It’s been a while since I’ve blogged on this here site, but today was one of those days I’ll never forget, so I wanted to share it with you.
Today I had the privilege of chairing a panel at Greenbelt 2016 on some of the topics that I love to talk about. Mainly Beyonce. I wrote recently an article called ‘Beyonce’s Psalms’ for www.threadsuk.com about the theology contained within Lemonade – her latest album which was truly a work of art.
I’ve been going to Greenbelt – an annual faith, arts and justice festival – for the past five years. I’ve done a few talks, chaired some panels and done lots of interviews.
Highlights for me this year included the one and only Lem Sissay,a poet who seems to be just about everywhere these days, and US priest Broderick Greer, who I’ve been following on Twitter for a while. It was so great to have him on the panel I chaired today on ‘Beyonce, blackness, feminism and white discomfort’. He was joined by three others – performance poet Vanessa Kisuule, actor Amaka Okafor and writer and podcaster Sekai Makoni.
I’m often used to being one of only a few black faces in the room, and Greenbelt is no different, really. It’s never really bothered me. But this year particularly, I was struck by the festival organisers’ clear attempts to include more people who look a bit more like me. And there aren’t many festivals who would be brave enough to have an all-black panel discussing topics such as ‘white discomfort’ to mainly white audiences. It was at times awkward. Yet at other times so amazing, challenging, vulnerable and thought-provoking.
We were able to touch on so many different topics, from black girls’ body image to Beyonce’s Formation and how we were invited to be part of her club. We chatted about Black Lives Matter and the differences between Black British culture as distinct from African American culture. We talked about intersectionality, we talked about ‘white theology’.
And we talked about white discomfort. It really is a thing. (Take a look at this parody video which has been doing the rounds on Facebook: “White Fragility – A Workplace Training Video”)
I understand why some white people may feel just plain old awkward when they listen to black people talk about race. Centuries of oppression is awkward. But at least we’re at a place where we can feel the awkwardness and talk about it anyway. So thank you to Greenbelt for doing that.
I’ll leave you with a quote I read out at today’s panel from Martin Luther-King writing in ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ which tells us why this awkwardness, this tension, must be faced head-on:
“My citing the creation of tension may sound rather shocking, but I must confess that I am not afraid of the word ‘tension’. I have earnestly opposed violent tension but there is a type of constructive non-violent tension which is necessary for growth. So we must create that kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood… Tension is a necessary phase.”
Photo credit: Greenbelt Festival Official Pictures