Miss White Privilege Doll 2020
Updated: Apr 22, 2020
Dolly Wig & The Golly Spectre
The commercial you just watched is my satirical response to the infamous gollywog doll that is being sold not only as a vintage item, but also as newly manufactured in western shops across the world. This controversial black faced clown stereotype can be clearly examined as an example of white privilege as it is largely ignored as being a racist product by its white sellers and collectors, or should I wryly say ‘owners’. By conceptualisng my Miss White Privilege Doll, my aim was to record some of the processes of my own creative practice as a mixed race female Londoner with dual Spanish and Bajan heritage. I’m writing this blog to add a fuller context to my video and to expand upon the experiences people of colour face while dealing with white privilege on a daily basis. The video also attempts to explore hard to reach shambolic dissociative realms hidden in my own psyche that have impacted on my mental and physical health. As a mixed race subject within white privileged culture for almost 5 decades, my masters research aim is to ultimately haunt back the society that has haunted me by revisiting my past from the present and vice versa. I shall haunt back society by finding ways to share a hauntology of my own queer, mixed race identity, physical and mental health growing up in 70s/80s Harlesden. Previously my Invisible Illness Witch concept provided me with an empowering and creative way of making the invisible visible through a form of witch'craft' I call witch creatrixism. I believe all feminine yin aligned forms of creativity are witch powered in essence, arriving as if by magic from thoughts as potions before spurring spells into masculine yang action by crafting with our hands or mouths. Ether is the 3rd dynamic apparating as the ghost muse to sporadically conjure, bind and even hex our concoctions until they formulate into uniquely finished artworks which haunt the onlooker. My hypothesis is when the power of 3, that is our thoughts, embodied action and ghost muse combines to produce an artwork, its relatable, spellbinding and/or horrific response is proof that the art not only works but its magic is a real entity encouraging inspiration in others. French philosopher Jaques Derrida in the film ‘Ghost Dance’ (1983) theorises that ‘Hauntology is the art of allowing ghosts to come back’ so in the instance of my dolly wig video, I am bringing back the golly spectre, reversing it and reflecting it back to those who refuse to accept they have a privileged bias. I also made the commercial to represent the experiences of people who, like myself, are jaded, misunderstood, and ridiculed for simply being born in their own skin. For those viewers, failed by media and societal representation all their lives, I hope this commercial is a comedic tincture of karmic medicine for the racism blues. My song 'Black Magic' is also available on iTunes. Finally, my end project after this one 'The Mare' will utilise all my current research to create a multimedia auto ethnographic online play and narrative.
My song 'Black Magic' is also available on Apple Music
“You Cannot Be What You Do Not See” Doctor Ronx, TV Presenter
While historically the gollywog is ironically important to black culture as it highlights racial ignorance, it is still being bought by people who are now thought of as being as ignorant as those who created the golly caricature in the first place. It is this ongoing cognitive dissonance that occurs when trying to address the inherently insidious racism in our society.In short, why some people choose to dismiss the truth of racism because it’s too inconvenient for their psyche to deal with.Why is the truth so hard to ingratiate into existing biased ways of thinking?My Miss White Privilege doll and her love of cultural appropriation and blind ignorance was born by holding a mirror up to the white creators of the gollywog and its buyers.One of the first experiments I carried out whilst studying my research masters project in art & design at The Cass was to create a video where I animated old photographs to communicate with my younger child self. Whilst channelling I heard her sing a simple but haunting melody evoked from memories of my childhood. Ifound that these words from a photograph led me to map out and describe the impact being ‘other’ had on my mental and physical autonomy. The evocative notion of a young child trying to find meaning in her world while singing about angels and witches, good and bad, in purely literal terms of black and white, propelled me to understand her feelings of isolation and disembodiment. How was she to understand her black and white parents and her own brown body and mind that was made from them?The simplicity of speaking with a child’s rich raw understanding of ascending angels being associated with good whiteness in images and literature, in contrast to witches and demons associated with bad black primal beings, placed myself as a proverbial cuckoo living in a constant state of ‘unbelonging'
Why was white flesh better than mine? I loved my blonde dolly but why didn’t I look like her? What was wrong with me? Doctor Ronx, a young black doctor LGBTQ friend and TV presenter gave me an answer “You Cannot Be What You Do Not See”. My play, my reflection, my love was with my blonde white doll. But it was also a self imploding living nightmare. How could I seek representation in those crucial formative years without representation? I chose to create Miss White Privilege as a way to reflect back privilege to the privileged. In going back to the basics of flesh colour, I was also trying to illustrate how white privilege operates in western society. The crux of white privilege is that if you are white privileged you often have no understanding that you are. Many white privileged people believe they would never dream of being racist, while overs are overtly so. I’m inclined to almost prefer the latter as you can purposely avoid them.
