Your version of "diversity progress" in the performance industry is not enough for me.

So this was originally a Facebook status - riddled with mistakes and frustration and scattered thoughts and was not to be posted as an academic article. It isn't about that. 

However, I have been asked on more than one occasion since I posted it to publish it somewhere. I decided that was fair enough really, because it if my words resonate with people in some way then I do not want to isolate a large proportion of people that decide not to interact on one platform. So I'm posting it here, so people outside Facebook can read and share and digest if they wish. 

If you click the photo below, you will see the article that prompted this post.

Please note that this is an opinion piece.


So here it is, thank you for the support:

Freida Pinto cast as lead in "Guerilla" - new series exploring the history of Black Power in Britain. Click on photo above for link to article.

Freida Pinto cast as lead in "Guerilla" - new series exploring the history of Black Power in Britain.
Click on photo above for link to article.

Don't wanna hear about 12 years a slave...

Why can't John Ridley answer the question?
 

I really feel to go in right now on this because I wrote a previous status on Facebook about the appointment of a white woman as the new "Head of Diversity" for BFI. Then I decided I could not handle the back and forth of online debate that day. 

This post now is bursting out of me though and it addresses both issues too, so I'm going for it.

Jennifer Smith appointed to newly created position as Head of Diversity for BFI. Click on photo above for link to article.

Jennifer Smith appointed to newly created position as Head of Diversity for BFI.
Click on photo above for link to article.

Listen, if I am questioning the appointment of a person to a role based on the colour of their skin - IT ISN'T IRONIC WHEN THERE IS CONTEXT. We do not live in a tidily-unequal world where people are oppressed to the same extent or via the same methods in every single walk of life. We have to look at different industries and issues separately in order to tackle them. Historically, lived experience is an inescapable and essential part of that.

If you are telling me that "maybe a XYZ person who is also oppressed in some way was the best person for the job" then you are basic and part of the problem. You are perpetuating the vulgar narrative that "there just aren't enough black women out there good enough for the role".

"Maybe she was the best candidate" - do you know how big this city is? 8.7 million in London fam. For that role, why must she, a white person, be the best for it? And if she was, then ask yourself why there may be fewer people of colour presenting themselves for these opportunities?

If you want me to say it, when you live your whole life relentlessly and furiously pursuing a career in an industry in which you are frequently the only black woman in the room and when your brother told you when you were as small as ten (and frequently since) that you will have to "work twice as hard" and you had to accept it. Like that.

Because you knew it was true.

...It is uncomfortable.

I feel like I'm giving away some secret within the black community that shouldn't be shared but to be honest, depending on what day of the week it is, it is also intimidating. I do not always feel full of black girl magic or that I’m slaying… regardless of what my social media portrays. I often feel like an out of place and awkward black woman trying to fit herself somewhere she doesn’t belong and trying to affect a contrived “well spoken” accent so people can’t say nothing to me or question my presence.

For example, last week, when me and my sis Eberé Anosike went to the gym, we realised how much we loved being there. We also realised how much we had avoided going to those spaces over the years without each other because of the white, middle class lens that is attached to "gym culture" and how out of place we feel there as a result. Like we don't know what's going on or like we just got lost on the way somewhere else, so we have steered clear.

People get so defensive when I openly talk about black issues like I'm saying their issues no longer exist or like I'm saying these are more important. It's sickening and pathetic. There is no hierarchy of oppression, seriously. But our battles are definitely damn well different and to ignore that the most disenfranchised and underrepresented people in an industry need to be at the helm of facilitating change in said industry - to ignore that because of the fragility of our egos is pure stupidity. I am not in the same position as a woman of far darker skin complexion. I am also well-educated, thanks to my parents, and I'm privileged in these respects. Why should it pain me to say that or make me feel dismissed? It does not have any bearing on the difficulties and struggles of my life but the simple fact is - it is the TRUTH.

Why is it so hard for us to be honest? Face what is right there. Like. Ah.

