(Image by the artists’ collective PESTS, courtesy of the Victoria and Albert museum)
I often wonder about the space we take when we’re not meant to be there, especially for black women who are artists.
As problematic as she is, I like Azealia Banks. I like her music (Count Fantasea and Ice Princess are my personal anthems) and many of the things she stands for. Like many others, I saw her tears on the radio, while she was talking about the injustice she is going through as a black artist, who is not given the same opportunities to shine as a white one, in a music genre historically created by blacks and for us. I’ll not talk about her recent comments about her dating life, or her feuds.
Instead, I’ll remind you that Azealia is my age, and to say that I don’t go through the same plight as a black woman and an artist would be a lie. I meant, I’m trying to make a living as a writer, a profession who is inherently white and male (less so, maybe than banker and CEO). I’m reminded frequently that this is not my place. I was reminded of this when my teachers, in my posh high school, told me to go to uni and do something more appropriate, like being a secretary. I was reminded of this when my family told me that black women don’t succeed in this industry (if they were, we would see them!) and I should just give up. I was reminded of this when I see my fellow aspiring writers, who, most of the time, happen to be white and male, doing so good while I’m barely moving. And it’s not that I’m not trying. If there’s something I’ve learned at film school, is that when the others are walking, I’ve got to run a marathon. I can’t afford to take a rest, have some time off, because that’s more opportunities I’m wasting.
I don’t want to be angry and fill a stereotype. So I’m abnormaly agressive, which is also a stereotype. I’d rather jump on people before anyone asks me: “but why are you here again?”.
That’s an industry where I have to make my place, instead of waiting for the next writer to die so that I’ll access the throne. And carving your space when no ones allow you to is kind of a nightmare.
And, eventually, it led me to move abroad. God knows that being a black writer in UK is difficult. But try being one in France!
I remember when I was 17 and starting out as an actress and screenwriter. I was at a casting, and I saw 2kids of my age, from a cité like me, hopeful, telling me how they kept ringing at production companies with showreel of what they did as writers/actors, hoping to work with thr only channel in France that truly shows faces other than white.
The white posh kids in my highschool didn’t have this issue. They were meant to succeed and so did they. The achievement I’ve veen able to do so far are due to sheer luck, and fighting, all the time, because I wasn’t meant to be there, taking a space that wasn’t meant to be mine. I’m bitter, because I feel like I shouldn’t have to make such a big sacrifice in order to fulfill my ambitions. Way too many time, women have to pay the price for climbing up the ladder by having to choose between a professional life and a personal life. I wanted to avoid this, as it is not even a choice men have to think about.
There’s something heartbreaking about facing the (glass ceiling ?!?) as an artist. Unlike other professions, you don’t make art because you like it, but because that’s an irrepressible urge to express yourself, tell stories and so on. I keep complaining about giving up because I know that I’ll write on my deathbed, but I can’t help but wonder: is it worth so many tears?
Brie Larsson, who isn’t black but had her fair share of rejection from the indistry said that:
I couldn’t agree more. I feel like someone takes my heart of my chest, stomps on it, and throws it away.
Azealia said it very clearly: it’s as if white kids are being told they can be anything and black kids are laughed at when they challenge the status quo.
Azealia Banks cried and I was moved. But who cares about the tears of a black woman? The narrative frames us a angry and aggressive, as if there was nothing behind.
I will not give up, nor will Azealia, or the other black women who are artists. But I’m sick and tired of working twice as much as the others, for what?
1/4th of the results.
We don’t even have the opportunity to be mediocre, like normal people are. We have to be the best in order to pick the leftovers.