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.
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 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 for link to the 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.

Rachel Nwokoro

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