[READ TIME 5 MIN]
Privileged has become such a disdainful term. At worst, it reeks of entitlement, at best whiffs of accusation with subtle undertones of scorn. But what if we didn’t see privilege as binary? But instead viewed it as a spectrum, accepting that most of us have some form of it, and many of us have an incredible power to create change using it.
Back in 2018, I read an eye-opening report by ‘Panic! It’s an arts emergency’, which shone a light on social inequality in the British creative industry. It highlights those in the ‘most senior, well paid and influential roles’ in the arts are the ‘most sceptical of the impact of social factors, such as gender, class or ethnicity, on explanations for success in the sector.’ It always stuck with me that instead, they are ‘most committed to the belief that hard work and talent explain that success’, upholding the widely disputed view that the creative industry runs on a meritocracy.
A blind spot, I believe, is in part perpetuated by the idea that privilege somehow diminishes success. In reality privilege is a lottery and while being affluent, white, CIS and male may be a lottery ticket for getting ahead, there are many small wins that can be acknowledged.
As a person of colour, growing up in a single-parent household, supported by benefits, the creative industry was certainly not an easy pathway for me. Yet I must openly acknowledge that privileges helped me to forge a successful career in content creation.
I attended a school that was forced to open its catchment area, beyond its affluent borders, where I met a textiles teacher who brought the subject to life. She actively encouraged me to apply to London College of Fashion where I studied a Fashion Journalism degree. By contrast, I often hear from pupils at less affluent schools, who were never encouraged to think of the arts as a viable career path.
By geographical luck, my family home was based in London, so I was able to live rent-free and participate in unpaid internships that led to securing my first graduate roles. Despite my humble upbringing, this was a financial privilege far from accessible to all.
And it would be remiss not to mention that in the UK where structural racism and colourism persist, my dual heritage and light-skin afford me a privilege that is associated by approximation to whiteness. I do not face the same level of racial prejudice that my darkskin family and friends experience, allowing me to be more accepted into the overwhelmingly white art space.
Openly acknowledging privilege, in whatever form it may take, helps everyone to better understand the challenges in diversifying the creative industry. To deny privilege reinforces the longstanding barriers to access.
Now I use my privilege for the benefit of others. In 2017 I founded The Colour Balance, a movement which develops Black and POC inclusion in photography. We enlist the support of those established in the creative industry to foster grass roots inclusion through free workshops, offering training opportunities, nurturing a creative network for our community and shining a light on emerging talent in British photography. Most recently through Sonder, an immersive virtual photography exhibition created in collaboration with Mitchell Studios.
It is through my work in diversity that I have come to understand how many limiting factors, such as unpaid opportunities, access to networks, lack of representation and poor visibility of marginalised talent in senior creative roles can intersect and compound to restrict pathways to success for underrepresented groups.
Most recently I co-founded Gather, a diversity and inclusion -led creative production agency. Alongside my business partner Victoria Hutchings, we use our experiences as members of the Black/POC, LGBTQIA+ and female communities to advocate for inclusion of underrepresented groups in the industry. We help brands to diversify their shoot teams and encourage others to wield their privilege as a force for change, behind the lens as well as in front of it.
I highly encourage others not to mask their own privilege but instead, dissect it, reflect on it, and consider how different your path may have been without it. It’s in you, but you can share it.
Virgilia Facey is a POC female founder of diversity -led business enterprises. Virgilia founded The Colour Balance in 2017 to challenge barriers to access in photography for the Black and POC community and in 2020 co-founded Gather, a creative production company connecting brands to inclusive shoot teams for content creation. Virgilia is using her vast network and wide-ranging experience to help brands bring some much-needed change to the creative industries. Through Gather she’s determined to help talent from underrepresented backgrounds bring their unbridled talents to creative projects.