Roll up! Roll UP! A Spectacle of White Male Privilege in Action
I’m studying my MA at a vibrant multicultural Arts & Design building in Central London known as the 4th best in the country for art, which would feel gratifying if we had more than one black tutor. It is an incredible university but up until recently Prince Andrew was a patron. This might explain why some visiting speakers are out of touch and do not fairly represent the majority of students. One lauded artist on the Tate Modern website, let’s call him Fishy, gave an exhaustingly traumatic hour-long presentation, maybe I should have left early when the image of a woman being fisted in a barn appeared on the big screen? No, I stayed, thinking wtf, ok he’s illustrating pop culture’s obsessions, this is ART darlings, post-modern art in a world of sick sensationalism and attention whoring. Truth be told I was really looking forward to his talk as he is celebrated for his work in film, writing and performance. Shame then that his presentation appeared to channel the ramblings of a 15-year-old incel on a you tube binge. Fishy feverishly pontificated to slides including glamour shots of white women with exposed breasts, naked native women standing with American tourists, gay porn (he’s straight), dead creatures galore, a lot of talk of the power of big tits, a photo of a child cut in half with his entrails open, and a photo of a baby’s hand being associated with a penis crushing coconuts. All to illustrate how fucked up the world is.
Fishy then starts talking about race, fair enough, he’s talking about the ignorance towards it, ONLY to continuously use photos of nude women as sex objects served with extra lashings of gore. Fishy also had an awful lot to say about Asians, Russians and the Chinese and ended up flippantly joking about curing hunger ‘Let’s eat the Chinese!’ he belted repeatedly. I turned to see my young student friend trying to hide her tears. I felt ashamed that she came all the way from her Inuit town in Russia to study architecture here, only to be faced with such inane self-indulgent idiocy. Fishy's way of pointing out racial ignorance was to insult women and people of colour totally underestimating the student audience’s subjectivity, intelligence, and grasp of clever ironic comedy. In many ways I wish I would have stood up, black faced clown and all chanting “Roll up! Roll up! White male privilege in action!”. One of the biggest kicks to the gut was that he was being paid to attend and when I think of the many minority talents out there remaining hidden and broke, it burns like a drunken tattoo on my soul. Yet, I felt almost sorry for Fishy, a middle-aged white man, because he genuinely looked pleased with himself, even though some women had walked out at the beginning, and only a small minority clapped in an unassured fashion, the rest like me were speechless. He asked the audience cheerily “Any Questions?’ One tutor trying not to laugh said “Are you serious, after that?” Dear Fishy looked none the wiser. I guess white privileged ignorance truly is bliss. The irony is I am open minded, produce black comedy, support all women including those in the sex industry and have a very dark sense of humour. I even get into trouble occasionally for blurring PC lines. For example, I hurt a dear friend by saying that while I fully support her gay marriage, I don't necessarily think the LGBTQ community should always follow heteronormative social constructs that in turn are advantageous to patriarchal agencies such as the church and governing legislation. That it would be liberating to create new ways of existing without imitating an old tradition that has hated queers for centuries. But I'm told that although I'm sensitive and empathic, I also have mild Asperger moments where I'm too matter of fact without thinking I'm being so. Having said, being an old romantic, I've cried at many friends weddings gay or straight and I’m not of the *snowflake generation, I’m more of a fatiqued shabby avalanche choosing my battles wisely and as my commercial states, "DON'T BE A SNOWFLAKE, BE AN EARTHQUAKE!”
