Anthony Ekundayo Lennon, the white director who has identified as black, is on the receiving end of a backlash from black and ethnic minority actors. They are aggrieved that Lennon has taken a black person’s place on an Arts Council England-funded programme. The Independent’s Paula Akpan lambasted Lennon, “you don’t get to pick and discard which signifiers of blackness you’re going to wear. Choosing when to don a cape of blackness is a luxury that black people do not have”. Yet substitute the word ‘black’ for ‘woman’, and you suddenly see why it was possible that Lennon felt he could simply become whatever it was he felt inside. Self-identification is everything, sensible debate is effectively stifled; why shouldn’t Lennon live as a black man if he feels like it?
The Independent went on to say that for Lennon to actively “claim space” that wasn’t his and “purposefully misrepresent” himself “goes beyond ignorance – it’s entitlement. It’s deciding that this identity and culture is yours for the taking, no matter who it hurts”. But didn’t Germaine Greer say pretty much the same thing about trans women before being ‘no-platformed’? Logically race is no more or less interchangeable than gender, so I wonder why we see it as sacrosanct?
Lennon’s story is an interesting inversion of my life. I am half black, mixed race, dual heritage, bi-racial – whatever – but nobody would guess by looking at my face. My father arrived on a boat from Trinidad in the 1960s and married my mother, a white working class girl from Waltham Cross.
In 1970-80s Britain, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was the only brown kid in the village, a handy receptacle for racism, casual or targeted. Lumbered with a ‘funny’ name as well as a brown face, aged seven I changed my name from Linden to Lisa in a desperate bid to fit in, something the BBC’s Kamal Ahmed also admits to