How you doin'? How you doin'? How you doin'?
I hope you’re good.
So, I was asked to be an Artistic Provocateur by Fuel for Tonight We Fly Leeds. It was nice to get paid to provoke people. Ha! If you ever need someone to provoke a conversation, let me know, I’m your guy. I have conversations as a part of some of my pieces, but this was a straight conversation. It was quite scary at first, but I warmed into it and I feel like it went well overall. There’s somethings that I want to highlight; I feel like we have a long way to go. Because I personally felt that some white people in the room weren’t comfortable with a young black man asking questions and being provocative. We’ll unpack that a bit more later. I was given the theme of the PAST. So, I wanted the participants to think about a time they did something mischievous. Just as something to warm them up before we got to the more difficult stuff.
What did you do?
Why did you do it?
And what could’ve prevented it from happening?
I thought it would be best to give them an example, so I shared a provocative story, I am the Artistic Provocateur after all. This story is included in my first show ‘FADoubleGOT’ and there was a time I was in conflict about including it within the show. I was afraid of how it may be perceived. But, I think it’s important to highlight the problematic things we’ve done and not just the problematic things people have done to us. The story is about something I did when I was 14. This girl sucked me off and she was recorded by a mutual friend, but this girl wasn’t aware of it. The video and pictures sort of went viral, many people in the area of Chapeltown, Leeds saw this, including her Uncle who worked at my high school and even my own Mother. I did this because I didn’t want people to know that I like men. So, that’s the story. Problematic? Absolutely. I acknowledged what I did was wrong. But, regardless if this story makes people feel uncomfortable I am still allowed to express it. Throughout the evening, people kept coming back to this story, even when we moved on from it. Are black people not allowed to make mistakes when they’re young and learn from it? This is something I did when I was 14, not last week. Damn. It’s like they wanted me to keep taking accountability for my actions, but I already have. And I’m at a point where I can tell that story and acknowledge why and how it was problematic. But, it seemed like they weren’t getting it. This one woman said we could’ve spoke about that story alone for 3 hours. No thanks.
We then moved on to thinking about things they’ve done that were mischievous. They went on to share these mischievous things with those at the same table as them. There was also a point where I went around each group to see how everyone was doing, they all seemed fine. But then, once I started speaking again, this one guy asked me to repeat the questions and wanted an extra 30 seconds. Talk about entitled. I didn’t get why he didn’t ask me to repeat the questions when I went around each group. Just little things that got under my skin. We then had a lovely dinner, which was cooked by Alan Lane of Slung Low. Once we finished eating, I rang the bell and we moved onto the topic of Free Speech and Censorship.
I have had conversations with friends who feel that they are afraid to speak because they don’t want to be vilified, especially within this era of ‘political correctness’. A lot of people are getting labelled ‘problematic’ because one doesn’t agree with their viewpoint. And yes, I know I have said ‘problematic’ quite a lot, but it is fitting for this occasion. It’s also the word that people use a lot nowadays like they’ve only just learnt it. I know for myself I prefer not to speak about gender so much because of things I have been called in the past. I also think there was a time when people weren’t so afraid to express their views, but you know, times have changed. I had questions for the group:
When it comes to free speech, what doesn’t work for you and why?
Do you believe in censorship? If so, how do we identify the problematic people of this world?
Is it okay to demonise people who have opinions that you disagree with?
At one point, I was told by a white man that he felt I was asking the wrong question. This question was the one about identifying problematic people. I was quite puzzled by this. I don’t think there is such a thing as a right or wrong question when it comes to a conversation. The point of each question was to start a discussion. Who the fuck died and made him in charge of identifying what is and isn’t the right question to ask? I was pissed. But, I had to remind myself that I was the only black person in the space, with majority white people and four brown people. If I were to react, things may have been read in a certain way. Angry Black Man, anyone? I think if I were a white man he would’ve been more than happy to answer the question. I told him that he didn’t understand the question. It can be quite difficult discussing things with white people sometimes. Eurgh.
I noticed that the participants didn’t answer this question at all. I don’t believe in censorship. I believe in expressing whatever you feel, just be ready to be challenged on whatever you may say. I feel like censorship is a thing people advocate for now and I believe that in the long run there will be consequences. I sometimes feel like there's this logic that we should all think the same way and it personally doesn't work for me. To me, it's just not realistic and neither is trying to take away someone's free speech. I also don’t think ‘feeling’ like someone is a racist is enough, it’s very useful to have something to work with and then label that person whatever may be necessary. There was a lot to unpack and I understand my questions were tough, but they were also needed. We came to the end of the discussion and it felt like people still had so much to say, which I thought was great.
A woman came up to me after the conversation and she wrote something that she thought summed up what we discussed, which I thought was so lovely.
“People are entitled to their opinion, but maybe not when their opinion is entitled.”