Four BAME people: one male and three male. standing for a portrait picture infront of a grey screen.
From left to right: Mathy Selvakumaran, Pete Kalu, Ria Hartley, Cheryl Martin. Photo by Thomas Husbands

Whose Identity is it? Discussions on labels and identity

Sonny, our Unlimited Trainee Producer, had a chance to head up to Sheffield to partake in a workshop and panel discussion run by Slate & Eclipse and supported by Unlimited that focused on identity, labels and much more. In this blog, Sonny talks about the main conversations that arose from the day…

I attended the ‘Whose Identity Is It?’ workshop and panel discussion up in Sheffield earlier this month both of which were run by Slate & Eclipse, with support from Unlimited, and delivered by facilitators Ria Hartley & Cheryl Martin. The aim of the workshop was to create a safe and accessible environment to centre and empower Black disabled artists – please note from Eclipse’s perspective, ‘Black’ includes anyone who is marginalized for their race or ethnicity.

Stereotyping and labels

The workshop began by looking at the word ‘black’ and the stereotypes that surround it. There are many stereotypes linked to being Black.

Definition: Stereotype – a set of inaccuratesimplistic generalisations about a group that allows others to categorize them and treat them accordingly.

The reason why I started with this definition is to recognise that for many, the word ‘black’ already has a negative label attached to it. Back in the day (and not that far back) ‘black’ was used to infer dark magic, cruelty and, my ‘favourite’, atrociously wicked. The word ‘black’ may not be used like that anymore, but the impact of words live on and one can understand the historic negative connotations the uses of the word ‘black’ has had for some people of colour and by default, all people.

This is similar to the word ‘disabled’ for many. There have been numerous negative words used to describe disabled people in the past, each leaving negative connotations, impact and feelings of being ‘less than’. Even the word ‘disabled’ seems to mean ‘not abled.’ I touched briefly on this on my last blog in regarding identity and how many in the younger generation seem to feel the word ‘disabled’ is outdated and in need of a revamp.

Importance of community

The workshop gave us all a chance to look at the language we use and how to enrich it. We had conversations on discussing #blackjoy and how we try to incorporate it in our lives. A sense of open dialogue was definitely in the room and a feel of community made it easy to open up about such sensitive topics, struggles and also victories.

During the discussion, the words that every black person probably heard from a parent or carer were said: ‘you have to work twice as hard to get half as much’. Hearing that, reminded me of hearing the lesson as a child and made me recognise that for black disabled artists the lesson is even tougher – you’re going to have to work even harder.

Early beginnings

After the workshop there was a panel discussion open to all focusing on black disabled artists, with Mathy Selvakumaran, Pete Kalu, Cheryl Martin and Ria Hartley. The panel touched on many subjects covered by the themes ‘Black and disabled’ but most often as separate elements – being Black, and then being a disabled person. I was surprised that we rarely got to talk about being both.

I felt the panel discussion was more focused on the discrimination that still exists around being Black artists rather than disabled artists and that more time was needed to really delve into the topic, but as this was the first discussion of its kind in the north, it was a great starting point.

More conversations and workshops like this are needed – knowledge is power and so we need more opportunities like this where knowledge can be shared about the artistic process and our contributions to this. We also need wider access to other art organisations – chances to sit and have a conversation explaining the schemes and opportunities they offer, and explaining the barriers they create for us in their common forms. We need to work together to explore how we can gain funding and to ensure we can maximise our chances of how best we can excel in arts organisations.

Being Black and disabled in the arts is nearly unheard of, but we are here and days like this enable us to join together and gain strength from each other. We are fighting the cause. Join us?

Unlimited and Eclipse Theatre are already planning what they might do next and would be happy to hear from others who are interested in opening up further discussions and events (please email sonny@artsadmin.co.uk).