For the last four years, I have been a working poet and public speaker, gracing stages large and small across the UK and Europe. I have spoken to crowds as large as 12,000 at Wembley Arena; I have inspired young people on International Women’s Day alongside Olympic gold medallist Helen Richardson at Pinsent Masons. I have collaborated with Black British legends like Benjamin Zephaniah for the BBC and have self-published a now critically acclaimed debut collection of poetry, turning the work into an exhibition and even a short film.
However, despite my accolades and the work put in over the years, I have still found myself tokenised every single October.
For those who may not quite realise, I am black 365 days a year. I am black in January, February, March, April through to September, and in November and December too. I’m also a woman outside of March, Women’s month. However I keep finding, just as other Black and Brown poets and writers often find, my voice isn’t all that welcome or appreciated, let alone amplified and paid attention to en mass outside of Black History Month. Why do certain educational, corporate, and ‘community’ organisations and institutions only find the money to pay me for my work in October, if they offer to pay me at all?
Of course, this isn’t the case for all Black creators - some of my contemporaries have managed to forge a space in which they can create and be paid to do so throughout the calendar year, but it has to be said that as part of this mainstream tokenism, there is only a small pool of go-to individuals that lazy corporations call upon again and again, not just because of the undeniable talent of the individuals, but also because the organisations have not bothered to do the work of searching for numerous Black voices in the same way they actively seek white voices for every single opportunity outside of special months and special occasions.