On Saturday UNMUTED took part in what can only be refereed to as herstory in the making. Artivist Aliyah Hasaniah and Olivia Brown organised a Black Lives Matter (BLM) silent demo and march in Birmingham City Centre in response to the US killings of two black men Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and to raise awareness to the UK killings (namely Kingsley Burrell) in Police Custody.
Photo credit: Kadedra Duffus
There is no doubt about it, Saturday was easily one of the most powerful and moving moments we have ever taken part in.
It really was empowering to stand with each other, silently healing whilst simultaneously raising awareness to our pain, collectively saying we're important, we matter.
After marching we stood outside the police station, reciting poetry, singing, expressing, most of us reminding ourselves why we started creating art in the first place. In this crowd we felt at home.
As the day went on, somehow caught underneath the layers of pride, strength and motivation were persistent internal questions:
Would we rise together in the same way if these men were black gay and killed because of their sexuality?
Would stand up like this for Queer Women of Colour?
When we said we will support black businesses and organisations, does that include UNMUTED which is about supporting people of colour who are LGBTQI, and here to fight against homophobia?
These questions are not intended to be accusatory, but simple wonderings, thoughts which we hope will be answered with a resounding 'yes' and challenge our own assumptions. I know there are so many great activist out there who are 100% inclusive in their work, but how far do we have to go?
We also wonder as we saw the silence from the majority of the black community following the shootings in Orlando, we noticed a sea of white faces at the vigils, and wondered if the majority of the black community even cared?
It is not news that many of the Black Lives Matter movements are spearheaded by Queer people, and a lot of the time Queer women. Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton met and married amidst the Ferguson protests in 2015, they spoke in Ebony of how their engagement helped to raise awareness of the intersections within the black community .
"Do you really think it’s not about gay Black lives? …A lot of people were so stuck on the fact that this was a Black man issue. Few months later, nah, it’s all Black people. It’s Black women. You gotta show up for Black women. You gotta show up for Black LGBTQ folks. You have to do that.....All of us are dying, regardless of how we identify. We’re all dying."
We hope here in Birmingham that we too are ready to have some difficult conversations around how we can build a city that champions all identities and backgrounds including the intersections in non white communities. If this is something you are passionate about please be sure to follow the work of UNMUTED @unmutedbrum.
We as a community will always stand together in times of tragedy, but we ask 'how can we support black lives when they're living?'. "BAME" LGBTQI people have some of the highest rates of poor mental health, how can we encourage a culture that propels love and support to all corners of this family we've formed, to create safer environments for everyone's better wellbeing?
We hope what we can all learn from Saturday is that we have the tools, skills and knowledge to build when we unite. That we don't have to wait for outside programmes and institutions to work through challenges in our community, we can do that ourselves, we have been and will be and how much stronger are we when we do it together? ALL of us.
We have read recently, people commenting on Facebook posts about the black on black crime and why isn't anyone doing anything about it, the answer is, WE ARE. Craig Pinkney and many others are out here doing the work with much support. We want us to be able to say the same when others challenge us about homophobia in our community, how great to be able to stand and say, yes we see this, we're doing something about it from within our community.
One thing that was clear from Saturday, is that this is the start of something powerful and we hope the beginning of this #BLMbrum chapter can begin to #shutitdown for everyone in our community.