What collective critique from PoC looks like both IRL and URL: The Golliwog

I feel as though Intent vs Impact has begun to take shape as an underlying theme to pieces I write such as this one, due to the intrinsic part it plays within these narratives. I could’ve just called this piece Impact vs Intent PART 3, as part would be in the Cultural Capital (http://shadesofnoir.org.uk/cultural-capital-nikes-hijab-ad-and-that-pepsi-ad/ ) post and the part 2 within the Cultural Misappropriation vs Appropriation.

 

“I didn’t know. I didn’t ‘mean’ to be prejudiced/racist, therefore it isn’t racism.”

‘In discussions about the definition of racism, white people will frequently argue that a particular statement or action doesn’t constitute racism because racism wasn’t intended. As noted elsewhere, in Human Rights law and anti-racism education, intentionality is irrelevant. It is the effect/impact of the action on the target person/group that is to be considered and takes precedence.

In addition, people may argue that they had never been taught the correct or appropriate information– “I didn’t know”–and therefore they cannot be racist. However, while their statement may be factually correct, ignorance does not justify racism or mitigate the effects of their actions (this is another form of defensiveness).  To assist individuals in identifying “what they know or do not know,” a number of learning actions have been designed to address knowledge gaps.’ (http://www.ucalgary.ca/cared/intention )

 

Within this piece in particular, I aim to look at the primary signifier stereotype of the Golliwog [1] and its use within two very different frames and contexts by two very different artists and in turn analysing what I term as the ‘Collective Critique’ from PoC artists,content creators, academics, etc that took place IRL and URL in response to the use of this signifier and imagery, drawing a parallel comparison upon how resistance is formed and organized in order to disrupt, subvert and to hold accountable acts and decisions made by creatives that perpetuate the use of these racist stereotypical images that promote anti-blackness.

 

Image Source- Still from ‘PUKIJAM’ – Quilla Constance (2015)

The two opposing instances of which I will speak of here, in terms of IRL and URL, will firstly be from the IRL collective critique and stance by some members of the Shades of Noir team within the QC (Quilla Constance) ‘Transcending the Signified’ Symposium that took place on the 23rd of June at Wilson’s Rd Camberwell College, this collective critique took shape as a tangible  TOR zine titled: ‘Identity, Disruption, Democracy, Subversion’ ( https://issuu.com/shadesofnoir/docs/shades_of_noir_identity__disruption ) and as a vocal response to her practice and her art form during Q&A of the Symposium in response to Jennifer Allen’s work in general, but focusing primarily on ‘PUKIJAM’ in particular, where the Golliwog is used and performed.

The second being URL – A collective critique and the ‘calling out’ culture exercised in response to a photographic image that circulated on Facebook of the ‘Lady Boi’ queer hairdressers shop owners run by queer white hairdressers/performers/artists: Tuttii Fruittii &Toni Tits.’ in gentrified Deptford. A member of the QTIPOC (Queer, Trans, or Intersex Person of Colour) community brought to light the existence of this image wherein the owners are holding a Golliwog. (The image taken by the South African artist Lennie Lee (https://www.lennielee.london/about)  The creatives received a huge backlash URL, they followed up by posting a video post exhibiting the defacement of the shopfront of ‘Lady Boi’ on July 2nd. This post caused a surge of threads of debate and discussion on racism alongside the posts announcing their ‘public apologies’.

Two very different situations with an underlying similarity of backlash and ‘calling out’ culture from the PoC community, in response to the use of the Golliwog in the medium of photography and the other video.

Image Source: Still from ‘PUKIJAM’ – Quilla Constance (2015)

Full Length Video:

http://www.quillaconstance.com/pukijam/

[1] Golliwog, golliwogg or golly— named after a blackface minstrel-like character in Florence Kate Upton and Bertha Upton’s 1895 book The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg — were enormously popular in England and elsewhere in the first half of the 20th century but fell out of fashion, for obvious reasons, starting in the civil rights era of the 1960s.  It was reproduced, both by commercial and hobby toy-makers as a children’s toy called the “golliwog”, and had great popularity in the UK and Australia into the 1970s.

I will now hone in on the first piece within the frame of the video format by artist, Jennifer Allen, a British artist, cellist and freelance lecturer that performs as ‘Quilla Constance’ AKA QC. The IRL Symposium: ‘Transcending the signified’ spoke of overidentification, censorship within the arts, the role of the artist of colour, accessibility, inaccessibility and limitations. All rightfully could have their own independent piece written in depth and at length, but in this instance serve as points of referral to which the conversation at the Symposium on the 23rd were centered around.

During the symposium, there was an overuse of the word ‘exotic’, which seemed overtly normalised and was used to describe most of the work, alongside ‘militant’ and ‘punk’. All problematic words. Then the word ‘nigger’ uttered without hesitation by a white lecturer, later justified as just reading words written by Judith Butler.

Image source: ‘Quilla Constance- Transcending The Signified Symposium (2017) ‘ Photography by- Tiff Webster

To ‘transcend’ a racist stereotypical historical signifier such as the Golliwog isn’t ‘holding whiteness accountable for the violence it perpetrates’. Whilst, perhaps we shouldn’t expect all artists of colour to create work that resists, comments and attempts to dismantle oppressive structures; the minimum requirement should be for the awareness and absence of the use of stereotypical signifiers that promote anti-blackness within one’s work should be known and recognized. It seemed quite odd to me that the rest of the audience seemed to be shocked or surprised that offence would be taken to the use of these stereotypes by PoC, which was brought to attention by Shades of Noir members in the discussion, with a responses such as ‘ well, this is a first,’ ‘There’s never been a reaction like this before’. Which in turn, left me bemused and surprised. I asked, how could there not be a backlash? Are the black community within this frame seen as a monolith and expected to react as such? As if one says its ok to use the word ‘nigger’ then we should all be ok?