Yes I believe that there should be more trans, agender, queer, disabled, Muslim, low-income, regionally-accented and self identifying women in positions of power in the performance industries and SPECIFICALLY in DIVERSITY ROLES. Of course I believe that. Should I say it again? I believe that. I believe that, wholeheartedly. That being said, also highlighting that people of colour, specifically in this industry are STILL the most underrepresented faction and that requires specific attention is not mutually exclusive.

It’s a madness. GET AS MANY OF THESE PEOPLE IN AS POSSIBLE. Can’t find them? I beg you, search. Maybe if you had a more diverse team or someone of colour in a diversity role - you might know where to look. Or better yet, have more insight into why these issues are so ingrained in our industry. It is the damn role of these institutions that have the power to affect change to admit that they DO NOT HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS. They cannot alone speak for everyone but they should bloody facilitate finding everyone a voice.

Do you know what the effect is of not having someone who represents you or understands your experience trying to recruit you into a program? For the purpose to actually increase the representation of people like you. I mean, someone posted on my friend’s status “Maybe peeps would understand if you made the statement like a news thump headline? "white woman brought in to sort out the problem of too many white people in industry”".

I will forever praise Birmingham Opera Company and Richard Willacy for employing me as Assistant Director of The Ice Break two years ago. Working with Graham Vick, a world renowned Opera director was an unbelievable experience. More so because in my interview, I could not have been more open about the fact that I had no experience, whatsoever, in opera. I knew nothing, but I wanted to. I did, however, know what it was to be a young black woman, terrified that there was no space for me in the arts. That my voice and experience about racial struggles would not be heard.

Who decides what it is to be qualified for a role? What that criteria is? And how can you when not everyone has access to these qualifications and that is a huge part of the problem. I loved Birmingham Opera Company because they knew that three middle-class white men could not walk into a homeless youth shelter in Birmingham and try to recruit a number of individuals who had no knowledge or interest in opera - into an opera. "Qualified for the job" or not. It doesn't work like that. If you truly want change and not some tokenised version of it - then you have to take risks. You have to search. That was one of the best employment opportunities of my life and I saw real change achieved. I am grateful for it because it gave me the confidence to go into other roles knowing that I had so much to give.

I have an issue with the casting of "Guerilla" because as a black woman I am not being brought in to tell any stories that aren’t slave and gang related or played stereotypes. So when you erase my voice from the actual stories that our parents fought to be told - it is problematic and it hurts and that will be reflected in how I communicate about these issues.

So if you want to have a debate about this s*** - do not police my tone or how i call things out. Sometimes I want to use poor grammar, my own voice and just ask human to human - Come on, what is this?

I have spent my whole life trying to force myself into a shape that fit a white-centred version of eloquence and "appropriate debate language" and I do not feel that I need to express myself in a way that anyone deems acceptable in order to have my intelligence validated. I know I'm intelligent. I have also (finally) accepted who I am - so if you read this post on social media and see me cursing, using colloquialisms and not capitalising and think otherwise, then really - that is on you.

All this stuff comes from a place of hurt. So before you respond with going in, wanting to get defensive or trolling your way to satisfaction. Try to empathise.

Listen. Ask. Act.

This is my experience and you may not have the same one but you cannot take that from me.

Oburu n am bu nwanne gi nwaanyi - please act like it.

Welcome Home.

I haven't posted on any of my social media channels to announce my return from Mexico because I honestly haven't known what to say. It's 3am in the U.K and I'm struggling to sleep as it's on my mind, so, I am going to give this a go.

 

I like to share as honestly as possible online as I believe that vulnerability and openness are nothing to be ashamed of. So, in that vein, I thought it appropriate to post that...

I've been avoiding posting.

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Mexico was unbelievable. It is a beautiful place where the people are living at an intensity and with a level of commitment to their art that is inspiring. Everyone at Circuito Nacional Poetry Slam MX created a home for me. Karlos, Cynthia, Comikk and Edmée invited me to be a poet in residence at Refugio Nomada and while I was there... I found a home.

 

Photo Credit: Kris Saar

Photo Credit: Kris Saar

For that, I will always be grateful.

My leaving lunch - Cynthia Franco and Karloz Atl. 

My leaving lunch - Cynthia Franco and Karloz Atl. 

