Theatre in spotlight over demands that staff educate themselves on white privilege

·2-min read
Roy Alexander Weise is the first black person to hold the position of artistic director at the Royal Exchange - Piers Allardyce/Shutterstock
Roy Alexander Weise is the first black person to hold the position of artistic director at the Royal Exchange - Piers Allardyce/Shutterstock

Theatre staff will be made to read about “white privelege” in a mandatory book club set up to educate them on racism.

Staff at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester will take part in the “mandatory” club launched in response to Black Lives Matter protests, as the converted cotton exchange addresses its historical links to slavery.

Members of the compulsory club will meet monthly to discuss tracts on racism, including White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, which argues that “white people raised in Western society are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview”.

The aim of the club is for staff to “educate themselves and one another on the barriers faced by marginalised communities to accessing theatre and the arts”, according to a statement from the theatre.

It has been launched alongside other initiatives, including anti-racism training for staff, as part of a new project by the publicly funded charitable organisation to “kill the disease of racism”.

Titles in the mandatory book club include Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Natives, by the rapper Akala, and Nikesh Shukla’s The Good Immigrant

Artistic directors Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise, the first black person to hold the position at the Royal Exchange, said they wanted their new initiatives to be a “quiet and powerful part of the revolution that is happening in the world”.

As well as tackling issues of racism, the book club will also seek to educate staff on ageism and ableism in its choice of reading material.

The artist directors launched a raft of initiatives under the heading of “Disrvpt” amid concerns about the inclusivity of the theatre, as issues were raised about how people perceived the building complex once used prominently in the cotton trade.

Aside from the connection to slave labour in the production of cotton, theatre bosses have said the building they are based in could be a “symbol of elitism, imperialism, disenfranchisement”.

An online statement on issues raised at the theatre added: “It’s too posh for some, feels like a museum, makes you feel like you’ve got to submit to the way that the tall pillars remind you of the power that sits out of your reach; the arrogance of the gold adornment, almost mocking you as you enter.”

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