“I am quite dark. Growing up in Jamaica as a very dark girl was hard. I wasn’t bullied but grew up feeling not beautiful. That is something I struggle with for sure.” ― Tracian Meikle
In the 60s the movement was ‘Black is Beautiful.’ From 2011 it’s been #BlackExcellence, and since 2013 the movement specifically for black women has been #BlackGirlMagic. Like most revolutionary affirmations, they have caused a lot of tears, fears and a boatload of confusion (see image below). Particularly for those who have been privileged to live in a global “society that was built to uphold [their own] power of one type of person — one sex, one skin tone, one existence.”
For those without that patriarchal white privilege, we are accustomed to not seeing ourselves, and our pigment accurately reflected.
Unless we are in front of the mirror.
Even when left alone with the walls of our mind the struggle continues. We have to mentally dismantle externally transmitted racism that tells us “black people’s natural features such as skin color, facial features and hair are inherently ugly”.
Four years ago, when Tracian moved to Amsterdam from Kingston, Jamaica to pursue her PhD, she observed feeling the difference. “Walking around the city you get the feeling your race matters. I am almost always on edge. Whenever I think of settling here that is the thing that holds me back. This comes up in living in a city like Amsterdam, [where the city center] and most work spaces, are quite white. Now I am not saying you can’t be comfortable as a black woman in white spaces but with the totality of what that brings, you cannot be your complete self there even though you might be comfortable.” To further explain this she introduces me to a term she likes. ‘White sociality’: always feeling you have to modify your behaviour in white spaces because the majority can’t relate to your experiences or would prefer you quitely assimilate.
Three years ago in search of a sense of belonging in Amsterdam, Tracian co-initiated Amsterdam Black Women (ABW), ‘a collective committed to creating a nurturing and safe space for black women seeking community’. She explains that for her, the subtle racism can make The Netherlands a tough place to live. “Unfortunately no matter your social standing, there is a racial divide. ABW was really built to escape and share experiences and fully relax. It is a space to breathe and not have to explain or be a certain way. A place to come and nurture yourself… there is a sense of community”.
A few weeks ago Tracian collaborated with Dutch artist Rosa Sijben on an art installation called ‘Demo’. Tracian and Rosa worked together from concept and implementation of this performance. On August 8th in Amsterdam Zuid Tracian and several women from ABW came together to paint large canvases coated in yellow. “We spent time in Amsterdam Zuid painting these billboards in our skin colour as an abstract protest and making our mark on this city we call home. So empowering!”
“The project is about ‘demo’ – demographics; thinking of the boards as people, as protest signs, and putting their mark on the city. There are a lot of protests in The Netherlands, for example, about Zwarte Piet. But as a black person and as a woman who doesn’t have citizenship in The Netherlands I wouldn’t ever attend as persons are regularly arrested. So this is a way of having a voice without your body being in the way of harm.” If Tracian’s (protest) board could say anything it would say: “‘We are claiming our space and place. Our right to be here’. Our visibility in the city is sometimes overlooked and not seen by others, but we are here, we are in the city.”
The colours will be up until August 28, 2018.