Image source: ‘Quilla Constance- Transcending The Signified Symposium (2017) ‘ Photography by- Tiff Webster

Blackness is not a monolith, the community comes with various opinions, stances, and approaches. One does not speak for all, nor will all speak for one. But the topic of anti-blackness and the dangerous racist rhetoric that it perpetuates – of dehumanization of black bodies – is a  thread that runs deep and resonates profoundly within the PoC activist anti-racist movements. We do not condone it, we will be critical. We center marginalised people’s emotions and lived experiences in art work or discourse, continuing the work from our predecessors. These conversations are not new; no, we do not need to transcend anti-blackness, and least of all within white spaces such as the arts institutions where we are already made to feel unwanted, erased and unwelcome.

The Collective Critique by Shades of Noir disrupted the space, voicing our opinions, traumas, sensitivities, shock, confusion, criticism as it was suggested that Jennifer’s work would be discussed in ‘Crit’ format. The reaction from the audience and from curators, co-curators, and curators that had worked with her in the past were in defense of the work and questioning the censorship of the stereotypes, but ultimately who is the work created for? If not for white consumption?

Artist’s of colour, whether they identify as a black artist or not, or don’t identify with race itself can’t ignore that these issues exist, nor that they will not be challenged on them. The Collective Critique of PoC, in this case from all black identifying members of the team, requires an investment of emotional labour and time to challenge artists like this. The Symposium and similar spaces/event are challenging spaces to navigate, where there is a danger of backlash from whiteness and an attack on our own being, lived experiences, on our labour. Here I felt something different to the times where being ‘the only voice in the room’, ‘the only one feeling uncomfortable’ ‘the voice that was silenced and swallowed’ fade away: the collective critique was not silenced, the collective critique made their voices heard, we were there for each other and with each other. We were not alone.

 

Image source: Facebook

Finally, here I will speak of the latest Collective Critique by PoC that took place IRL via the Facebook forum, more accessible than an inaccessible platform such as the arts institution.,

In response to a “radical” Queer underground collective:

Public Statement by Anonymous:

Public statement about Tutti Frutti Hair Skulpture – Lady Boi

In March 2017, the employees of Lady Boi subjected people of colour to online harassment, the reason behind this was simply being accused of appropriation cultures.

They’re collective Haus of Sequana is an art collective / cult as they call it, that is appropriative of cultures that do not belong to them, they have been repeatedly called out for this behaviour by people of colour, but in every occasion they’ve managed to shut those people down. However this needs to end now. It needs to be a known fact that when so many people of colour are upset by your action, that is a signal to change your behaviour. We are not here to be silenced by the oppressors. Calling your offensive work “art” doesn’t help you get away with it.

People of colour have offered to give labour and talk to the collective about their actions, however their behaviour has made these people unsafe to take any further action.

Their business is located in an area that is a known Black working class area and they are very clearly feeding into the gentrification of it whilst appropriating the culture and style of some of the people of colour who prominently live in that area.

We want them to change their ways and come to their senses about the harm they’re causing to people of colour.

This needs to stop TODAY. This is not “art”. It is not PUNK

It is RACISM.

THE QUEER COMMUNITY NEEDS TO TIDY UP IT’S OWN YARD.

As I took to the Tutti Frutti Hair Skulpture – Lady Boi, I found that PoC and members of the QTIPOC community had already begun the discussion and responded to Public apologies by the collective. Here again, commenting anonymously, members of the QTIPOC community had taken it upon themselves to organise and respond to the circulated imagery. By ‘Calling them out’.

 

As the thread developed throughout the day and the conversations and discussion around Racism, impact vs Intent, the Golliwog  arose, more and more I would see the Collective Critique chime together in sync, each battling their own comments and backlash of people that came in defense of Tutti Fruittii, (in defense of a racist act). I witnessed first hand how warped the understanding of racism, the forms it takes and how it functions in society is; this was already something I was aware of and knew well, but only once I had engaged with these types of threads online could I fully understand the amount of emotional strength it required to continue, through the erasure of comments to silence us, through the denial of racism and our experiences, through the denial of oppression.

 

See here an anonymous reply to PoC and QTIPOC that collectively critiqued and called out this anti-blackness after hours of discussion:

 

Image source: Screenshot comment from Facebook thread by Anon.

Evoking the ever present question I pose in my mind when participating in Collective Critique and ‘calling out’ URL and IRL and dealing with the aftermath of this.

Will it forever be this way?

Having to explain over and over, having to validate our existence and our experiences?
Whilst these questions fill me with anger, doubt and, there was still something about the Collective Critique: that we were united; we were a community. When one could no longer continue another would pick up the baton and run with it; maybe this is another feeling of Home, perhaps. That we find Home in each other when we validate ourselves, our existence, our humanity.

Is it within the Collective Critique where we can find Agency collectively? In each other as we hold other accountable, is here where we find Home in collectively stating we are not invisible?

Words by Tiff

Articles shared in the thread of Tuttii Fruittii IRL Collective Discussion:

 

https://www.dailydot.com/via/reverse-racism-doesnt-exist/

 

http://www.ucalgary.ca/cared/intention

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dani-bostick/how-colorblindness-is-act_b_10886176.html

 

Further Reference:

 

http://www.ebony.com/news-views/white-silence-kills-9-in-charleston-503#.VYR7tmCJndl