I do not understand how so many people have an opinion on something they have not seen, it is like a religion. I do understand, however, the association with racism and human zoos will play to the psyche of the disaffected and frustrated. All the upsets and insecurities felt, have been galvanised and vented against Exhibit B, an easy target. So the hysteria around Exhibit B is understandable.
Sara Meyer’s 23,000 petition against Exhibit B represented 12% of the black population in the United Kingdom. With around 200 people actively demonstrating, this very loud minority has oppressed my rights and those of others to see what is an immensely powerful work of art. Provocative and disturbing in its telling of European oppression. Like great art, Exhibit B is the experience you never forget, it beds itself in your soul, unlike the facts recounted in a history book. If you can find a history book with these facts in the first instance. I for one could not look at some of the actors in the eye and found horror in the telling although I am well versed in my own black history.
My position is and remains I owe my allegiance to the truth and not blind loyalty so I could not condemn Exhibit B as racist. Moreover, I believe in the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression. Ironically, the fundamental principles that allowed the protest against Exhibit B. The demonstration against Exhibit B was of such ferocity that the Barbican had to cancel the show. Was this a victory?
What the protest did was oppress free speech and censor art. How dare they make a decision as to what I can and cannot see. I too am the ancestor of the enslaved African. So too are the performers who have said they have decided to take part because they wanted these stories to be told. Does that mean we now need the permission of Sarah Meyers and Lee Jasper to tell our history?
If black people really want to censor art that is affecting the black community why not rally against misogynistic lyrics and terms within hip hop and black popular culture. Common terms such as nigga, bitch, hoe, acronyms like T.H.OT and the marginalisation of dark skin women. All of which do more to harm on daily basis to black people than Exhibit B.
Exhibit B is a tableaux of which one was on slavery, yes just one. It explored the evil of slavery, colonialism and modern day racism employing black actors to do so. These actors where no more exploited than those choosing to act in any slave movie. Unlike 12 Years A Slave, sanitised entertainment, Exhibit B is “in your face” fact brought to life by a black ensemble led by a white South African director. Therein lies the root of the matter. A matter of race which denied the black actors their opportunity to perform their art. The history of enslavement does not belong to black people alone. It was a human condition that involved white people. White people have a right to a voice on the matter of enslavement, a right to confront their barbaric past, a right to begin atonement and reparation to the injured parties for the grave injustices, psychological damage and genocide wrought on human beings.
Exhibit B posed a real opportunity to progress the reparations agenda. It was also a wasted opportunity for the protesters. Instead of scaring the audience away they could have held banners that read “ I don’t agree with Exhibit B, but now you see why Reparations are necessary. Please sign our petition in support of reparations”. Think of all the signatures that would have been collected and they would have helped to put the much needed demand of reparations into the mainstream agenda. Further, during their talks with the Barbican, the protesters could have negotiated support of reparations through exhibitions of some sort. In fact, the protestors where nicely positioned to lead on challenging debates, open a dialogue. But it was never about the “black us,” more about the ego.
Finally, we can trace a dictator’s journey to power through the exploitation of the aggrieved downtrodden masses. Be it Hitler or Blaise Compaoré, former friend of Sankara who led the coup d’état that killed Sankara and put the people of Burkina Faso back into poverty. In short because it is done in your name, it does not mean that what is being done is right. Now the door for debate is closed and the oppressor has won. This was no civil rights protest like that led by Paul Stephenson in 1963 against a racist public bus company who refused to employ blacks or Asians, this was In fact quite the opposite.
There are several cases where there has been a lack of significant black protest. For examples the horror of deportation affecting Somali refugees or Andargachew Tsige a British Citizen of Ethiopian origin abducted during a trip to the Gulf and now facing the death penalty in Ethiopia.
At the end of this hollow victory the protestors, may go home to white partners or eat at South African white owned Nando’s; whilst the real issues of black politics stay neatly and quietly on the shelf.