Having successfully campaigned against the showing by the Barbican Arts Centre, of Brett Baileys Exhibit B, otherwise known as the Human Zoo, with the full support of over a million people, the inevitable whitelash has begun.
Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg weighed into the debate today. Speaking on Nick Ferrari’s breakfast show on LBC. He spoke out against ‘censorship’ and suggested that the exhibition was too similar to that of ‘educational anti racist, Jewish holocaust exhibitions.’
There is a world of difference between the two. The fact is such exhibitions as referred to by Clegg, are supported by the Jewish communities who are rightly consulted, whose support is critical to such efforts. Part of the black condition here in the UK is that we as a people, were offered no such opportunity to engage nor are we afforded anywhere near the same level of respect.
It is deeply ironic that, we the supposed beneficiaries of this show have become further marginalised by the imposition of a Barbican and Bailey constructed, white definition of what constitutes ‘ anti racist art’. A definition that is being imposed upon us.
T his exhibition could be compared to the Aparthied era, whit Krok brothers, Gold Reef City Casino where they opened "The Apartheid Museum."
We are told we don’t understand the art, we are told we should be pleased, we are told that this will help the fight against racism.
Let me make this absolutely clear, it is for the victims of racism to decide what constitutes anti racism, not white arts institutions or a Deputy Prime Minister who leads an all white Parliamentary Liberal Democratic Party.
Can you imagine the outcry if, let’s say a German artist, was to put on art exhibition that placed Jewish people in a tableaux of gas ovens, as a means of raising issues about the objectification, dehumanisation and oppression of Jewish people?
Truth is this idea wouldn’t get past the drawing board. The very idea would be deemed entirely unacceptable and rightly so.
Exhibit B closure: The whitelash begins.
The on going campaign by the Barbican and section of the press to smear our campaign as ‘extremist’ is laughable in one sense, however becomes more insidious upon closer examination.
When one begins to closely examine the nature of the Barbican response to our compliant, one begins to understand how the Barbican got itself into this unholy mess in the first place.
First, the mere suggestion that a virtually all white liberal arts institution could have made a mistake, on an issue of race has been treated as a complete heresy.
That they should then embark on a determined campaign to suggest that our opposition of this show was ‘ extreme’, exemplifies the latent racism that lurks beneath their seemingly liberal veneer.
Our demonstration attended by 600 people was noisy, dynamic and peaceful. This is irrefutable and is proven by the simple facts that there was not single complaint, not a single arrest, without anyone being injured and without any damage to property. Yet Barbican continues to insist that the protest was’ extreme’ in nature.
These are the facts that our white dominated media seemed determined to ignore. Over the last few days we have seen the press bend over backwards to ignore the facts and fall in line with the Barbicans well-worn racist trope.
Yet talk to the police and you get a different story. No arrests, no criminal complaints, no damage to property, no incidents to report.
The Barbican, in using the word ‘extreme’ choosing these precise words, very carefully and deliberately, has sought to brand the campaigners as ‘extremists’
I think is worth of noting this attempt to move legitimate black protest into the realm of dangerous extremism.
We are, of course aware, as black people, that white psychology and perception of black people, determines that for some, any group of black people, whatever they may or may not be doing, will always likely to be seen as potentially dangerous and violent.
However, there were signs, from the beginning, that we were becoming victims of the Barbican’s own worst fears and imaginings. When we first met the Barbican board, in an effort to reach some consensus and understanding, outside the boardroom sat their Head of Security. Ask yourself why would they do that?
The answer is easily understood if you’re a conscious black person. Our daily reality for us we are routinely and constantly viewed by some whites including liberals as pathological, mad, bad or dangerous.
Call Security, Black People Are Coming!
It was clear from that point on, we were being regarded as a potentially ‘violent mob’. Brett Bailey himself describes us as such, in an interview published prior to the shows launch. He stated that the protest constituted nothing more than a ‘baying mob’. This racist trope, from an artist who we are told, is on our side and working in our best interest.
The sight of additional security whenever we met and at the public consultation organized by Nitro Theatre on behalf and in support of the Barbican was surrounded by security and this theme would become increasingly evident with our every interaction with the Barbican.
Both the Barbican and Bailey are popularly considered, progressive liberal, good decent white folks. Yet they are intent on deploying in their defence, that most of popular and well worn of racist stereotypes, the ‘violent, unruly, baying black mob’.
This approach will further damage Barbican reputation and anyone associated with it, among London’s Black and genuine anti racist, communities.
We are set to begin a fresh campaign targeting the Barbican for its failure to tackle institutionalized racism and address its racism in the most diverse city, on the planet.
In the meantime in the words of US hi hop revolutionaries, Public Enemy, ‘Don’t believe the hype’.
Chinua Achebe talking about a white author writing about Africa said,
"...you cannot compromise my humanity in order that you explore your own ambiguity. I cannot accept that. My humanity is not to be debated, nor is it to be used simply to illustrate European problems.”