Hearing warm words about a friend and poet, (Joelle Taylor - I was given gifts from DF for you!), learning how to use a loop station, doing interviews and performances, getting an earnest introduction to traditional Mexican culture, debating and discussing important issues, participating in ceremonies and much more. Thank you so much for embracing all my shapes 🙏🏾 I won't forget it.

 

 

The reason I have been avoiding posting is because I didn't know how to say all of the above without sharing what happened at the airport on my arrival. My family and friends know that when faced with injustice I will fight because that is how my mother raised me. The thing is, just because I'm shouting it does not mean that I'm not... hurting, you know?

 

Bravado is exhausting.

 

The truth is that I experienced racial discrimination and assault at Heathrow airport. I am not going to go into great detail about either of them because this post is not about the specifics but something larger. To put it succinctly, I was racially profiled without due reason or cause (except for what I will refer to as BWB - breathing while black). 

I made sure it was known to anyone within earshot that this was what was happening.

 

I asked, "Can you legally stop me from passing, with my official U.K. Passport, through the E-Passport gates? Is there somewhere you need to take me or someone I need to speak to? Can you explain the specific reason that you have stopped me? I know my rights and if you do not have cause then I do not have to justify my existence to you."

 

Silence. 

 

No. No, I did not think so.

 

I proceeded to walk through the gates, silently (actually, no, vocally) fuming. I wanted to tell every white person and bystander in the terminal that when you see someone who is being oppressed or discriminated against do not stand there with your back turned. Hear it.

 

As I arrived at the baggage claim area, a white male passenger began to say to me, repeatedly,

"Shut up. Shut up. You're back in the U.K now. Shut up." 

I asked him to stop telling me to shut up because I was not going to hide and box my oppression into a shape that he found palatable. 

He continued saying, "shut up", and finally struck me on the side of my arm. I told him not to touch me. Then, he stood in front of me, chest puffed out like a proud stag and pressed his furrowed forehead against my own. I stared into this man's eyes, millimetres from mine, and told him to step away from me. I could not believe the forthright bigotry I was experiencing minutes after landing. I felt his skin on my skin and honestly, I was scared. I was scared not for my safety but because I could see that he believed he had the right to touch me and to be in my space. A special, entitled, and unapologetic breed of prejudice.

This was his land, you see.

Not mine.

Some passengers shouted at me, "How were we supposed to know what was going on? How could we know that you weren't in the wrong?" 

Two of the easiest questions for me to answer:

 

Listen.

Ask.

Act. 

 

In the light of this climate of terror propaganda, fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric, the face of discrimination feels unashamed. We are living in a time during which racism in the U.K (and globally) has been given permission to tear people of colour down in public and then return home unscathed.

 

So I say this to you: It is not enough. If we can ever be brothers and sisters, united, in this impossible and frustrating world,  you cannot stand with me when it suits you. You cannot hold my hand whilst we march but also walk past me crying to an officer in the street.  It does not and will not work like that. 

 

When speaking to the Terminal Manager to report the two incidents, he had a jaded but sympathetic look. 

"No one thinks it is their problem." He said.

"I know. That's the problem." I replied. 

 

We cannot only be aware of injustices that invade and disturb our individual reality.

These are all of our problems.  

 

 

All. 

 

 

Stand with me. Fight with me. 

And, (words from my Mexican friends), 

"RESIST WITH PEACE, LOVE AND DIGNITY"

 

- @RachelShapes

 

 

 

I won't be marching today.

Firstly, before my sister decapitates me: Happy 2nd birthday to the only true love of my life - my niece, Layla.

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Full disclosure, I'll be puttng most of the little energy I have into loving this mini me today and conserving the rest. 

 

However, my thoughts and solidarity are with my brothers, sisters and non binary fam, marching against injustice today.

 

To be honest, I had my reservations about this march. The little that people spoke about the original Million Woman March in '97, the March on Washington in '63 and even the Million Man March in '95 which were primarily meant to be tools that activists of colour used to focus on civil rights, economic and social equality and the myriad of issues faced by our community... well, it made me uneasy.

 

 White feminism felt well and truly at work. Another whitewashing of history that I am uncomfortable with.

