ROTA Interviews Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Editor at Galdem

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff is a journalist and one of the founding editors of Galdem, a media platform for women and non-binary people of colour that launched in September 2015. She is the opinions editor who is also currently helping to head up Galdem’s second print edition and organise their various events.

Can you tell me a bit more about how Galdem first formed?

It was founded by Liv Little, who was in her second year studying at the University of Bristol. She, like many of us, felt sort of isolated in a very white environment and wanted to create a community of women of colour around her. She was also becoming very aware of the fact that both her course, academically speaking, and the wider media didn’t have a good reflection of people of colour and of women of colour. So she reached out to all the creative people she knew and Galdem was born. We first started having meetings in Summer 2015, and they got me on board as they’d read an article I’d written for VICE and then they gave me a message I think and I came along to one of the first meetings.

You mentioned women of colour feeling isolated in predominantly white spaces at university, what was your experience of noticing the whiteness of space?

I’m a journalist so that was my direct experience of it. Mostly in terms of being in a field that has not been really diverse. So from my perspective I was really waiting for something like Galdem to come along where I could sort of channel my energy into helping to improve the way the industry operates in terms of reaching out to people of colour and getting them to write on different topics, and championing our voices.

What kind of topics particularly interest you relating to race?

At the moment I’m particularly fascinated by colourism and the impact that has. We ran a series in the end of 2015 where I collated a series of articles looking at the phenomenon of skin lightening in the women of colour communities throughout the world and ways we can raise awareness about how dangerous it can be and challenge the horrible perception that even exists within our communities that having a lighter skin tone is better.

Do you write with an international context in mind?

Our writing does have an international reach but we are consciously writing to reach an international audience. The majority of us are based in the UK but we do have contributors all over the world, from Australia to Holland to South America, North America, Canada, New Zealand… all over Europe.

How is your content generated?

We have a team of fifteen editors and assistant editors. They receive pitches from people all over the world who want to write about topics. And we also have mailing lists, each section has a mailing list so we send out opportunities for asking people if they want to write about specific topics and then, on top of that, we have regular contributors who, if we know they have a specific interest and it comes up in the news, we’ll ask them, ‘Can you write a piece on this topic?’

 

Do you ever reject submissions? If so on what grounds?

Of course. We don’t accept all pitches. Our aim is to work with as many people as we can on making their articles fit to print. We’re unfunded therefore we rely on our contributors’ energy and rely on the fact that they care about this as much as we do because they’re not getting paid. So it would be a bit disingenuous for us to be accepting pitches left, right and centre. Every now and again people will come with ideas that don’t work for us or which are problematic. One of the things that is happening a lot on the opinions section is that we get a lot of pitches from mixed race people who all want to write about the same thing. Which is a legitimate experience but we’ve covered it a lot, you know this idea of being mixed race and caught between two cultures.

Are you conscious of making the platform as intersectional as possible?

Yeah that is something we are working towards. There’s always work to be done when it comes to intersectionality. Recently one of our arts and cultures editors put a reach out on Twitter because she was aware of the fact that we haven’t got enough trans-women who write for us regularly. We are aware that we can sometimes be skewed by narratives from a certain perspective, but it’s something we are always conscious about, something we are trying to rectify and we really do take on constructive criticism if it’s levelled at us.

Other than trans-women’s narratives, what other intersections do you think are underrepresented in Galdem?

I wouldn’t want to speak for everyone, because I don’t know the ins and outs of everyone’s [the contributors] lived experience. I would say from the opinions section though that I’d like to see more working class narratives personally.

Why do you think it’s important to have a platform for women of colour specifically?

Because of intersectionality. I think the reason why so many people got behind it is because it has been something people have been waiting for, not just because it fills a gap in the market but it’s also the combination of factors of our race and our gender identity which means that we have unique struggles which I think that the mainstream media does not centre a lot of the time.

Given there are a lot of different ways in which racialised groups experience oppression and issues between different non-white communities, what made you want to create a platform for all women of colour?

It wasn’t me who founded it, so that’s really a question for Liv. From my perspective though, it’s good to be individualistic and recognise for example issues of anti-blackness in parts of the south Asian community and, you know, there’s problems with some black people, say in  Jamaica who can be racist towards people in East Asian communities. But I think that, from my perspective at least there’s more that we should bring up together rather than drive our narratives apart. So as I was saying, there’s still more work to be done and still more voices within Galdem that need to be heard, but yeah, something that we are working towards.

What have been your favourite submissions to Galdem?

The Very Black Body by Atong Atem is a really really beautiful piece of work that has been written as part of a mini-series. There’s a really lovely piece written by Priyanka Meenakashi who wrote about growing up with an abusive family andabout, not how she overcame that, but was able to find her own sense of home by leaving them behind. There was a really interesting piece actually called The Box Braids Paradox  by Natalie Morris, it’s less of an essay piece as those I’ve already mentioned but it really spoke to my experience of what it’s been like having braids and I really appreciated her publicly opening up about it.

In your lifetime, do you think things are getting better in terms of race relations or worse?

I think some things are going backwards in some ways and forwards in others. I think the internet has been an amazing tool in helping us find our sense of community and increase dialogue amongst certain people, but I’m not that optimistic that things have changed that much really since we were younger. Especially because of the election of Trump and Brexit etc. It almost feels like when you take two steps forward, you take two steps back. Things are becoming more insidious as well. It’s almost like the racists have learnt the language of peace but they’re not enacting it in what they do or how they behave towards people of colour.

What kind of racial issues would you like to place on the agenda?

I’m really enthused to see the outcome of the David Lammy review which is looking at how Black and Asian and other ethnic minorities get treated in the prison system, which is underreported in this country, whereas in America they have that amazing documentary 13thwhich came out last year. I guess that’s one positive thing that the government is doing. I’m not a political journalist so I wouldn’t be able to tell you what the government is or isn’t doing in terms of race relations at the moment. I’m more up on what the media is or isn’t doing.

Okay, so in terms of the media, what kind of racial issues would you like to place on the agenda?

Representation for me is a huge thing at the moment, because with representation will come, naturally, a focus on different racial topics that aren’t given legitimacy. I think people don’t actually realise within the industry, just how bad it is, how much white men are given precedence in every comment or editorial copy, even on topics that you would just presume would be given to like a Black or Asian journalist. We get shut out. And there isn’t enough concerted effort by the powers that be to try and rectify the amount of Black and Asian and minority ethnic people coming through the system either, apart from the Guardian who have their Positive Action Scheme. But there are pockets of the media, the mainstream media as well, who are doing their thing, making little inroads, like Buzzfeed do some amazing work focusing on black women, what we’re doing and start-ups we’re creating. And that’s thanks to black journalists they’ve hired. So you can really see a direct cause and effect, like Galdem is successful in this way because we have a space for women of colour therefore we have natural inclination towards stories that are about and for us. So yeah, that’s the main thing that’s on my agenda at the moment to be honest. Increasing representation, because the stories for me are already out there, we just need them to be given a wider reach.