BLACK LIVES DO MATTER

josette_bushell-mingo_in_nina_at_the_young_vic._photo_by_simon_annand

The Even Hand is delighted to publish two powerful reflections on the Black Lives Matter campaign. The first is by Richard Wakely, artistic director & chief executive of the Belfast International Arts Festival; the second is by actress Josette Bushell-Mingo, associate professor and head of theatre at Stockholm Art University.

The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May by a police officer has understandably provoked anguish and outrage across the world. It has led to street protests from Berlin to Belfast to Boston as a symbol of resistance and a call for urgent change, particularly to the justice and policing regimes not only in America but in all countries where ethnic minorities feel unfairly treated by the law.

How is the arts and cultural community responding to these events and the decades and decades of institutionalised racism that preceded them? One of the founding artistic principles of Belfast International Arts Festival is to celebrate cultural diversity in its many wonderful guises and from home and abroad. We actively encourage our audiences to better understand the lived experience of ethnic minority communities through carefully listening and watching contemporary works from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic artists.

Audiences will hopefully recall the many Black and Asian artists that we have been privileged to welcome to our festival in recent years including for example, Camille A. Brown and Dancers with Mr TOL E. RAncE (2014, pictured below), Pulitzer Prize winner Margo Jefferson discussing her novel Negroland (2017) and, last year, Meena Kandasamy and Niven Govinden discussing their latest books Exquisite Cadavers and This Brutal House respectively.

Camille Brown and Dancers 1 (Grant Halverson)

One of the most powerful and moving performances came from British black actress and activist, Josette Bushell-Mingo (title picture) with her gritty but ultimately redemptive and uplifting stage musical Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone in 2018.

Josette bought the house down and audiences to their feet at The MAC. The play looks back at Nina’s political acts as part of the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s America, as well as the struggles in her personal life, with Josette finding a parallel with the persisting inequality in today’s society, and questioning how far we’ve really come.

Richard Wakely

Keep up with news of the 2020 Belfast International Arts Festival on: https://belfastinternationalartsfestival.com/

 

“I sat there and watched a white police officer kneel on the neck of an unarmed Black man. I saw him look at the camera and adjust his weight.  I saw the black man’s head roll and his mouth opening and closing for air…

I sat there and watched a white police officer kneel on the neck of an unarmed Black man. I saw him look at the camera and adjust his weight.  I saw the black man’s head roll and his mouth opening and closing for air…

I sat there and watched a white police officer kneel on the neck of an unarmed Black man. I saw him look at the camera and adjust his weight.  I saw the black man’s head roll and his mouth opening and closing for air…

I repeated this image because I still can’t believe it and yet I know it is true. It is true. I will be killed because of the colour of my skin – whether it is incarceration, social or economic inequality, historical lies and disinformation. Or the kind smiling folk around the white spaces that you walk and are othered.

Even this article places around my throat, the death throes of continually writing about my dying, my murder, my unforgivable past…

The riots that came as no surprise will never end. Where there is no justice there is no peace, where there are lies, there will be truths, where there is murder, forgiveness will walk away. Corona was a levelling away of something we thought – corona is not racist or class based, it’s not homophobic or islamophobic – it is a lie. Corona is being used as a weapon to perpetrate all of these things and more – (the terrible rise in children in abusive families, abusive spouses, mental and social challenges for every human being on the planet).  But … still that cold chill is that unforgivable truth – George was murdered in front of my eyes.

This is not unrest this is civil rage. This is not something that will go away – it is now burnt into the retina.

Black lives.

…the challenge is that it’s easy to say the unrest lies over there, in somewhere else. Sweden has always been good at that. But make no mistake, it is here in Sweden. Black bodies are subject to harassment, daily insults, subtle comments, structural racism – bias – and yes it does happen to other people but just for a moment – for a 500 year slavery moment – it is happening here.

So what now – for so many of us the shadows and resistance, the trauma of this, and so many lives lost, means that we reflect and consider Sweden. Many will say yes, but that’s the US and this is Sweden. But that is not true – we have structures in place and a growing rhetoric of discrimination, embedded in our education systems, our employment systems, our social and cultural landscapes. There are African persons who have died because of racism. Understand that.

George Floyd’s murder there was our murder here. That police man’s knee on his neck, is the knee that is possible, in this country here. We cannot breathe there – we cannot breathe here.

Rest in power George Floyd…”

Josette Bushell-Mingo

Black Lives Matter, Interracial couple holding hands

 

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