Take your space, tell your story

Everything is connected. I’m sat here at Hull Truck Theatre on my return from spending time with Tayo Aluko and friends in North Carolina.  I’m writing and chuckling to myself. Where to begin? How many times can I share my thoughts on change, social change and/or taking action? I am not dejected. I am determined. I came home and told my sons and friends what I found and what I know.

When I write, I think about my sister. She is a young Black woman raising her two boys with her  partner in South East London. She also works full time, is a university student and yet still finds the time for me. She is my audience. I speak to her - you can join her if you like. She and many, many others like her are tired of the struggle. To find ourselves, our stories, to wait our turn.

The glorious feeling of being heard and recognised is like no other; I know I’ve told you this many times. I speak to you who are not my sister. You who may or may not know how it feels to raise a black child in a white world; You who may or may not know what it feels like to be 'congratulated' on your intelligence and tenacity by someone who is really not that pleased to see you - and doesn’t really think you’re that intelligent or indeed strong. That’s where the defiant silence lays.

You see it in the eyes of the disenfranchised, undermined and disrespected youth on a daily basis.  Dismissed by those who should have better memories. Wrapping ‘Others’ up in a collective because it's easier to control and disregard. You see it in the faces of Black women worldwide. Slightly cocked to one side, the blank expression no longer prepared to give the world another minute of her care. Not. One.More. Minute. That’s the tired 10,000 yard stare, only more distance than that. Times that by 400 years of 'are we not there yet?' and you might be half way to understanding the stare.

When I spoke to our youngest son, who is himself about to venture out on his own journey in life (A level results pending) I told him the truth as I know it. I said I’d had the same feeling at a festival in South Africa as I’d had in North Carolina. Surrounded by Black Theatre Makers who were telling our story or lifting our spirits because of that story - either way, telling it in a white world. He said this:

"There is a metal that the world has decided is the paramount metal, we measure all metals in relation to it.”

This is the same with human aesthetics, ways of speaking, a judgement call is made based on your ability to replicate that decision made many moons ago. If you place your way of life and understanding of the world centre with no apology, that is freedom. Take it.

At the National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina there were too many highlights to share with you here but I will tell you this one. I was invited to sit on an audition panel that consisted of a room full of Black Theatre professionals. Actors, Writers and Stage Managers were invited to share their 5 minutes with us which included the walk up through the room. One woman stepped in, stepped up and shared her experience as a Stage Manager. The people in the room listened. She responded. All she wanted was an opportunity to work. The people in the room could give those opportunities. They were gracious enough when they felt they couldn’t give those opportunities to say so and switched the purpose of the room from giving work into giving advice. Suggestions included new resumes and publicity shots, professional attire, choice of monologue, having a classic AND contemporary piece to showcase. Sing when you can sing! Be ready and more profoundly…us who were in the room each had a story to tell as to how they got there and how hard the road had been, welcome join us stop crying and do your thing!

Back to the Stage Manager. She was in the room to ask for work. She handed out her C.V. and business cards. She was thanked for her time and no doubt had made useful contacts which would result in receiving work opportunities. And you know what else? She was white. She was welcomed and thanked. Just as it should be.

I sit here and write knowing that I delight in my life and my work, having had to fight all the way. I walked with a new friend in North Carolina who was so respectful of my time that she tried to tell her story quickly, I used to do that. I used to elevator pitch and dash hoping to be heard, not wanting to take up too much space. I told her what my mentor told me... This is our time. Take your time. Take your space, tell your story. There are people in our world who truly believe in the construct of supremacy, that how they walk the world is the one and only true way. It’s not.

I’ll fight for that understanding and I’ll use my art to do it all the days of my life.

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