Director flays Covent Garden for BLM silence

Director flays Covent Garden for BLM silence


norman lebrecht

June 10, 2020

ROH Technical Director Mark Dakin has published an onslaught on his employer:

I am ashamed the organisation for which I work has chosen to exercise the privilege of staying publicly silent about the racist murder of the African American George Floyd, proactively choosing to ignore #blackouttuesday, as it always publicly ignores Black History Month, when so many of our contemporaries have chosen to use their considerable influence to publicly stand alongside their black, Asian and minority ethnic employees and communities more widely, in this devastating and traumatic moment… As a man of colour, the privilege of silence is something I do not have.

He called the ROH ‘an unrelentingly white organisation’.

The ROH said: We are deeply troubled by events of the past fortnight and acknowledge that we need to effect and embed change at the Royal Opera House…. It is essential that we, alongside all our performing arts colleagues, take time to reflect and to renew our commitment to stamping out both conscious and unconscious racism.


  • John Rook says:

    Then he should resign.

    • William says:

      He is promoting or facilitating change from within. He may expect to be sacked: why resign?

      • Ramesh Nair says:

        Dakin’s full statement is milder than it could have been. After all, the full context of Dakin’s broadside is that the UK recently elected a Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who had penned ‘journalism’ that characterised black people as ‘peccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’. One probably has to go back to Winston Churchill, or earlier, to a British leader who published the term ‘peccaninny’. I can’t recall PM Johnson publicly apologising for such gutter journalism in the past. Readers should not forget that Trump has frequently and lavishly praised Johnson, while lambasting Muslim London mayor Khan. While it’s true that every arts organisation jumping on the social cause du jour can come across as self-serving and facile, surely the social contexts noted above are reasons for even the most conservative of this website’s readers to have empathy for Mr Dakin.

        • Adrienne says:

          I think you know perfectly well that Boris Johnson was (in 2002) satirising the attitudes of condescending, globe trotting people like Tony Blair, who see their role as saving ‘piccaninnies’ like me from themselves. It is quite clear from the context that African people were not his target but, in true 21st century fashion, you home in on the naughty word, ignoring the context.

          An example of the sort of patronising attitude I have objected to below.

          You have chosen a form of words which is intended to imply that Johnson regards African people as ‘piccaninnies’ but you have fallen short of saying so because I think you know that it is not true. And then you hypocritically refer to ‘gutter journalism’. Priceless.

        • John Borstlap says:

          The suggestion that ‘conservative’ = racist and ‘progressive’ = emancipatory is a bland generalization without meaning. There are ‘black conservatives’ and ‘white progressives’. Racism is a primitive reaction of anxiety that can be found anywhere.

        • BrianB says:

          Justin Trudeau not once but multiple times donned blackface. Any criticism from you there? No of course not. That can be dismissed and/or ignored because he’s “on our side.” The quite Orwellian double standard is wearing awfully thin.

  • Melisande says:

    Too little too late.

  • Adrienne says:

    More like N Korea every day.

    • John Ahern says:

      Typical dismissive white attitude. Do you watch the news? No wonder people are rising up.

      Your seriously out of step.

      • Bone says:


        Also, it is wonderful that so many groups are taking the opportunity to look deeper than their wallets for meaningful contributions to the world.
        I worry, though, that the end result may be the utter destruction of an art form as a sacrifice to the gods of diversity.

        • John Borstlap says:

          The problem is that the music is not white, and not coloured either. Attacking the central performance culture for being white is aiming at the wrong place.

      • Adrienne says:

        Sorry, but in my case it’s actually a black attitude. Originally from Guinea, to be precise.

        Your race-radar seems to be defective.

      • Charles Lovejoy says:


        CNN, MSNBC, and the lot of mainstream media who have both White owners and boards beyond the sarcastic White anchors who promote self-hatred raking in MILLIONS from the dumb Dems?!?!


        CNN’s Jeff Zucker is going to simply give up his $$$$$$ President gig to somebody ‘of color’ he pays NOT to live near and his kids not to learn around out of ‘white guilt’???

        Ha Ha!!!!!!!!
        You’re funny Johnny!

