We live in a time where we can change things if we act and if we commit. How much longer do people of colour have to put up with being treated as lesser? treated as alien? When I was a young person and came to London to live for the first time in 1981, my Irish accent marked me out as different - I was often treated with extreme rudeness, outrageous condescension and racism, but hey - I am white and well educated! I got angry, confrontational and called it out. Back then we Irish were the 'Muslims' of UK social landscape, politically dangerous bombers and troublemakers.
I was working as a live-in cleaner at The Kingsley Hotel, Bloomsbury when the Brixton riots were ignited. Many of the chamber maids and kitchen staff lived in Brixton and as there were no trains, no buses, they had to walk along the underground train tracks to get to work. One assistant chef was sacked because he couldn't walk fast enough and arrived at work late. The management prioritised the interests of reception staff (all white) and I and my Irish friend with whom I shared a room escaped difficulty because we were a. on site and b. the head of housekeeping was also Irish. It was very obvious that management regarded their black staff as expendable and replaceable. We did protest but were not exactly in a position of power...... I wish I could say that this attitude is gone - but it's not!. My children went to very diverse state schools in Lambeth- thank goodness! - they grew up knowing that their peers black, white, pink, brown or yellow are people just like them, no better and no worse. As artists we are always a bit on the fringe of society and it is our duty to call out racism, sexism and any other divisive isms in a way that engages, challenges and embraces our diverse communities. I must stop now or I'll start talking about revolution....
Leave a Reply.
Fion Gunn is a London based visual artist with an international multi-media practice.