Black is the new Fad, Allegedly
BLACK is finally in so I’m told? Anyone who has watched Jordan Peele's genius comedy film noir ‘Get Out’ (2017) would understand that reference. Black is IN. Yay! I can go into my newsagents and see black folk gracing magazine covers, switch on my TV and see black actors in lead roles. People that look like me! What an honour. But, wait a minute, I'n not a fad, I've walked alongside white people for years. My black ancestors were enslaved under rich white ancestors for centuries before that. How come then, in 2020, we are only beginning to appear en masse in the public eye positively? Yet still, in this surreal time of Coronavirus we clapped for our amazing NHS professionals but did I see one black one in the media? No, all white. When I’m in London hospitals which I am often due to my illnesses, 70% of the time I’m nursed by people of colour. Flipping that 30% of Doctors who have walked the wards and prescribed meds for me have been white. And it’s not that I don’t realise white people too are hardworking and suffered hardship and were slaves in workhouses once too. I’m not taking away anything from the white working class, I support them fully as equals, even though we are pitted against each other by world leaders obese with greed and power. My white mother at 70 still does nursing for the 'elderly' because she loves it so much, yet I had to calm her down from a very fraught and tearful state when she thought the UK government were going to send her back to Spain. She was made to pay a fee to stay here after living and working here as nurse for 50 years. My black father came to the UK with a degree. The first job he was able to get here was as a bus driver. Later he became a chief psychiatric social worker but in my early teens returned back to Barbados a broken man after racist abuse and losing our home under Thatcher. We all have suffered in some way so we should be able to feel empathically towards one another. Hell, white people, we may even be related, not just through my mother’s Spanish line, but also my dad’s Barbados line.
I did my DNA recently and I have Spanish, North and West African, French, Irish, Basque, English, Scottish, Welsh, Italian, Turkish and Norwegian! But, there is an unspoken hard truth black people have to contend with. Although my father was from Barbados he is not a native because our ancestors were shipped over as slaves from Africa. The cruel burden we carry as black people is that some of our distant grandparents were raped and we are the offspring of the white slave masters who owned them. Under this murky twilight the resolve to love yourself as black person is a constant battle. Some white people unhelpfully challenge this by musing that we wouldn’t be here to even discuss race matters if ‘progressive colonisation’ didn’t happen. Under this bright spark of ignorance, the resolve for an ignorant white person to love themselves over others returns us to white privilege. Due to the nature of patriarchal power and colonialism in history, I’m sure some white people reading this will still argue that there would have also been rapes in their history too. I would first empathise then ask them to deeply consider if they too are emphasising or scoring points? Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski, a mixed-media artist, designer and black history archivist, gives a 1-minute silence before her talks to help heal the trauma of our ancestor’s slavery and the deep wounds black people carry. Everyday racism with its micro aggressions is like Chinese water torture and all institutions, schools, media, government, universities need to work together to prevent it.