 

There is no hierarchy of oppression (Audre Lorde is love) but I could not march with white allies that are not aware of the history that has laid the foundation for the placards they'll be holding today.

 

However, from what I have seen, organisers and leaders in the march have (in London at least) involved prominent POC activists in the protest and put racial equality, bigotry and Islamophobia as key issues that they are marching for. I can just hope that the same awareness is present globally.

 

And I'll hope that our voices will be heard. I'll conserve my energies for the longer fight and today surround my angel of a niece Layla with love and whispers of a better future for her than our present. 

 

While marching, remember the importance of our health, self care and endurance - we've got years of adversity to come and there is more to be done beyond today. I'm really thinking of you all.

 

The black woman is tired.

Stand with us. 

I stand with you.

We will be heard. 

#womensmarch #marchforjustice

Boxing Daze: 3 Poems

Merry Christmas.

Let's get that out of the way.
Because it's over now.
But somehow...

 Normality hasn't quite resumed.


Here is a poem in 3 parts for all of us lost in this ether between Christmas Day and New Years.

Good luck to us all.

And may whatever way we procrastinate be appropriately fruitless and time-consuming. 

Part 1 - Post Christmas hazy days require warm socks and poetry. 
I can provide one. 

Part 2 - If you're that one in the family that just wants everyone to get through the day in one piece and you don't mind how because... #nottodaysatan

Part 3 - It's a logistical, emotional, political and intestinal minefield... Would you do it again?

If anything, be amused by the video thumbnails... emphatic facial expressions mean this is my future.

Peace and love during this season.
Whatever it means to you, let it mean it.
You don't have to be happy. 

You can just be.

Mental Questions

People.

We are mental.

And I don't care if I offend you. I'm sorry, really.*
But I can't lie. I don't care. It's quarter to 2 in the morning and I'm inexplicably writing instead of getting the four and a half hours left of sleep that I desperately need before filming tomorrow. (Case in point, by the way - mental)

So...  if this isn't a safe blog because of individual/societal experience of the word used in a pejorative sense, well. Buckle up. 

Bitch is reclaiming.

We are mental. MENTAL MENTAL MENTAL MENTAL MENTAL MENTAL MENTAL MENTAL

I MEAN COME ON, LOOK AT THE WORLD RIGHT NOW. WE ARE ALL FUCKING MAD.

In many ways, I love it.
In many... I don't. But those are thoughts for another day.

I know a wise woman who actively prefers peeing in nature/outside, at any opportunity, rather than in a bathroom facility. I mean. Brilliant.

We're conditioned to believe that all that makes us different, makes us wrong.

The way I see it today* is that it's from learning to nurture and love our questions. The bits of us that we don't understand. That feel messy. Sticking out with prickly cacti edges and claws. Out of place. That we don't have answers to. 
Maybe, even, the bits that hurt.
That's how we find our power.

I just, I feel like it's that time of year where everyone's a bit lost and covered in tinsel. 2016 is almost done and I'm poor, haven't published three poetry books, a spoken word album, been in a feature film, toured internationally, got a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a dog, a social life or learnt to juggle
( I really want to learn to juggle). 

So, maybe this year could not count? And I can open next year like a present, finding inside a perfect, brand-new-in-the-box, sparkly Rachel ready to meet, nay, EXCEED all my wildest expectations. Yeah?

No. I'm sick of it. Really... that idea. Ideal. Can fuck off.

Christmas will come and go; I'll throw the wrapping paper in the bin and lie in my pyjamas a lot. Then, 2017 will dawn and, right now, my hope is this.

That I make it to it.
Simply. Quietly. Peacefully.

I'd like to see 2017 in, maybe somewhere up high, looking down at lots of lights - imagining people popping champagne bottles and feeling joy, together.
Breathing and existing and ready to do another day. 

I'd like to be up there. On the high place. Ready too.
With maybe one or two people that I love. 
And I'd like one of them, to be me.

If I can have that, then yeah.

I'll manage mental for now.
 


* Disclaimer, I'm a mental health advocate. Not a prick. Not. A. Prick.
* I am at liberty to humbly change my viewpoint at my leisure. Because.
HOW ELSE AM I GOING TO LEARN?!