all of them to account for the promises they make no matter how big or small they are or what their industry is. For BAME people, our struggle against racial inequality will continue far beyond this discussion being topical. I refuse to get excited about the positive effects of this particular edition of the movement until I am able to see and experience change in our society from governmental level all the way down to interactions with people on the street.

For too long, we have been promised that moments like these are a watershed for society and what have the results been? The optimists among us have gotten our hopes up only to seem them dashed when we are inevitably confronted by racism again and the cynics amongst us have lost faith in the commitments and words of organisations in power from top to bottom. The only way that we can move towards peace is if all of us (especially white people) act towards diversifying our society to become more inclusive of those who are marginalised, no exceptions.

The Responsibility Of Eurovision 2021

There’s one last date for you to consider, May 22nd 2021, the day that Rotterdam will (potentially) host the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2021 that it was destined to host a year earlier. Eight of the aforementioned ten BAME acts have been confirmed to return next year, with Denmark and Sweden sticking to their existing National Final structures to find their 2021 songs. With several internal selections yet to be confirmed and National Finals to be heldl, we could very easily add to that roster.

At that point, the question turns to the quality of the songs, staging and performance.

It is not enough for BAME people to be represented; it is essential that that representation is of all-round high quality. Whilst quality is admittedly subjective, broadcasters across the EBU can all take note of the events taking place around the world and offer the benefit of the doubt to artists from BAME backgrounds. They can work closely with them to understand their artistic vision and how to best bring it to the stage, giving the artists support, investment, and most importantly professional respect.

Jessy Matador (France 2010)

Jessy Matador (France 2010)

As many of next year’s competing BAME acts as possible need to reach the Grand Final so that they can be showcased in front of that global audience of almost 200 million viewers, so that they can express their truth live on stage with their music, and so that maybe, just maybe next year will be the one where we have a third BAME winner of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Maybe then the Song Contest will be able to prove itself as a platform built on cultural diversity where racism is unacceptable and black lives not only matter but are celebrated.

I am too painfully aware that racism won’t be fully taken care of come the next Grand Final. I am also conscious that even with a lot of hard work and the best of intentions, we could be waiting years for a third BAME winner of the Eurovision Song Contest. To quote The Mamas, “there ain’t no mountain baby that I wouldn’t move” to get Eurovision to that point and, with a nod towards Ben & Tan, that is an opportunity and a hope to which everybody should “say yes.”

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3 responses to “Was Eurovision 2020 The Contest Of The Racial Watershed?”

  1. Great and timely article! I would add Izhar Cohen, Dana International and Galit Atari to the list of BAME winners: all are Yemeni Israelis, which is a community that’s experienced a lot of racism in Israel (not unlike Loreen did growing up in Sweden).

  2. Jamea says:

    I’ve only heard about the term BAME for the first time this past month when I was reading the news about BLM protests in the United Kingdom. How different/similar is it from the term POC (person/people of color) and the other recently new umbrella term being used increasingly in the States, BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of color)? 🙂

  3. […] year, I wrote an article that questioned if 2020 was “the contest of the racial watershed”, the year in which BAME artists from across Europe were finally recognised and represented in a […]

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