Behold! The Rare Black Female Mentor
Students need healthy criticism and while thankfully most tutors provide it, some critique not on the execution of 'how' I communicate my story, but instead on 'my experience' of race. Hence, I found myself criticised about 'why' I experience race in the way I do. Speaking to other people of colour, Its a frustratingly common problem in academia across Britain that while tutors are excellent in promoting diversity, some still don’t understand the value of researching race and power dynamics in order to attentively support minority students. There are posters on the wall of universities about diversity but often no real weight carrying them forward to a rich network of inclusive practice and teaching. Many tutors are totally on the ball and don't give me a cringe filled sinking feeling when they provide feedback. Alternatively, others bring me to the verge of asthma, one ‘critiqued’ me by mansplaining huffily that his white son wasn’t being invited to certain conversations by his black friends and he was made to feel like an outcast, also that I may offend by being alarmist. It’s not about you I wanted to say. But in an insufferable way it is. I’ve often felt compelled to remind people that my mother is white. Being made to feel like I’m doing something dark-sided and offensive simply because of my lived phenomenological experience is a constant stressful factor when expressing myself creatively. Helpfully one tutor Danielle Hewitt gave me great advice, when I get unreasonable critique’s I should simply get more militant. Hence, Miss White Privilege was unleashed! I do not wish to silent white people, I just want to inform some that their voices often carry negative contributions to the fight against racism, and that by choosing to recognise that, they might actually benefit. On addressing my concerns at uni with my insightful WOC mental health mentor Shirley Robinson, she said, “But as a black female artist, isn’t it the point, that you should be able to creatively express your challenges and experience without feeling oppressed?” Such a simple and welcome truth for me, so why was it so hard to access that secure authority for myself? Mostly because I have felt silenced and exhausted when simply telling people the truth about my experience. I was blessed to recently attend a Black Women Artists Making and Doing Symposium at Uclan University in Lancashire after being told about it by theatre tutor Gian Carlo Rossi. It was so enriching to be part of an academic event with a room full of mutually supportive black women, LGBTQ representative professors and artists to honour Turner prize winner Lubaina Himid. Artist Ingrid Pollard (whose work I have been inspired by a lot while studying my Masters) spoke as well. Also, Jackie Kay, Marlene Smith Evan Ifeyoka & Ego Awahie Sowinski were among the many talented speakers. An and coming young artist who also spoke was Jade Montserrat. I was told by another fab artist Ain Bailey that Montserrat had a petition online attempting to cease the sale of golly's. I was also impressed by the white female speakers present including Prof. Griselda Pollock and Prof. Celeste-Marie Bernier who fully validated black women artists experience and concerns whilst operating in an oppressive academic culture. When I talk about race, it is not about making people feel bad, it’s simply about getting people to please own their shit, to accept that we are all privileged to some degree or other, but it’s what we do with that privilege that’s vitally important.
“Clowns have primitive vitality, a vitality associated with children and the insane, and artists tapping into raw unspoiled creativity” Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, Michael Pickering (2004) Black Victorians, Black Victoriana
Aged 9 I got a certificate from school for “Always smiling and looking happy”. Around the same age I took an overdose of junior aspirin because I did not want to wake up and face bullies at and on the way to school next morning. It wasn’t until a lot later that I realised my smile was a clown mask. Artist Lemn Sissay in his blog and Guardian article (2013) wrote about his visit to a Shetland tourist shop. On finding the white female proprietor selling gollywog's he recalled "In the window of The Magpies Nest I see a gang of golliwogs staring out at me. I catch my reflection in the window. I remember the times I was spat at in the street: "Wog go home." Gollies are everywhere, jumping out at you when you least expect it like lunatic clumsy clowns ripe with awkwardness. I envisioned the golly’s in the Shetland shop on a carousel going around and around, unable to get off, made mute by the never-ending imposed charade of false and mythical projected stereotypes. But these are just cute harmless cloth dolls after all? A gang of cute gollies? In fact, It wasn't Lemn's use of the term 'wog' that was menacingly triggering for me (Although I've been called that too among other names), but instead it was the term 'gang'. Aged 11, I recalled being at a fairground with my white girlfriends from school. We were waiting our turn on the edge of a waltzer platform. To our right, a gang of 3 skinheads aged around 15 gave me filthy looks while whispering and pointing at me. I was frightened but steadily and defiantly edged forward, away from my friends and closer to the still spinning waltzer, in what would prove to be a thwarted attempt to find a safe space. I did not want to see them, nor did I want them to see my brown face exposing fear. I also didn't want my white friends punished for my brown skin. Time stood still until suddenly from behind I felt two hands violently push my shoulders. I managed to catch myself to escape falling into the path of the speeding waltzers before shakily turning around to see one of the skinheads smirking victoriously while his friends laughed. I looked at him briefly trying to not vomit, trying to hide my rage, my fear, my pain and the piss in my pants. As he retreated my terrified white friends ushered me to them and we walked away from the fair in total silence. Nothing was said. It was unspeakable. A gang of golly's do not appear menacing like a racist skinhead gang. The golly's menace is unspoken but visible through the 'wog whispering trickster' manufactured into their smiles by white privileged ideologies. In a photograph Lemn is holding up the gollywog's, his expression appearing to unveiled the ludicrous nature of being faced with alleged ‘casual racism’ while on holiday.
