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Is Black Theatre Too Focused On Black Pain?

The presence of blackness created and curated by black people in arts spaces has been more of a frequent occurrence as of late. Throughout my time at the University of Edinburgh, whenever afforded the opportunity to run back to London, I pack my schedule with theatre trips, exhibition visits, conferences, panels and even festivals, all centring the experiences, histories and expressions of blackness. Even in the predominantly white setting of university, I’ve found that books, film and television depicting blackness feeds my soul in a way that compensates for the lack of black faces in my immediate surrounding. Rebecca Akrofie’s article, “We Need to Start Honestly Critiquing Black Media and Cultural Content”, invited me to reflect on the capacity for black art to be truly radical and transformative. For me, Akrofie’s article highlighted a clear disparity in the black cultural content I was consuming; here in the U.K. the predominantly white mainstream has a tendency to prioritise depictions of black pain and trauma.  

Occupying the mainstream when black has endured interesting change over recent years. The capacity for us not only to create, but to control our own content has been aided by social media, encouraging the mainstream to play catch up and target a ‘niche’ audience they too often ignored. And indeed, occupying the mainstream when black is not all bad. Representation, whilst having the capability of becoming tokenistic, speaks volumes to the positive impact on black people, when we are reflected in it. Also, black art production and the presence of black artists and practitioners in mainstream spaces disrupts the status quo solely on the basis of existing. Engaging with whiteness becomes more of an inevitability as opposed to a choice though, when black and occupying predominantly white spaces and institutions yet, the nature of our presence is questionable.