    • Peter says:

      Adrienne. Most of the London orchestras posted on social media their support of Black Lives Matter. The ROH was obvious in its absence.

      • Adrienne says:

        So they all have to respond in the same way or ….? N Korea, like I said.

        Tell me, have these selfless, humanitarian organisations posted on social media about previous deaths or atrocities? For instance:

        Charlie Hebdo
        Manchester bombing
        Rape of 1400+ girls in Rotherham
        London stabbings
        Genocide in Rwanda
        Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping
        Uighur Muslims in China
        Christians in the Middle East
        Persecution of white farmers in S Africa

        Fawning over black victims as a result of a diktat dominated by shallow social media is something I find difficult to summon any respect for. To me, it is patronising and insincere.

        • Ellingtonia says:

          The left have never been able to confront “inconvenient truths”. As for the police, they will no doubt be mincing up the mall before taking a knee……………Cressida Dick is so aptly named!

  • Darrell says:

    Resign, kneel the rest of your life and leave us alone.

  • Robin Smith says:

    Does every organisation in the world have to have a stated opinion on every political event worldwide ? Clearly not and I see no connection whatsoever between the Royal Opera House and a wholly unrelated event in the USA.

    • Bean says:

      A “wholly unrelated event” or the tip of the (colossal) iceberg?
      If you see no connection, then I urge you to do some reading.

  • progressive says:

    Did he look in the mirror lately…or perhaps BEFORE he CHOSE to work there??

    How long has he been this DAFT?!?!

  • Jon says:

    His statement with regard to Black History Month is incorrect. The Royal Opera House has regularly featured events celebrating Black History Month, and has been doing so for several years.

    • Ellingtonia says:

      Why a black history month? In a famous interview (available on YouTube) Morgan Freeman the actor was asked about black history month by his interviewer who happened to be Jewish. His response was to ask him “do you have a Jewish history month?”, the interviewer said no. Freeman then asked “do you want one?” Again the answer was no from the interviewer. “Why would I want one then, black history is American history and not restricted to one month”. He then added a rider that “I now finds that I am designated as an African / American which is news to me”. “I am not African, I am American”.
      From a personal perspective I think that in view of the present climate I shall demand a “Lancashire History Month” to reflect the oppression we Lancastrians have faced, particularly from that lot over the Pennines!

      • Adrienne says:

        “to reflect the oppression we Lancastrians have faced, particularly from that lot over the Pennines!”

        A division that, as a very dark hued amphibian, I was unaware of until a couple of years ago. It explains several comments that had previously gone over my head.

        Not a Yorkshire Tea drinker, then?

        • Ellingtonia says:

          Of course I am a Yorkshire tea drinker, after all I lived in the White Rose county for 40 years, but as they say “you can take the boy out of Lancashire but you can take Lancashire out of the boy”. You can just imagine the pain I felt when my daughter (born in Sheffield) was selected to represent Yorkshire at athletics and pulled on the “white rose vest”……….there are some things in life a man cannot ever recover from. Although afternoon tea at Bettys with an accompanying “Fat Rascal” does help!

  • John Borstlap says:

    I’m desperately looking around here to find ethnically non-white people to whom we have been unfair, but all staff is white and we have only been unfair to them. The only ethnically-diverse victims at this place I found in the stables but they are horses and they never protested. But wait, if there are only non-diverse people working here that must surely mean we have been racist isn’t it? Good Lord I finally found something! Tonight I’m making my plackard.


  • quaversemibreve says:

    Norman, please do not publish horrible comments that cross
    the line on this post and others like it -what benefits your website to undermine this incredibly respected professional who has has displayed unbelievable courage in speaking out on this issue? this site is becoming a home for all the horrible things in opera and classical music to display themselves – sexism always to the fore-and in this case -intolerance and racism disguised and justified as free speech. It makes those of us who love opera and want it to have a future despair. No-one can claim to be an true lover of opera and music and write the kind of comments below that -without a shred of empathy and respect -seek to shame and trivialise this hugely impressive man.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      I am sorry people disagree with you. In what way is this person hugely impressive? We didn’t hear from him until it became fashionable. Unless the government becomes very generous he won’t have a job soon and nor unfortunately will many others. Perhaps he could try Cuba?