Without Lemn's powerful words, I wondered how many of the article's readers would have interpreted that the purpose of the photograph was to inform of such ‘literally upheld golly’ ignorance? White golly owners I’ve heard speak record their nostalgic love for them, as if by infantilising these dolls they can ignore the real lived experience of black lives under white oppression, ownership, torture, and murders that occurred both during slavery and post slavery. A non-menacing golly smiles back at a white privileged onlooker with the lying mask of an adorable clown. Lemn Sissay's new memoir 'My Name is Why' is a raw beauty of a read. 'Why' is the emotive question that remains elusive to many people of colour.
The illusion of the White Idol of Femininity
Footage from Mirror Mirror (2007) film by Zem Moffat
During a heated online debate about cultural appropriation about 10 years years ago, I boldly said that I was going to perform as Dolly Wig, a white female version of the ‘gollywog’. I had been performing as Dyke Marilyn: the queer bastard child of Monroe & Hendrix who exposed her queer black roots whilst channelling the illusion of the white idol of femininity.
I played venues such as The National Portrait Gallery, St. Hilda’s at Oxford University, The British Museum and Queer burlesque venues like Club Wotever at The Hackney Empire. I never did unleash Dolly Wig as it simply felt too inflammatory at the time for black as well as white folk. But soon after reading Lemn Sissay's article I believed this to be the right time to explore a black mixed raced woman’s relationship with the golly image. As Marilyn I would perform comic noir, queer burlesque and story telling by stripping off my blonde wig, quickly throw on an afro and draw on a moustache to become Hendrix.
My intention was to perform as a race and gender trickster with my audience. The audience made my performance come alive. I was able to see the devoted reactions to Marilyn, the greedy hunger for the dumb blonde who spoke about paradigm shifts of consciousness while singing about narcissism and 'Dildo's being a grrl's best friend'. I'd hear the roar of approval when I revealed Jimi as if he I was pulling Eve out of Adam's rib. But ultimately I had to kill Marilyn. I was getting dangerously lost. From the stage, the audiences feverish excitement for her began to become much more noticeable than when I revealed Jimi or myself, their creatrix. The little lost brown girl child started to feel an unnerving anxiety and panic. Being on stage, when good, was akin to being in an invisible cure bubble that protected e and find respite from illness. I could mask the pain by playing the other. Once I even went onstage with full on flu after which I was admitted into hospital with pneumonia. But as I started to lose myself on stage I was becoming more ill physically and mentally. So I killed Marilyn. I became small like a mixed race queer Alice. I became so small I shut up like a telescope. So small that I became the telescope and could look outside without being seen. So small that I could grow slowly back into a bigger self actualised me. On the good days, I returned to writing songs and performing at small bars in Camden. I tried not to dwell on the bad times. But even today the challenging times are fuel for my fire. A spark for a flame. I'm still a work in progress.
A current notable performer who I greatly admire is Black Man White Baby, a multimedia concept artist who creates phenomenal self portraits also depicts themes of race and gender identity. BlackManWhiteBaby's unique and spellbindingly images convey raw, bold yet exquisitely delivered captures, and his gothic pop art masterpiece were muses for my white privilege doll project. I also had many other muses for my video including the unlikely dark muse of Shirley Temple in black face sitting next to black actress Hannah Washington in 1935. The look on Washington's face has a priceless 'I'm so over this BS' expression. I started creating Dolly Wig by finding an old barbie willing to be sacrificed for the cause. I had tried crafting with polymer but I kept making her nose wide like mine, so I put that on the shelf for a later project when I make a make a mini me doll. And I started to feel resentment that the doll I was trying to mould wasn't black/mixed race, so exhausting my energy moulding her felt problematic. I'm also not a great handsy artist doll maker type or illustrator but I excitedly sketched a vision of what an extreme stereotype of Miss White Privilege would look like. Would she be alabaster, featureless, maybe painted white with popping veins spilling blue blood? Usually the golly wears striped trousers and a red jacket which I transformed into a haute couture for the doll. As I was scribbling, I thought of adding a hangman's noose with silver spoon attached on her as a necklace. I also felt inspired to draw a golly designer handbag with a hangman’s rope around its neck as the handle. I imagined, that if pressed, the golly handbag would say ‘yes boss’ to order in a dark caustic nod to slavery. Hence Miss White Privilege a similar vein of extreme caricature intention behind the Golly. This doll itself is still a work in progress. And she will never be sold despite her promotion in the commercial. 'Tis all faerie glamor!
