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Institutions can operate through Welsh medium and be anti-racist, say language campaigners

20 Aug 2021 4 minutes Read
Cymdeithas Chair Mabli Siriol. Picture by Cymdeithas yr Iaith

Requirements for Welsh language skills at work should not exclude people of colour, language activists have said.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith said that institutions should aim to “operate through the medium of Welsh and become truly anti-racist,” adding that “we can, and we should, do both”.

It comes after a report by the Welsh Anti-Racist Union which said that the Welsh language policies of two of Wales’ national cultural bodies could “exclude” people of colour.

The report commissioned by The Arts Council of Wales and National Museum Wales suggested “relaxing the emphasis on having to speak Welsh, and providing opportunities to learn on the job”.

Mabli Siriol Jones, the Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, said that “racism is a problem across Welsh institutions”. She added however that “we need more, not fewer, services and workplaces operating through the medium of Welsh”.

“Ensuring improved access to the Welsh language has to be a part of this, through work by the Government and public bodies towards the target of a million Welsh speakers,” she said.

“Currently, many people in our society are shut out of opportunities to learn, use and enjoy the Welsh language because of economic and social barriers, including structural racism.

“Welsh is not an inherently exclusionary language, and neither are requirements for Welsh language skills in work.

“It’s the structures that are the issue — and that is why we want to ensure those structural barriers are removed so that everyone has access to the language.”

Mabli Siriol Jones added that Cymdeithas yr Iaith were calling on the Welsh Government to:

  • Provide Welsh lessons at all levels for all, free of charge
  • Extend the Welsh Language Standards to create the right for all workers to learn Welsh in the workplace
  • Attach conditions to public grants on extending the language to groups currently excluded from it

“We must ensure that public institutions operate through the medium of Welsh and become truly anti-racist,” she said. “We can, and we should, do both.”

‘Important’

The report by the Welsh Anti-Racist Union said that all participants had agreed that increasing the number of Black and non-Black people of colour working within the Arts Council of Wales and Amgueddfa Cymru was key to improving reliability and ensuring that applicants and freelancers were given a fairer chance to access opportunities.

It suggests a number of changes stated by participants, including:

  • The importance of increasing overall numbers within organisations, etting quotas and applying penalties to those who did not meet them;
  • Relaxing the emphasis on having to speak Welsh, and providing opportunities to learn on the job; increasing the number of black and non-black people of colour in HR departments
  • Job sharing in roles that may require Welsh language proficiency, where a black or non-black person of colour who doesn’t speak Welsh can work alongside a Welsh speaker

The report says: “Marginalised artists and art workers should receive support to learn different languages, in addition to Welsh.

“This additional support is necessary because Welsh language policies in current applications can exclude Black and non-Black people of colour.

“Furthermore, being able to communicate in a multitude of languages (as spoken by different communities in Wales) can enable Black and non-Black people of colour to engage more widely with different audiences.”

A joint statement issued by the Arts Council of Wales and Amgueddfa Cymru said: “We welcome the findings within these studies.

“The approaches taken by all three organisations focused on collaborating with communities rather than extrapolating from communities, and provide a range of important findings and recommendations.

“Arts Council of Wales and Amgueddfa Cymru will publish a joint action plan with a timeframe for taking forward the recommendations in the autumn.”

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