  • Nik says:

    In what way did the ROH “proactively [choose] to ignore” it? What does that mean in practice?

    • 18mebrumaire says:

      ‘proactively choose to ignore’ — well spotted! Will add this to the flyleaf of my battered copy of Gowers.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I forgot to proactively choose to ignore this stylistic gaffe, but to my defence I can say that this only happened retroactively after the moment to be specified later-on.

        • Nik says:

          It doesn’t look like a stylistic gaffe to me. It’s something else entirely.
          It seems as if he wrote that they ignored it and then felt that the word wasn’t strong enough, so he decided to make the matter look more serious by saying that they were proactive in choosing to ignore it.
          The result is a petulant, passive-aggressive formulation that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Confirmation if any were needed that his motives are childish and self-important.

          • John Borstlap says:

            When she’s back from some rally, I’ll discuss the linguistic implications with my PA.

          • John Borstlap says:

            She hit me with her plackard for being unrelentingly white, in spite of her being the same. It is very difficult to get good staff nowadays.

  • Leo Doherty says:

    I agree with Mark Dakin. The death of George Floyd has reminded us all of the despicable trade of people from Africa undertaken by the british aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. George is a descendent of these people. Like most institutions during that time there would be no doubt that the arts like the Royal Opera, Covent Garden would have benefitted from that awful trade whether it be from benefactors money or investment directly or indirectly made from the suffering of people working in the vast sugar and tobacco estates of the west indies.

    • Adrienne says:

      I believe that the Royal Opera company was formed after WW2, so it is relatively recent. This seems like a rather desperate attempt by you at guilt by association.

      So far as benefactors’ money is concerned, I think the list of buildings and organisations which benefitted indirectly will be quite large, including many hospitals. In any case, much of the present opera house is quite recent.

      I suggest you look into conditions in British mines and factories during the industrial revolution, and the life expectancies of those condemned to work there. This contributed far more to Britain’s wealth than slavery ever did, but that is not what people want to hear. Britain (and white people) did not have a monopoly on slavery, not even close.

      This is becoming extremely tedious. Do you have anything to say about modern slavery, or do you prefer to spend your time fighting old battles for political reasons?

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      Did you not once say “Hello” to someone whose brother married someone whose great-grandfather married a woman from a family that made their money from making ships that were used in the slave trade? You are GUILTY!

  • Bruce says:

    Reminds me of the famous (apparently famous?) story of the Arsenal mural in 1992: they had a construction project in progress as the season began, and wanted something to cover up the unsightly scaffolding at one end of their stadium. They asked one of their resident artists to paint a mural depicting a crowd of fans.

    The artist painted a crowd entirely made up of white fans. Nobody thought anything of it until a black player asked why there weren’t any black people in the mural. To their credit, they were mortified and repainted some of the faces before opening day.

    “In his original sketch, Ibbison [the artist] had drawn a crowd — a collection of human-shaped figures — but he had not assigned a ‘gender or ethnicity’ to any of them. ‘At no point did it occur to me,” he said, “that I was drawing white, middle-class London.'”

    It’s a rather good example of systemic racism: the artist wasn’t trying to paint only white people, he just painted what he imagined when he thought of a crowd of typical Arsenal fans. The management looked at it and saw the same thing: a crowd of typical fans. It took a different perspective to make them notice something that was right in front of them.

    (You have to go down to about the 8th paragraph to get to the actual story; soccer writing in the NY Times tends toward the lyrical pastoral style. If it’s behind a paywall, I’m pretty sure I can post an excerpt without breaking any laws.)

    • John Borstlap says:

      Isn’t there a difference between innocent ‘blindness’ and ‘systemic racism’? People who have never had to think about being ethnically profiled, are not necessarily for that very reason racist if they simply don’t think about racist discrimination. The use of concepts is important. ‘Systemic’ suggests that there is a system in place, i.e. a system consciously designed to discriminate against people of colour. But that is not true: in the entire West, there is no ‘apartheid law’. Widespread racism consists of two types: conscious and unconscious, and is located in the heads of people and not in some organized system. When it seems that a system, for instance: the police force, has a purposely strategy of racist behavior, it is definitely NOT the system but the people functioning within that system who are racist.