My personal view of cultural appropriation is slightly looser than many. I believe that it is when someone adopts a culture’s dress, slang and even music without any 'conscious reflection' about their own ancestry’s history of colonising the minorities that they are imitating. Conscious reflection is important because if you have it, you probably would choose not to culturally appropriate. For example, while I believe it’s not ok for a white person to wear dreads as an overt insult’ for Halloween etc, growing up in Harlesden I’ve also known white Rasta’s who are part of black Rastafari culture. Dreadlocks were also worn by ancient Brits ‘The Pictish’ and Vikings. Victorian photos also show dreads on London’s poor street kids which in turn alternative subcultures take on as a form of fashion rebellion. So, being an old goth rocker myself I’m not totally against some culturally creatively expressive muses explored in alternative fashion and music. But only those who have a healthy grasp about what it is to be viewed as a minority because of their inclusive beliefs or subculture. I also think that some styles can't be monopolised by one community or culture, such as hair colour, curls, and uses of make up. If that was the case most of us would be culturally appropriating the ancient Egyptian eye, who are in fact culturally appropriating cats. There you have it. My name is Maria and I culturally appropriate felines. But appropriation in fashion and music is so complex and to be judged and weighed thoughtfully and accordingly, something Gucci failed at by insultingly sending their white models down the catwalk adorning black faced red lip masks. There definitely needs to be a sharper awareness in the way cultural privilege is executed, because if you’re not giving back to communities you’ve stolen from, its pure exploitation. I especially think this is strongly important in other areas. If you are white and run a Native American, Asian or African goods shop (yes I have been in these shops) you had better be paying the makers well and declaring how you are giving back to their communities publicly. So I'm still awaiting for an apology from Gucci written on one of their designer handbags.
How White Privilege Works (And How Some Black People Copy it)
How my heart swelled with recognition when I read writer’s Renni Eddo Lodge’s book ‘Why I’m No longer Talking to White People about Race' as she stated, “They’ve (white people) never had to think about what it means, in power terms, to be white, so any time they’re vaguely reminded of this fact, they interpret it as an affront."
Whether casual or repugnant, racist acts need to be considered intolerable by all for the sake of a healthy society. But what if 'they' are not only ignorant white people? What if 'they' are ours, in our own blackyard? Cue: eerie music. Once, at an alleged black inclusive event, I turned to a woman and asked, “Is it me, or is it a bit cliquey here?” She laughed and nodded resignedly. Healthy environments for our co-existence are becoming even more problematic in our political environment. Candace Owens, a black female republican Trump supporter claims that racism does not exist anymore, she's never experienced it, and the only racism that is occurring is the one against white people being made to feel bad by black people. Thankfully this thinking is outweighed by the majority of black people. However, I have been beyond disheartened when many black creators, known and lesser known, claim to support fellow POC artists, but instead use their platforms to show off their work without following back and supporting their black artist supporters or fans on social media. “We are in this fight together” they chime so why is it sometimes so one sided? Aren’t these the repressive forms of hierarchy ‘we’ are meant to fight against?
