The murder of George Floyd has felt like a singular beacon, lighting a flame under white people and their awareness of white privilege. As a result, the Black Lives Matter movement has been reignited on the global stage and for the first time in my lifetime it has extended beyond my social media echo chamber and into conversations with my white friends and colleagues. The instruction is clear; it is not enough to ‘not be racist’, instead you must be actively anti-racist.
For black people and people of colour, this fire has been burning for a long time. The work has already started, it started the first time that person experienced racism and it hasn’t stopped since.
Following Blackout Tuesday, conversations started within arts organisations and collectives across the country. They centred around how to support inclusivity and how the education many are currently seeking can help inform what the anti-racist culture of the arts should look like. There are wonderful resources out there explaining systemic racism and the daily micro-aggressions black people experience but I do believe it is vital in this cultural shift to also frame the conversation around how to nurture creativity and celebrate black success.
It is key to any cultural change that black people are not held up as singular tokens or as ‘inspirational’ stories, this only continues to perpetuate the narrative that black people are fundamentally victims and as such need saving. We do not need saving.
Instead ask yourself:
• What am I actively doing to promote the artistic success of black people?
• How do I encourage and enable young black people to think ambitiously and flourish?
• What language do I use when I talk about black artists and their artistic process?
• Am I leaving space for black artists’ experience? Do I need to step back?
• Am I sensitive to the need to hold space for the emotional needs of black people and do I understand that these needs are different to white people and other people of colour?
It takes constant, consistent work to change a cultural landscape. There are no days off. Mistakes will be made along the way, some days it might feel like you can’t get anything right but however hard it feels, remember for your black friends, family and colleagues there are no days off.
Below is an excerpt of a piece I shared on my social media a few days after George Floyd’s murder, the conversation has moved on since then, but I think this is still important:
Black people are scientists, musicians, artists, businesspeople, entrepreneurs, athletes, birdwatchers, intelligent, beautiful, ordinary.
George Floyd did not wake up on the morning of his murder as a victim, he woke up as a black man going about his business, living his life.
Let us live our lives.
Let us thrive.