As a child of 60’s London where blatant racism was the norm, you think solely of basic survival – just getting through the day. You fail to realise that you are being conditioned by a society that will never have your best interests at heart and you are unwittingly groomed to tow the party line without question.
The educational system does not favour inner city children and as a child of inner city London, your prospects are bleak. Black history is not taught in schools and there were no “known” black “anything” in 60’s or 70’s Britain. Not much has changed and the position is mainly the same for the current generation. Such is the subtle conditioning, that is wasn’t until the Obama artist Amy Sherald made reference to the fact that as a child she saw a painting with a black man outside a house that this made me question “How many portraits of black people had I seen as I was growing up?”
It was a delight to see two year old Parker Curry staring in awe at the portrait of Michelle Obama at the US National Portrait Gallery and the image has caused quite a stir! It also made me realise that WE have to shake off the mental shackles that have chained us down for generations. Parker Curry’s parents took her to the National Portrait Gallery to see Michelle Obama’s portrait. The image of her awestruck figure broke the internet. Parker was mesmerised by a portrait of a beautiful, strong and powerful black woman hanging in the gallery. She told the artist Amy Sherald on meeting her that she thought that the National Portrait Gallery was Michelle Obama’s castle. It occurred to me then that we are denied any cultural heritage or rights from a very early age and this is where the majority of the problems with our youth stems from.
I asked my daughter (27 years old) if she had seen any portraits of black people when she was growing up and she stated that she was unaware that any even existed! My mother, born in the 1940’s also stated the same. If we are unaware of the existence of a problem, how do we find a solution?
My daughter also pointed out that if the “problem” doesn’t directly affect you, you are really not interested in finding a solution. Examples of this includes “I’m not interested in art anyway.” So, because art doesn’t interest you, the fact that black portraits are not hung in the National Portrait Gallery does not appear to be a problem. However, the lack of representation affects us all. From the National Portrait Gallery to the corner shop, we need to see more people who look like us in prominent positions. We need to be able to easily identify our role models. And when we have a voice USE IT!
Things are slowly turning the corner with the Obama’s in the White House, the presence of Michelle Obama in the National Portrait Gallery, the success of “Girls Trip” at the cinema last summer, the appointment of Edward Enninful as the first black editor-in-chief at British Vogue and the fact that “Black Panther” is currently smashing box office records worldwide.
I’ll always be indebted to the Obama’s who are my modern day role models and to little Parker Curry for making a grown woman “woke”.