      This distinction is important because to think it is the system, turns the problem into something abstract, and also: irrelevant, since there is nothing concrete to be found within the rules of any social or legal system. It is PEOPLE, not systems. But law making can help to create barriers against bad behavior, as long as basic freedoms are not affected.

      • Bruce says:

        The whole point is that people don’t have to be racist to help perpetuate a racist system. In this case, neither the painter nor the people who vetted the painting had any kind of racist intention, but they nevertheless ended up with a painting that excluded black people completely.

        I know how it sounds, but “systemic” doesn’t mean it was designed to be racist; it simply means that racial inequality is present throughout the system. For instance, the high mucky-mucks in a law firm might not notice that they almost never hire black lawyers. Because they’re racist? No — rather, because they are so used to seeing nothing but white people around them at work, that the lack of black people seems normal, and it never occurs to them to wonder why this is.

        Nobody in the law firm is racist, and yet a black lawyer applying for a job there has little to no chance of getting hired. That’s systemic racism.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Which shows how complex human behavior and human thought is. I agree with all of this.

          But what kind of world would it be if every work environment is socially politicized? If someone’s ethnic background (whatever that may mean, it is a muddy notion) is in the foreground all the time? People need to become entirely unconscious of colour to be able to judge other people’s work on its own merits. The exclusion of coloured people is also a cultural thing and therefore not necessarily racist. With which instrument can such distinctions be assessed?

          Group dynamics function on many different levels, and people are being excluded on grounds which have not much to do with their abilities. Where is this wrong and where is it justified? Imagine a white lawyer who is excluded from his professional network merely because he is a quarrelsome, unpleasant person who neglects basic hygiene. How justified is such kind of exclusion? Etc. etc.

          Then there is the complex problem of cultural norms within groups. Recently I saw a TV programme about the coronie where a youngish scientist, a researcher at a university, explained something technical about virusses. He was a ‘white’, but sported long rasta hair in a poney tale, a quasi-damaged T-shirt and dirty jeans, and spoke in a dialect which suggested a very simple and uneducated background. Yet, what he had to say was sane and perfectly reasonable. But I stopped listening. Why would such a professor present himself in such way? It was a message: ‘I’m just a normal regular guy as you would meet in the streets of any slum, as a professor at a university with a high salary I’m as simple as anybody else’. Such political messages are entirely inappropriate in the context of the subject. When functional social norms are politicized, people begin to signal entirely irrelevant messages.

  • Guest says:

    This sounds like a case of survior’s guilt and I’m seeing it even in my workplace.

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    Why is there a picture of Rodrigo Da Souza?

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    I am sick and tired of arts organizations entering the fray of politics, something they should always be above, and issuing ridiculous messages of sympathy and pledges to change what should not be changed. Art is art.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The motivation behind this trend (to have the arts be political) is the anxiety that art in itself has no longer any relevance in the modern world. So, with great effort, people lift art on the political band wagon – where, ironically, there is not much place for it.

  • Karl says:

    People are getting fired from jobs in the US for not supporting BLM. If you don’t bend the knee you are a target. ROH would be taking a big risk firing this guy.

  • John Borstlap says:

    if you think about it, what a terrible thing it is when people are unrelentingly white. When would they stop?

  • Thinking aloud says:

    I am so tired of this virtue signalling that is going on all around the world. What happened in the USA was terrible, but why should everyone feel they have to kowtow to the BL M movement, including ROH.
    I was once told “if you don’t like the way the organisation is run, find another job”. If this man is not happy about how ROH conducts itself, perhaps he should follow the advice I was given.
    He may find himself lucky to still have a job when the pandemic is over, considering ROH is going to be desperate for money and some of the staff will loose their jobs

    • John Borstlap says:

      It is not entirely impossible that, in order to survive the coronie, the ROH staff will be entirely replaced by Pakistani, to become eligible for state support.

  • Edgar Self says:

    “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”