Black tea time. Being unfollowed or not followed back by real world allies on social media should be water off a black swans black. But I'm not even talking about complete strangers here but people in similar social circles . I tell myself it's an accident, or its good that they've outed themselves as inauthentic and they get put on my naughty bad list. I can't help passively aggressively inwardly scream "How dare you? The injustice! I was rooting for you!' Perhaps I've got 'issues', being too quick to judge, my ego too weak in the moment, melodramatic, even self obsessed? I suffer from mental illness so I can acknowledge being a sensitive flower from time to time but I'm also a strong and grounded realist. If I support you, its not because I'm needy, I do it in the belief that you think I kind of rock too, call me vain. Unless you were my dearly beloved Prince, who never followed me back, didn't know who I was (shocking I know) but has earned my eternal devoted fandom now and in the afterworld forever and ever amen. I digress. Although in this life as Prince says 'you're on own' so let's go crazy, let's get nuts and support one another. It's important to stay connected. Even before Coronavirus I often felt guilty neglecting my friends as I physically and mentally need to self isolate and recuperate from outside world energies as part of my self care routine. I also had to come off facebook entirely because it proved too stressful and demanding. I'm not as loud as my roar but instead a shy, awkward, socially phobic, introverted, extroverted pussy cat who hisses if disturbed from sleep or daydreaming. True connection is not about being invasive with people but respecting boundaries. So why should I even care when somebody doesn't show mutual interest in the person looking back at them? I'm already blessed to have amazing support from close beautiful friends from all walks of life. But, I still care because it's in my nature, my spirituality as a female black white witch who believes we are all interconnected in a deeply profound and cosmic way. Perhaps it's a flaw to believe people are genuine when they say they are. But. OUCH. The hurt intensifies when the person not following you back is black. As a black female artist and mature student, I know it can be isolating and hard enough already without feeling excluded. Maybe this is mixed race specific as I have experienced racism from both black and white communities? The need for black support as a mixed race person feels especially important. I’d love to know your opinions. DM me on Instagram, I genuinely follow back all black creatives etc back and white allies too. Not only can we learn from other artists, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear you’re not alone. One thing shared by all creatives black, white or pink, is how rivalry is seen as a threat. The art world is so fiercely competitive and who can blame an artist for wanting to be seen and heard above all. Healthy competition is in itself inspiring. But I would, maybe naievly, love a utopian world where black artists in particular toss away the colonial divide and conquer narrative. That way we all become the winner even if you're not the one wearing the actual crown in any given moment. I’m hoping not to sound pious here, of course I have experienced the green-eyed monster, its a natural human nature defence mechanism. For artists out there who struggle with their self worth, which I do occasionally, someone is always going to achieve more or less than you when developing similar artefacts, but the trick is to accept that yours is authentic regardless. Also, people who share their black experiences can't expect to monopolise certain lines of enquiry. For example, if one person is pink and talking about being queer and having mental health issues, they should not shy away from other pink artists who are also sharing the same things (Sorry for outing you Miss Piggy). Not only can we learn from other artists, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear you’re not alone. The only exception being plagiarism of course. What I've learned is that somebody else's art may be getting more kudos than yours, but it does not mean that yours isn't worthy, its simply a rarer diamond. And if you are the one getting all the kudos, be humble, don't lose yourself and choose solidarity. As a rule the most confident artists follow back and are unbothered if unfollowed. We should take their lead. Maybe I’m old fashioned, I simply think its shows a lack of authenticity to purposely not follow someone back if you've communicated that you’re a genuine person who shares a similar background. Unless you have safety issues of course, protection is essential, if its a bothersome ex or an arch enemy block away. The likes of Sheila E, Villanelle's Jodie Comer, Gina Yashere, Daisy May Cooper, Michaela Cole and Kathy Burke should definitely block me for my obsessive stalker tendencies. I digress. Black people in positions of power no matter how big or small have an extra responsibility to walk their talk not only for themselves but others like them. Fight the power.
I get that people have their clan or are busy or distracted, fatigued, me too. I also know, if you’re an organisation, that this can be a lack of wo (man) power, time management and even a financial issue. I’m also not talking about famous people whose agents run their accounts like the now sadly deceased incarnate angels Toni Morrison & Maya Angelou, I’m specifically mostly calling out grass roots activists who claim solidarity, offer to help the community, but don’t necessarily practice what they preach. How can ‘we’ complain about racism and expect the system to follow our lead if we fall foul of our own petty insecurities and unhealthy ego-based actions? Don’t sleep with the enemy’s ideals. Stop getting in your own way. This isn’t a lecture as much as I fancy myself in a black diamante studded mistress robe right now. If you’ve ever felt rejection or abandonment you wouldn’t wish it on someone else. Its just a click on a social media to resolve it. Be kind. As Toni Morrison quotes, "Dream a dream that dreams back at you."
