The Cocoa Butter Club founder, compere and singer Sadie Sinner champions performers of colour and explains why UK Black Pride continues to be an important and empowering event to protest against racism.
As a queer body of colour, Pride evokes mixed emotions. Whilst it is known that the brick launched at police at Stonewall was by a trans body of colour, there appears to be such little appreciation for people of colour in our community. Or is there?
In September 2016, I launched The Cocoa Butter Club, a platform to showcase and celebrate performers of colour. Since our room-at-capacity launch, we’ve gone from strength to strength. Why? Because we are doing what others won’t do, and it appears there’s a massive desire for it.
We’re celebrating the body of colour – showcasing art and stories; laughing, crying and discovering, we’re listening, we’re valuing.
The Cocoa Butter Club exists as a “creative clap-back” to incidents of blackfacing and outright racism in the performance and LGBTQIAA+ community.
It is almost pointless to speak to appropriators – asking them to understand what is wrong with blackfacing is like asking them to think up a new colour. They cannot go beyond their own experience. So a better idea arose – we will put them out of a job; give people a space to see the children of the culture expressed do it for real, and have it so good that no one will be satisfied by appropriators. Go see the poor excuse for the thing or go see the real thing.
I know which I would choose.
It is my personal choice to invest my energy and love into people of colour and curate this platform that celebrates and showcases us. I chose to do this instead of preaching to non-POC about what they aren’t doing. I believe the only people who can dismantle our racist tensions are white bodies – and just as I did, they have to make a choice, to love bodies of colour as much as they love their own.
In May 2017, The Cocoa Butter Club was featured on BBC Three’s Queer Britain Preference or Prejudice? episode, shown as a place that addresses racism and prejudice in both the LGBTQIAA+ community and the UK cabaret community. Immediately, we were flooded with messages of support and even performance applications from people happy to learn about this place which puts the body of colour first, and find a place that says “your love, your art, your body is not the same, because your story, your race, your experience is not the same, but it does not mean it is not of value”. We pride ourselves on giving a voice and space to “the other”.
Our success leads me to deduce that this is what bodies of colour want: they want to see themselves on stage. They want to see art created by bodies like theirs. Allies, too, want to see bodies of colour on stage. I know this because we have played to white audiences for out-of-house bookings, and been met with standing ovations. All you have to do to enjoy The Cocoa Butter Club is be a person who sees value in the body of colour and its creations.
Right now, white bodies are seeing bodies of colour as less. Bodies of colour are trying to uplift themselves. We have to meet in the middle. Only when white bodies decide to have as much regard for bodies of colour as they do theirs, or – wishful thinking here – unlearn the belief that white bodies are superior, can we move forward.
I promise to keep raising bodies of colour; white friends, will you dismantle supremacy? You can’t hear my needs from all the way up there. You can’t see my pain or hear my story. Meet me in the middle. We want to move forward.
While our needs are not heard, bodies of colour continue to be an afterthought. UK Black Pride centres the body of colour’s LGBTQIAA+ experience, because all UK Prides centre the white LGBTQIAA+ experience. It seems the efforts by bodies of colour to create a world with space for LGBTQIAA+ has been completely undermined. Pride is now a party, walking alongside the same institution that once arrested LGBTQI. Pride began as a protest. In the beginning, it was ugly, and hard and lives were at risk. Pride should still be a protest. There are still LGBTQIAA+ bodies of colour being terrorised by police, being made to suffer and being denied basic human rights because of their sexuality or gender. However, now that Pride is centred around the white LGBTQ experience, we exclude bodies of colour and their very real, very much happening right now experiences and paint the entire community to be having the great time our white bodies are.
UK Black Pride is about self care. We gather to find strength in our numbers, to be reminded we are not alone. Our gathering is a protest.