Mixed Raced Privilege and Owning it
My words are not about making people feel bad, it’s just about getting people to please let's own our shit, or return to idyllic yet stagnant lives. I’m saying we are all privileged to some degree or other, it’s what we do with that privilege that’s vitally important. I'm owning my privilege too. I attended a brilliant play called ‘White’ by Koko Brown, a highly talented young mixed-race female performer who spoke up about her experience with ‘mixed race privilege’. She recalled a moment in her teens when someone referred to her as “That black girl”. Brown responded “No, what me? I’m not black, I’m mixed race”. Later in the show she went on to explain and apologise to her refreshingly representative audience that that experience had brought the knowledge that she will always be seen as a black woman in society no matter her denials in that one event. Now before going to see the play I was working on my own mixed-race privilege but by trying to turn the nightmare of simply being me into a positive, owning it as a magic bridge to unite worlds if you like. Being a British Londoner, I personally use the term mixed race to identify with. Americans prefer to use the word biracial to limit the implications of there not being separate races, even though there is a ‘racial’ in bi racial. It’s complicated. But for me, mixed race is better than using the term half caste which I had used in the era I was growing up in, though I was called much worse but thats another story. Names will evolve, we can call ourselves what the hell we want just don’t impose it on others. So, I wear mixed race as I do the word queer but proudly under the umbrella of black identity. However, I’m not denying the white identity in my brolly either. Why would I accept my Bajan father over my Spanish mother? And vice versa. In doing so I would be denying both of their existences. I’m proud to be mixed. There was a time as a child wanting to fit into white society (bearing in mind I grew up in the 70s/80s where being mixed race was very rare) that had conditioned me because practically all my role models were white. I found myself in a precariously dangerous position of hating myself while being envious of white women. I suffered many episodes of traumatic abuse and racism by both black and white people from an early age. I now believe these acts to be spectre’s working like malignant ghosts in my *dissociative fugue to impair my mental and physical health, but I would also see, clouds occasionally clearing, to reveal a constellation of self-reflecting stars.
One of these stars in the was my black neighbour Earl. Earl was a legend in Harlesden and I would include his story in my Marilyn exposed roots performance at the Queer Story Telling festivals in London, Liverpool and Manchester. Earl lived upstairs with his white Jesus looking boyfriend and would strut brazenly down the street in red leather jeans and he wore earing's in both ears. In the 70s when every black man in Harlesden had a fro, Earl would wear his cropped. It was my dream to walk just like Earl. From age 7 I used to try and imitate his catwalk while holding my mum’s hand and balancing on tiptoes. Sadly, Earl died of aids in the 80s. RIP Earl. After watching Koko Brown’s play, I reflected back to my childhood again to see where and if mixed race privilege apparated. Mixed race legend Eartha Kitt starred as the first black woman directed by a black director for The BBC Playhouse production of 'Mrs Patterson' in 1956. Eartha played an illegitimate 15 year old girl Teddy, full of aspiring imaginings of opulence as she dreams of being like her mothers female boss “When I grow up, I want to be a rich white lady”. Like Teddy I too was so conditioned to fit into a white society. The lying spectres in my brain kept haunting me “At least you’re not black” they’d pompously whisper. I feel sick to the stomach exposing the ugliness that existed inside me then. And this is how privilege works and white privilege wins.
*Dissociative Fugue is a term I coined as part of my research to describe my state of mental health. It feels like being imprisoned in the same position whilst trying to balance on a tightrope in a hypnotic invasive fog that blurs your vision and thoughts while entering your mouth, chest and lungs to silence you and restrict your movements.
Miss White Privilege comes with black face, an afro, silver spoon and a golly with matching outfits! Because ALL REPRESENTATIONS MATTER! This has been a Narcissus Slain Production. Terms and conditions apply. Can only be sold to minorities.
This blog and the video are dedicated to my father Edward who died 3 years ago today16th April on completing this blog, my white privileged yet proudly working class immigrant mum Josie, and my WOC mental health mentor Shirley Robinson.
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